A Different Kind of Mother's Day Gift


This article kicked off the Mother's Day series on MariaShriver.com May 3, 2016.

“What would you like for Mother’s Day?” my husband asked when our sons were sixteen and twelve.

“The boys should ask me,” I replied. “I’m not your mother.”

“They will,” my husband said. “Just thought I’d ask.” He smiled.

The idea came to me in a flash, an inspiration really. I toyed with it for a few days, deciding if it was OK to ask of the boys, if it was really as good of an idea as it seemed at first blush.

I remembered girlfriends saying to me once that it was a shame I didn’t have a daughter.

“A shame?” I had asked, somewhat confused, thinking they worried I missed buying tutu’s and tiaras and adorable girl-clothes, ballet lessons, playing with doll houses, having mother-daughter girl time, watching the Disney movies with princesses instead of jungle animals or lions in the serengeti.

“You know…” they said authoritatively, themselves mothers of girls, “boys leave. They don’t come home; they don’t call.”

Oh, I thought.

“They don’t care for you when you’re old.”

Oh.

I wasn’t worried.

I’ve experienced enough familial relationships where I know firsthand there is not one right way, and no guarantee of anything. Who can generalize? I thought it ridiculous. I could be as close to my sons as I would be to daughters, albeit respectfully in consideration of who they became and what they desired.

I wanted to be the mother my sons chose to be around, never someone with whom they were forced to spend time. I needed to live my life every day in a way that genuinely attracted my sons to me – be fun, kind, loving, listen to them and really hear, care about what matters to them, have sage advice when asked.

My idea was good, I thought, so I pressed forward.

“I know what I want for Mother’s Day,” I said to the boys the following Sunday over breakfast. They hadn’t asked, but I was ready to share. “For the rest of your lives.”

The two kept eating their Cheerios, just looking at me. Sometimes boys were so easy going.

“I don’t want a gift. I just want to spend time with you.”

They said nothing.

“It can be a cappuccino at Starbucks; it can be climbing Mount Washington, hiking a new place you know of, or a weekend in Vermont. We can be together an hour or an entire weekend and every year may be different. It’s whatever you want to do. You can do it together and maybe some years you will, and maybe some years you’ll do it separately.”

They were quiet for a minute, processing.

“OK,” said my older son. “Sounds fine, Mom.”

“I just want to spend time with the two of you and know who you are at all the stages of your lives. This will be one designated time of year that I’ll know you’re going to be with me, talk with me, and I’ll always be interested in anything you’re doing, in anywhere you are, and in anything you want to say. Spending time is always the greatest gift. ” I smiled.

I loved my idea.

And so it began.

As easy as that.

It’s now been eleven years, my sons are 27 and 23.

What they’ve chosen, creatively, has blown me away. They have far exceeded anything I could have imagined. I might not have remembered the purchased shirt or perfume, but I remember every single Mother’s Day as though it were yesterday.

We’ve had picnic lunches at one of my favorite cliff walks along the ocean….our lunch actually in a picnic basket with a tiny bottle of wine included. (Amazing they were even aware we owned a picnic basket!)

As musicians, they’ve practiced in secret to learn my favorite songs – Southern Cross and Sweet Home Alabama – and give me a performance.

We’ve had brunch at a créperie in our Old Port area downtown at a tiny spot I didn’t even know of and another at a gorgeous French restaurant with sky high windows letting in the welcome spring light of May, again, that I had no idea my sons knew of. I pretend I’m a French girl. Having been to Paris twice, I revel in all things French – the countryside, the crépes, the joie de vivre, the love of delicious food. That my sons notice that about me and have now introduced me to new places I would love….priceless.

The first year that my younger son was in Savannah, Georgia for college, away for Mother’s Day, my older son and I sent him a photo of us, laughing and missing his companionship, with a photo of him in our arms.

We’ve gone on rides to a couple of my favorite quaint seaside towns – Kennebunkport, Maine and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We’ve meandered around, had a bite to eat, laughed and hung out for a while. As they get older, and our nest has emptied, I am even more grateful for this gift.

Every year, I anticipate their new idea and am eager to be with them.

I am so appreciative of the opportunity to do as I originally planned so many years ago – listen to what’s on their minds, what they’re up to, what they worry about, what they love to do, and what their dreams are. I’m interested in the movies they’re seeing, the new songs they like, what they’re doing for exercise, their art, what they do for fun with friends and girlfriends, YouTube videos they want me to see.

Keeping in touch and getting a glimpse into who my sons, now men, are is truly the greatest gift to me. What an idea!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Photos taken at Chartres, France May 2012

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