Mother’s Day Memories: Sweet and Bittersweet

Mother’s Day Memories: Sweet, Bittersweet

Every year Mother’s Day brings two big memories, both when I was a preteen, one sweet, one bittersweet. Both were formative in becoming a mom myself.

The “sweet” one first: My younger sister Judy and I decided to bake our mother a cake to celebrate Mother’s Day. Although not experienced in baking anything more than chocolate chip cookies, we decided to go all out and make a layered chocolate cake. We got a devil’s food cake mix and managed to get through the first steps of mixing the batter and baking it in two round layer cake pans. Did we remember to grease the pans? I am not sure. Nor do I remember why we decided on pea-green icing.  Maybe it was a May theme. All went well enough until we attempted to remove the first cake layer from the pan.  It stuck, and then cracked. No problem, we thought, we’ll just glue it with green icing (we loved icing!) Besides, it wouldn’t show.

However, the second layer didn’t come out of its pan so easily either, and this time, there were several pieces. What to do? Being the enterprising cooks that we were, we pieced the top to the bottom with tooth picks. To our horror, part of the top slid to the side. More toothpicks, these horizontally holding the top layer together. A little more icing, and that was that!

Our mother was delighted! She loved great fun more than she loved cooking, having not learned to even boil an egg before she married our father. Her father warned ours before my parent’s marriage about this.  It is certainly not a skill that she deemed important enough to teach us– but enjoying family was!

A year after the cake, my mother’s mother, our dear grandmother, died four days before Mother’s Day. We were bereft. My mother was in her mid thirties at the time, now with four children, young, I think now. At the visitation, I remember my mother taking my sister’s and my hands and walking to the open casket of my grandmother. I would rather not have been there, but my mother’s grip was insistent. Our grandmother lay in her best suit, cold, and looking very different— dead. But what I remember most of all is the strong grip of my mother. I felt it then: the passing down. She was only mother now. No longer daughter, but mother.

I felt this same passing down many years later when she stayed with me after the birth of my first son, Jesse. I was a nervous mother, and her guidance steadied me. Jesse quieted almost immediately when held by her. She showed me how to bath and diaper him. “Oh, you are just like I was when I had you!” she told me.“Don’t worry! The only important thing is to love him!”

The morning she was going out our door to return to my dad and her work as a teacher, she turned to me. I told her I didn’t want her to go. After a tearful embrace she said, “It is time for the old mother to go and for the new mother to take over.”

That moment was the passing down for me. I fully accepted the mantel of responsibility of parent, as I suspect she had before the casket of my grandmother.

The day after my grandmother was buried was Mother’s Day. My mother took us on a picnic to Fairview Park where she had played as a child and where my father proposed to her.  As we sat at the picnic table, my mother, father and we four kids, I realized that my mother wisely understood the whole family needed a day of simple pleasure. She was stepping beyond the grief of a daughter to fully bear the mantel of mother, a mantel she would pass on to each of us in her own ways in the years to come.