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Headline Reads: Mother's Day Sparks Panic In Tots

When the subject of Mother’s Day
came up a few weeks ago, I told Brian I had three requests: I
wanted time to go to my favorite used bookstore – ALONE; I
wanted to take a nap; and I wanted a day off from feeding the kids
– all the dicing, shredding, steaming, cajoling, spooning,
snack preparing, the whole thing.

And the visit to the bookstore was negotiable.

So for Mother’s Day weekend we came up with a plan. Since
taking an entire day to yourself simply isn’t practical when
you’ve got a nursing child, we split my “day” up
into two days and I went to my bookstore on Saturday while the
girls were napping. And yes, they were napping when I left, but no,
they didn’t stay that way for long, so that definitely counts
as a gift.

That left Sunday for my napping and break from food duties.

And Brian even went one step further for
Sunday, saying he’d try to do as much child care as possible
that day, leaving me free to smile and play with the pretty girls
but not have to get up with them, fight with them, and so on. So
when Cora woke up at 7:15, Brian got up and I went back to sleep.
And when I finally stumbled downstairs at ten ‘til 9, Cora
was dressed and fed and talking to Maddie who was sitting eating
her breakfast. As a matter of fact, Cora was toddling around in her
pretty church dress, chatting animatedly at a chair and smiling,
until she saw me.

And promptly burst into tears.

This happens often – she’s fine without me until she
sees me and realizes I’ve been gone FOREVER. So I’m
used to it. And while I planned to be hands-off on the nuts and
bolts of childcare, I certainly didn’t intend to be absent
for the day, so I assumed this would be the worst of the
Mother’s Day fallout: a tearful Cora, who suddenly realized
the person who had gotten her dressed and fed wasn’t Mama.

The rest of the morning was somewhat normal, though I got to sit in
the “easy” spot at the table rather than in the one
sandwiched between the two girls, and Brian got Maddie dressed for
church. Most Sunday mornings are spent with me getting everyone fed
and dressed, preparing lunches and toddler snacks to take with us,
then rushing to make myself presentable in four-and-a-half minutes
before we run out the door, and apparently the morning was just
“different” enough to put both girls on alert; the
feral animal in both of them lifted their heads, smelled the scent
of change in the air, and tensed up.

As we rushed to get out the door, I began putting Maddie’s
shoes and socks on her. Cora melted down, needing me NOW, so I took
the wailing baby and let Gamma take over shoe duties. Maddie
promptly burst into tears, crying, “I want MOMMY to put my
shoes on! Don’t touch my feet! DON’T TOUCH MY
FEET!” I stuck to my guns and said no, which continued the
meltdown, and herded the girls into the car. As we climbed into our
usual seats, Maddie ratcheted the whole thing up a notch, wailing
that I needed to sit between her and Cora rather than in the front
seat as usual.

Poor Maddie cried the whole drive to church, and my sympathy while
sticking to my decision didn’t seem to help her much.
Finally, defeated, she accepted the situation, then said
pathetically, “Mommy, can you PLEASE ride next to me on the
way home?” Thinking she’d forget by the time we headed
back home, I said, “We’ll see when the time

Of course she did not, and even before the back door was opened she
turned to me, nearly certain in her defeated attitude I’d say
no but needing to ask anyway, and said, “Mommy, would you
please ride next to me?”

What could I do but climb in?

I’m sure that throughout the day, parents across the country
were saying to bewildered tots, “Mommy doesn’t have to
do that today! It’s Mother’s Day!” Or perhaps,
“Be extra nice to your mommy today! It’s her special
day!” Or maybe, “Don’t make your mommy unhappy
today!” I’m not so comfortable with all that –
this is a day WE made up, folks, not our kids. Yes, getting a break
from the frustrating parts of my “job” is awesome, but
let’s be realistic: you’re never going to fully
appreciate your mother until you have kids yourself. So let’s
acknowledge that Mother’s Day is the day when all your adult
family members try to make your life a little easier, and if
you’re lucky your older children will smile prettily and give
you a lovely card and take the time to express, in their sweet,
innocent way, that they do truly love you.

But toddlers just don’t get this, and so they’re in a
bewildering place where something is subtly different,
Mommy’s acting strange, and they don’t know why. The
rules have changed and they weren’t informed. As subtle as my
withdrawal was, it freaked both my girls out, and before the day
was even half out they were both clinging to me for reassurance
against something they couldn’t even name or put a finger on.

Yes, both girls are with me all the time, and separation is good
for everyone; we work on that, and Maddie and Cora both enjoy Daddy
and Gamma time. But when the minutiae of their day – the
dressing, the eating, and so on – changes, when their routine
is altered, when they perceive of Mommy being withheld from them,
well, they panic.

I read somewhere that children under age 8 can’t conceive of
a situation that doesn’t involve them. I forget what
it’s called, but if something happens, they insert themselves
into it: if Mommy gets sick, it must be because I dropped my dolly
the day before. If Grandpa doesn’t come visit it’s
because I tore my book, or didn’t hug him goodbye the last
time he visited. That sort of thing. And I could see Maddie trying
to figure out the change in her routine: why was Mommy sitting in
Daddy’s place at the table? What had Maddie done to make that

As the day went on and I went out of my way to shower both girls
with affection (while still leaving the grunt work to my sweet
husband) Maddie gradually relaxed; she couldn’t pinpoint the
change, but saw it didn’t alter my affection and decided to
roll with the punches. I was relieved, and came away from the day
with two reminders:

One, kids are more resilient than we often give them credit for.

And two, everything we do affects them. EVERYTHING.

At least, that’s going to be my argument for not
reciprocating on Father’s Day.


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