LET INGA TELL YOU:
I still have the now slightly-moldy handmade card my older son Rory gave me for Mother’s Day when he was 10: You’ve been like a mother to me, it reads.
In point of fact, Rory had no lack of mothers in his life. He had a biological mother. I was his adoptive mother, and my ex-husband’s second wife his adoptive stepmother. When he married, he ended up with a mother-in-law as well. I used to joke with him that I hoped 1-800-Flowers had a multi-mother discount.
For the record, I consider myself this kid’s mother. The others were also-rans.
Rory could just never resist pushing the envelope on Mother’s Day (or in fact, on any other day). Another handmade Mother’s Day card that I’ve saved has a wonderfully ornate cover with flowers and buzzing bees and the words “To a Wonderful Mother.” Inside it reads: “Roses are red, violets are blue. Something smells, I think it’s you!”
Did he mean that it smells sweet like all those flowers on the front cover? Rory always liked to leave things up to interpretation. This was equally true of another homemade Mother’s Day card that announced, “I love you higher than the sky and deeper than the pool.” Adorable error? Intentional Rory-ism? (And did he mean the deep end or the shallow end?)
My younger son, Henri, has had his Mother’s Day moments, too. His freshman year of college, he only remembered Mother’s Day two days before the event. The campus bookstore was fresh out of English language cards, clearly bought by more mother-conscious students than he (or certainly ones with better calendaring apps), and without a car, he had no way to get into town. So imagine my surprise when the next day, a lavishly ornate card arrived announcing “Para mi Mamá — Con cariñosos y felices recuerdos de ti.” I just burst out laughing.
He was apologetic about it when he called the next day, but I so enjoyed it that it became a tradition. I have a whole packet of cards reading “Para una madre excepcional,” “Especialmente para Mamá"and “Para usted, Mamá, nuestra Reina.” One with a princess theme had a tongue-in-cheek handwritten note, “Mamá, Para todo el tiempo, tu eres mi Cinderella. Henri.” It is not too surprising that Spanish was his lowest grade in high school.
After both of my sons married, the Mother’s Day cards were clearly being chosen by my beloved daughters-in-law, just as I had always done once I married. So no more wishes for a “Felicisimo Dia de las Madres,” no more handmade cards with ambiguous messages. The flowers and phone calls came directly from the sons, but the cards were definitely more generic.
One year, however, the daughter-in-law-selected cards ran a little amok. A year earlier, when Rory was 32, we had been able to find his birth mother, who I think I was even more excited about meeting than he was. I had thought about her thousands of times, although I have to confess that the first 950 were in the form of “Who spawned this child???” From his earliest days, Rory was a handful, quite possibly the most diabolically creative child ever to be unleashed on this planet.
It was a week after Mother’s Day and Rory’s biological mom and I were having lunch locally. She’d never thought she would ever have a chance to meet him or to know his family, and was thrilled she’d had the opportunity. There were a lot of tears on both our parts as she recounted having been forced as a teenager to relinquish Rory by her very religious mother. She never even got to hold him. I can’t even imagine the trauma.
But on that particular day, she was beaming as she pulled out the drug store Mother’s Day card — definitely a daughter-in-law pick — that she had received from Rory. “You are the most special mother anyone could ever ask for,” it read. “There is no one like you.”
It was her first Mother’s Day card ever (she never married or had any other children). “I’ll always treasure this,” she said tearfully, clutching it to her chest.
I didn’t dare tell her I received the exact same one. Dollars to donuts, Rory’s adoptive stepmother got that one, too. Maybe even her own mother. But hey, my poor daughter-in-law had just given birth to her second child so it’s not like she didn’t have other things to do. And how many women marry a guy with three mothers? So no argument from me. The medium is the message.
I wouldn’t mind a Spanish Mother’s Day card again to add to my collection. Their ornate flowery charm is just so irresistible.
And in a now-much-treasured family tradition, flowers always come from Rory with the card, “You’ve been like a mother to me.” And yes, I’m happy to say that I really have.
— Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org