Happy Mothering Sunday – an expression so cloyingly Edwardian, a tinted daguerreotype of an Angel in the House caressing the rosy cheek of a sturdy sort in frilly bloomers, it makes my teeth ache. If you celebrate, that is. If not, I get it: my mum’s dead and I know it can feel like a sharp poke to an already bruised heart. It’s nice that brands now ask if you’d like to opt out of their “10% off labiaplasty for mum on her special day” messages (enter WILLTHISDO at checkout), but it feels like just another round of emails to wade through. As with most Mother’s Day gifts, I suppose it’s the thought that counts.
It doesn’t feel like the cheeriest time to be in the reproduction game. A maternity hospital bombed, and a mother and baby killed. Missouri making a murderous attempt to criminalise terminating ectopic pregnancies, because apparently, they’re only pro unborn lives, including non-viable ones. Even in the best-case scenario, you may be struggling to calm your kids’ fear of nuclear annihilation or climate collapse, when the same things wake you nightly.
But we take our small joys where we can, especially now, and 20 years of Mother’s Days have provided me with a few. Even – perhaps especially – when it goes wrong. I get a perverse pleasure from the ones where everyone forgets, or I get a card pinched from my own carefully curated collection; some weird part of me quite likes the chance to hone my martyred expression. Thank goodness, because families being what they are, there’s more chance of pear-shaped than champagne brunch. Here’s my timeline of suboptimal, yet strangely perfect, Mother’s Days.
Happy what? With a new baby, after a few snatched hours (ha, seconds) of sleep, you wake in bleary, milky confusion to a text, perhaps from a relative, but more likely from Uber Eats, wishing you a happy Mother’s Day. Is this who you are now and if so, shouldn’t something, well, nice, happen? It won’t. The baby is a dictatorial blob with no access to Interflora. Your partner, if you have one, will do nothing, because no one can instantly assimilate this new, totally alien responsibility along with all the other new and alien responsibilities of having a baby. Your reaction will depend on what hormones are raging through your ravaged carcass: anything from “meh” to Medea.
Toddlers respect nothing Your child – a raging ball of id – has absolutely no interest in wishing you a happy anything at this time. Just settle down and watch your 5am Hey Duggee while being hit over the head with a wooden spoon. This is your life now.
Special breakfast You can hear the precarious wobble of the tray, but what does it hold? Cheerios mixed with a handful of fishtank gravel? A pint of undiluted squash? Pawed slices of cold toast smeared with a proprietary blend of Marmite and chocolate spread? If your child gives you something they like themselves, suggest “sharing” (I’ve spared my pancreas mountains of Lucky Charms with this ruse). If not, enjoy starting your special day with Lego-studded crumpets, a raw potato or glitter putty.
Craft If it can be fashioned from a Dairylea box and glue stick, expect to see it on your breakfast tray during the primary school years. For me, this was the Laminator: Dark Fate era – my sons’ school obviously had one and churned out identikit bookmarks every year with an efficiency that would put Moonpig to shame. Set your features to thrilled and don’t get glitter in the bed, it is an unforgiving exfoliant.
Teenager roulette Teenage Mother’s Days are a thrilling lottery: you might get a thoughtful gift, or enjoy a meal, bursting with love and pride at seeing them bloom into fascinating, funny adults. More likely, you’ll get a lecture about phallocentric capitalism or a fistful of flowers of dubious origin (forgetful youths in my home town traditionally rely on the daffodils lining the city walls). Or nothing, because no one is up, or in. One year, following a fairly harrowing stretch of parenting, we “celebrated” in a pizzeria in the company of our silent younger son and the internet router, because his brother refused to come and, er, consequences or something. I forget, but I know I enjoyed offering the router a slice of quattro stagioni.
Adulthood “I guess that’s over?” said my husband, hesitantly, but with real hope, as we watched a TV ad for some BOGOF Mother’s Day meal deal last week. Our sons are now adults, so he believes they – and he – are off the hook. Fat chance. I have no plans to relinquish my moment of mild diva-dom, this weird, imperfect feast day for the separation of my rectus abdominis. The truth is, there’s something about a crappy Mother’s Day that feels right: I am a pretty crappy mother lots of the time, after all. Messing up and it not really mattering, forgiveness freely and frequently given, is the heart of family. Just don’t tell my kids.
Follow Emma on Twitter @BelgianWaffling