May 15, 2006
Mother's Day



They called me on Sunday, staggering their calls throughout the day, as if by committee: Kacie in late morning, Kyle in late afternoon, Jaymi just as I was crawling into bed at night.  All three were endearingly apologetic -- Sorry I couldn't afford to get you anything this year -- and all three ended the conversation with the requisite I love you. (What they don't realize -- what they can't realize, just yet -- is that the phone call and the "I love you" ARE the gift. Flowers and Hallmarks are mere gravy.) 

I spent the day alone. David made the pilgrimage to Walnut Creek to see his parents, but I was excused from in-law duty (see: dinner last weekend) and enjoyed a long private stretch of Alone Time: my Mothers Day gift to myself.  Most of the day was spent sitting cross-legged on the bed, scanning baby pictures into the electronic photo albums, watching Season One of "Dead Like Me" on DVD, eating raw pea pods right out of the bag ...

... and waiting for the phone to ring.

Mother's Day is no longer the knife in the heart it once was, back in the days when I was convinced there was a special room reserved in Hell for mothers who leave their children. But it is still an obstacle course of emotions.  More than any other day of remembrance -- more than holidays, more than family anniversaries, more than the birthdays, even --  it is the day I miss the babies they once were. It's a very tactile thing: a longing for the little fuzzy heads, the little sticky fingers, the little compact bodies rolled in receiving blankets, like squirming pink burritos. I can remember hours spent burying my nose into the juicy folds of their newborn necks ... losing myself in their wondrous new-baby smell.

Now, I lose myself in scanning their baby photos.
 
Midway through the afternoon on Sunday, I remembered that I actually DID have a Mothers Day gift to open. The package had arrived earlier in the week  ...  not from a Tot, but from my childhood friend Karen, who now lives a few hours north of us, in Redding.  Karen and I share a bond of love and memories spanning nearly forty years, but it has only been in recent months that we've kickstarted the friendship beyond the Christmas-card-exchange level, once again. (Her visit in February was one of the highlights of my year, so far.)  I'd opened her package as soon as it arrived on Tuesday: a belated birthday card for David, a key chain, all fringed suede and beads ("I found us matching keychains  --  totally Jr. Hi and I love it!!"), some inspirational writings designed to woo me back to Jesus ...  plus a small lumpy package wrapped in flowery paper and labelled "Happy Mothers Day."  Tempted as I was to open it, right there on the spot, I decided that it might be more fun -- more meaningful --  to save it for the actual holiday. So I set the package off to one side and promptly forgot all about it, until Sunday afternoon, when I was heading to the kitchen for more pea pods and I saw it sitting next to the stereo.  

I opened it slowly, peeling away layers of Scotch tape and tissue paper like an onion blossom. (A lesson from childhood: when you've got only one present to open, you try to prolong the mystery as much as possible.)  The package was soft and lumpy and squeezable to the touch. Sweater vest, I thought as I was opening it. Or toaster cozy. Karen is one of those artsy/crafty people who actually uses a crochet hook for something other than a computer restart button.  But as the wrapping paper fell away, I saw that it was neither a sweater vest nor a toaster cozy (nor a pair of slipper socks, nor a table doily, nor a pair of hand-crocheted bike gloves). It was, in fact, a small blanket. And not a brand-new blanket, either, but soft and pilled with age, white with alternating pastel stripes in pink, blue and yellow.  It looked a lot like one of the blankets I'd wrapped my own babies in, a bazillion and four years ago. 

Why would Karen send me an old receiving blanket?

Puzzled, I opened the card that had come with the gift, hoping it would shed some light on the situation.  In Karen's familiar joyous scrawl, the card read:


"You sent me this, your favorite baby blanket, that you had
used on all three of your Tots.  It was such a special gift, I used it
with all three of mine.
 I lovingly bundled
each infant in this till they outgrew it.  Kelsey loved
being swaddled very tight!  This worked perfectly.


I thought you might like it back.

Forever and always,
Karen
Your friend and sister of heart."




 

I had to read the card three times before it registered. Then I read it another three times, and another three times after that.  A memory, long forgotten, began to tickle the back of my brain: Karen, pregnant with her first child, coming to visit us in the little Kirkland house, sometime in the mid-1980's  ... and me ducking out of the room for a few minutes, sneaking down the hall and into the baby's bedroom, looking for something to give my friend as a new-baby present.  For the rest of the day I kept the blanket next to me on the bed, pausing frequently to stroke it, to look at it, to pick it up and smell it as I scanned photos from my childrens' babyhoods.  I imagined, as I was touching it, that it still held fragments of their newborn DNA  ...  that I was once again touching those little fuzzy heads, those little sticky fingers, those little compact bodies.  It made me feel closer, somehow, to my children  ...  and to my best friend.

It was the very best Mother's Day gift I have ever received.





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