Last year we were all together celebrating both matriarchs over wiener schnitzel and soft pretzels at a German Restaurant on a stretch of Coney Island Avenue with zero ambience. I was enjoying the eye candy: my sons in blazers and button down shirts. This year, my parents weren’t up for the drive down to the city. My brother, divorced like me, had a date. So it was just a low-key party of three: my two boys and me.
Every year, like Ebenezer Scrooge, I am visited by the ghosts of Mother’s Days past... two-parent family dinners at the same Jersey Shore restaurant with she-crab bisque and a carnation for every mom. Every year, I grope for the exit sign in that dark theater of my mind, where these home movies loop... Spirit! Remove me from this place! I cry, which is silly, because no recollections are all bad that include toddlers sucking up oversized plates of spaghetti with butter. This year, I wanted it to be low-key and hassle free, just us three, mostly present for one another, on that second Sunday in May—no hauntings from diaper days, and no dread of Mother’s Days Yet to Come...
No pink roses please, I told my sons, in the week leading up. And no stuffed bears, kittens or monkeys. (I never turn down chocolate). Then I presented my own Mother’s Day card: The only thing I want this Mother’s Day is your FULL cooperation. We do what I want to do, without complaint. That’s the best thing you can give me.
Sunday morning was a soaker, and I didn’t have the family car. My ex and I still share the KIA. We didn’t see the point of parking two cars on city streets when we were together, and we still don’t, apart. The arrangement works. Except that day. C’mon, we’re going to church, I said, hunting for three working umbrellas. It’s Mother’s Day, let’s go! I was on duty for coffee hour set-up, for which I’d baked blackberry scones that looked better than they tasted. I’d also promised to loan my righteous lemon juicer to the Sunday School teacher for the annual lemonade stand to raise money for some good cause, I couldn’t remember which.
May is the month of Mary in the Episcopal calendar. We process, sing Marian hymns, and reflect on the humility and sacrifice of the mother of Jesus, who, after her son’s death, became— by symbolic extension—mom to us all, there to intercede for us in troubles great and small, if only we remember to ask. I get that this is not for everyone. The incense, the liturgy, the kneeling to a marble madonna with a pleasingly ovoid face.
Even for me, now that I’m past the six inch mark on life’s twelve-inch ruler, there’s more to this than praying the Angelus at the Shrine to our Lady. --d has evolved into a nebulous, loving prankster, always in my business, conspiring for my good. Still, I enjoy putting a feminine face on it during this fifth month of the year, when the cherry blossoms are showing off, and the sycamore are leafing out in shocks of spring green.
I also like this verb: to intercede. It feels strong and female—like when I yank my teen off his kid brother, pinned to the LEGO board on the bedroom floor. My mom job is to intercede, to foster the dialogue that allows for reconciliation and restores harmony. And I intercede to prevent another tooth from getting knocked out under my watch.
My job is not to incite turmoil, but that’s where we were headed Mother’s Day morning, as William moved from dining table to window sill, and gazed out upon April showers offering yet another encore performance. Mush mush, I prodded my sleepy sled dog. He complained of leg stiffness, following our 5K the day before, benefitting Brooklyn public schools. The elder was still abed at 9:30. It didn’t look good. I’d already let the church thing slide since William had graduated from Sunday School and Theodore had started digging in his dress shoes against serving on the communion altar. I’d pretty much freed up their Sunday mornings to go back to bed and snuggle into their new identities as Christmas/Easter Christians. And forget about confirmation. Theo had exercised his right to reject this rite of passage. So aside from these two biggies, Xmas and Easter, and oh yes St. Francis Day, when we present our lizard for blessing, I was prepared to forego the church house indefinitely.
Bottom line: I didn’t want to ruin this for them. This spiritual thing. This feeling in the dark and grabbing onto the hem of G-d. This is the fun part, the game of hide and seek with faith. I didn’t want to make it about Sunday morning struggle. Besides, I figured, Theodore wouldn’t be the first Anglican teen to swear off church, only to return to witness holy water dripped over his own newborn’s startled neck. And actually, what first drew me to St. Paul’s, was that they weren’t a pushy parish. Just red doors thrown open on Saturday afternoons, beckoning believers and nonbelievers alike, to light a sooty candle and sit in a butt-numbing pew. No one approached me; no brochures to lure lost sheep. I was in my turbulent twenties, and this soft sell was just right.
It was a little weird sitting alone in the third pew this Mother’s Day. But my church family was discreet. No one asked after the errant altar boy or his little brother, who usually sat beside me, building skyscrapers from kneelers. Two sets of jubilant parents presented two girl candidates for baptism. One dad wore a pink blazer (Amen). Wet heads and wet eyes, I teared up as we, adult congregants, renewed our own baptismal covenants. Past, present and future came together in this christening: my own babies, these babies here, and my sons’ babies (if the spirit so moves Theo and Will to someday return to the old fold).
Homeward bound after mass, I texted Theodore from the train to wrangle his brother and meet me at the new Indian restaurant, also on that same, not-scenic stretch of Coney Island Avenue with auto body shops and drive-through KFC. The place was empty. I got us the table next to the tropical fish tank. The boys showed up drenched, with one umbrella between them. The waiter served up a space heater, along with mango lassis, and we dried out while enjoying startlingly delicious mixed tandori. How a star-rated Michelin chef came to be in the kitchen, behind the fish tank, in an Indian restaurant, on a treeless strip of Coney Island Avenue in Midwood, Brooklyn, is a blessed mystery...
It continued to rain like the tears of a mother all the way home, and well into the evening. For my pleasure, but also because the June recital was imminent, the boys briefly visited the piano keys. We struck some sweet chords when Theo worked through a few bars of Satie’s warm washcloth of a masterpiece, Gymnopedie. Then we lost him to CSGo gaming and his brotherhood of the headset, who’d also, apparently, ditched their own moms by then.
I packed lunch for Monday from leftover chicken tikka, while William watched yet another Pokémon (episode #627). Brushing my teeth, William remembered the card in his backpack and burst into the bathroom. Theodore had forgotten to sign it, but he did fund and oversee the card’s purchase, at Leo’s Discount, across the street from Jalsa Grill & Gravy Indian Cuisine.
My gift to my sons this Mother’s Day was an acknowledgement of their growing autonomy, increasing along with their appetites and shoe sizes. I gave them time to spend by themselves, on a day that dictates they be with me. A mother’s sacrifice indeed! I gave them licence to blow off a faith community that had followed them since they were held high over Father Cullen’s head, and welcomed into the collective heart of G-d.
On this Sunday, like most others, I streamed WKCR, Columbia University Radio. George Jones, as it turns out, had the last word on that soggy, superb Mother’s Day: Going Life’s Way