River Dad, Mommy Issues

Happy Mother’s Day!

Alongside this River Dad is a River Mom – the amazing woman who stands resolute with her husband, goes into the city to earn real money, and copy edits his columns.

I, of course, have my own mother locked away on the West coast and brought out for formal occasions like birthday parties, family gatherings, and genealogical enquiries.

Due to the passage of time, the chaos of my own nuclear family, and some stuff I did in college, my memories of living with Mom on an every day basis have begun to fade. So for me, Mother’s Day isn’t as prevalent as it is for those who have a mother in their face 24/7. Luckily, I was able to find two subjects who fit that description – my children.

I decided the best way to get to the heart of Mother’s Day was to ask my children all about their mother – what she means to them, how she makes them feel. I mean when you’re looking for the meaning of Mother’s Day, who better to ask than those being mothered? I gathered my five- year old daughter and three -year old son around me, turned on my tape recorder, and let the magic happen.

RiverDad: So Mother’s Day is coming up. Do you guys know what Mother’s Day is?

Daughter: It’s when all the mothers get presents and stuff.

RD: Right. OK. Tell me, who is Mommy to you? What are some of the things that make Mommy special?

Daughter: She takes care of me. She makes money.

RD: Yes, she does, when she’s at work. What are some of the things she does when she’s at home?

Son: She takes a bath.

RD: You mean she gives you guys a bath at night. Yes. But, I mean… what are some things she does really well?

Daughter: Picks out outfits.

RD: She picks out your outfits in the morning, right.

Daughter: When she goes to work, she wears pretty clothes.

RD: Yes, she does. Do you want to be a mommy when you grow up?

Son: No, I want to be an engineer!

Daughter: I want to be a mommy and an astronaut and a space teacher.

RD: What are some things that Mommy has taught you?

Daughter: You should be nice.

Son: Actually, I want to be Michael!

RD: Yes. Being nice is important. Uhm… does everyone have a mommy?

Son: Michael has a mommy!

RD: I know he does, what I… can you think of anyone who doesn’t have a mommy?

Daughter: Dead people.

RD: Dead people don’t have mommies?

Daughter: They do, but they won’t see them anymore.

RD: OK. OK. What are some of your favorite things that you’ve done with Mommy?

Daughter: When are these questions going to be done?

Looking back over the session, at first glance it seems as though I learned less about the emotional attachment my children have to their mother, and more about the fact that it’s really hard to interview a three and five-year old. But digging deeper, that’s not entirely true. My kids told me everything I could have asked for; I just needed to learn their language.

She picks their outfits. She gives them a bath. She takes care of them. She is a central part of their lives, doing the everyday things, being part of the routine. I may stay at home with them, take them to school, to gymnastics, to play dates, but I’m Dad. I’m not Mom. When my kids cry out in the dark from a nightmare, they call for Mom. Mom’s the one they’ll do a poop in the potty for long before they’ll do it for anyone else. When my three-year old stumbles and bonks his head, I’ll rush over to him in an instant. But my wife will already be there – as if she knew he was going to need her even before he fell.

This Mother’s Day I’ll send my mom a card and give her a call. But that’s more automatic than anything. I suppose my father didn’t instill in me a need to really think about why I appreciate my mother on Mother’s Day. Rather, he made it feel obligatory. It’s Mother’s Day, go get a card. I want to help my kids get beyond the Hallmark holiday. Make her a card instead of picking something up at CVS. Home-made pink waffles instead of brunch out. Later, a family walk in Rockefeller State Park Preserve followed by a treat at Main Street Sweets, which is yummy for mommies as well as kids.

Whatever we do, the point is to help my kids celebrate what a great mother they have, and make sure they let her know how much she means to them at whatever time in their lives it happens to be. That’s what we’re celebrating on Mother’s Day: not just appreciation for all the generic hard work that goes into being a mother, but the importance of just having Mom as part of the deal. Mom makes everything better just by being Mom. Looking back over our conversation, how much they love Mom for what she is for them right now is what comes through.

Well, that and my daughter’s surprising interest in dead people. Maybe we’re spending too much time at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

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About the Author: David Neilsen