Every year’s calendar is predictably laced with holidays, but there is one that has a way of sneaking up on you and then pouncing, like a panther made of guilt: the second Sunday of every May, i.e. Mother’s Day. Despite its repeating pattern, I find myself forgetting it on an annual basis, the way I do any other holiday. And unlike the National Grilled Cheese Day that passed us by not too long ago, this is one of the few arbitrary boxes on the calendar worth taking seriously, a day worth dedicating to a person who spent many of her own days ensuring you were nourished, stimulated, happy, and far away from any objects with the potential to maim you.
You will never, ever be able to repay that emotional debt, but you can at least bring some solid brownies. If you’re paralyzed with indecision or stuck self-flagellating for not remembering, here is one course of action:
Watch Kevin Durant thank his mom.
Even though the capstone line, “You the real MVP,” has been co-opted by meme-makers and leached of its initial gravitas—and even though the dude seems desperate to craft his saintly servile nice-guy image—this is one of the sincerest expressions of gratitude I have seen from an athlete or any other public figure. I get all misty just thinking about it. Now that you’ve taken a shot of emotion to their heart, think about how you can channel all that into something more tangible.
Kanye’s dictum holds here: your presence really is a present. Maybe even the most meaningful possible present, especially if it’s a rarity. You might not be able to do it on Mother’s Day—Sunday holidays make for difficult Mondays for those who might have to travel. Even so, think about when you will next be able to hop onto a plane, train, automobile, or New Jersey Transit—this is my way of letting you know, Mom, that you can pick me up at the usual place today—and make your way home. Aside from the basic pleasure of hanging around your childhood home and enjoying a meal and conversation with your family, this doubles as reassurance that you are healthy and alive, even after being left to your own devices—a way to settle your mother’s conscience. Analogous to the “proof of life” that ransom-seeking kidnappers send out to loved ones assure the that their victim is still alive, except in this case, the only kidnapper is yourself. You have been kidnapped by the demons of adulthood and independence.
Now that you’ve confirmed your existence, a thoughtful child may come bearing gifts. Depending on the baseline you’ve previously set, your first gift may be arriving showered, well-groomed, or even dressed in clothes she likes. (Abandon your aspirational Yeezy outfit in favor of an unwrinkled Oxford.) But gifts can also be things beyond your immediate person, like a simple, nice-smelling bouquet ready to settle into a familiar vase, or a dessert cooked by more capable hands than your own. One measure of the goodness of a gift is the specificity of its message. It should feel like a gift for this particular human being, the one that birthed you—so aim for the emotional opposite of an impersonal, re-gifted bottle of wine. Try a novel with a theme relevant to her interests, something related to a conversation you’ve had before. Personalize the inside cover with a small dated note to concretize that specific moment, if you, like me, are a sucker for wistfully watching the passage of time (and our inevitable crumbling back into dust, etc.).
Though you might be tempted to buy her something she regularly enjoys, an even wiser child might buy mother the things that she would enjoy deeply but would never buy herself. A coworker endorses spa days as a prime example of this category.
If you can’t physically be there, a phone call, or better yet FaceTime (again, proof of life) is the bare minimum. And during this call, if you can muster it, try to climb out of the dungeon of your own emotions and anxieties and pressing obligations, and focus on her life, her own inner life. This is a charity people too rarely perform for anyone at all, and no one really deserves it more. Right behind my relatively new self-sufficiency came a self-centeredness that is understandable in part—I now need to take care of myself, make sure I eat, exercise, and so on—but that I hate. This is a day to avoid that altogether and focus on the one who gave you life and made sure you made it all the way to reading this here blog post. Go make your mother proud.