This will be my fifth Mother's Day as a mother. My expectations about Mother's Day have changed significantly in the last five years. Let's just say there has been a fair bit of downward adjustment.But in my husband's defence, there has been some upward movement in his intentions and actions as well.
I won't go into too much detail about that first Mother's Day we spent as a family - Alex was three months old and it's all a bit of a newborn-fatigue-induced fog. That's a lie, actually. I remember every word, it's just that to recount it doesn't cast either of us in the most flattering light. I remember ripping a recipe for buttermilk pancakes out of a magazine and handing it to Chris - his response was to pop down to the corner store for a packet of 'shake 'n' bake'. There were recriminations. I still feel the prickle of white hot rage at the mere mention of the words 'shake 'n' bake'. I remember waking up with expectations of an elaborately planned day of pampering and endless gratitude, not having to lift a finger, and let's just say.... it didn't quite work out that way. Chris has never been one for grand gestures, he's more of an appreciator of the simple things in life. What was I thinking? Had I not met my husband?
So that Mother's Day, I (seemingly unbegrudgingly - wolf in sheep's clothing that I was) had purchased my own pale blue dressing gown for my newborn to gift me with. At three months, Alex was not yet au fait with online shopping and as Chris so helpfully pointed out, I wasn't his mother (charming! And yes I do still keep this phrase in my arsenal to throw back at him during particularly heated discussions).
Shockingly, the heady combination of my lofty expectations and my husband's refusal to attempt to match up resulted in a Mother's Day stand-off that could not end well. After five years, and repeated attempts to remedy the situation, I am starting to be able to deconstruct the Mother's Day dynamic in our family with a sense of perspective. (I said starting).
I think that I had poured so much expectation into that one day, a combination of rookie idealism, watching too many movies with running-through-the-airport scenes, and my own natural perfectionist streak - that the weight of it all was too much for my husband to bear. He was convinced that no matter what he did, I would be disappointed. Therefore he got his back up and decided to quit before he'd begun. My years of sighing over romantic movies and commenting on people who's partners' delivered large bunches of roses to their offices, and large gemstones to their birthing suites, littering the phrase "It's the little things" around like so much detritus, combined to create a perfect storm of pressure so big that, as a counter-move, he performed the old duck-and-weave. I suppose his subconscious reasoning was, her standards are so high, I may as well not try. A cop-out, yes. But I am beginning to understand it.
I am not above pulling the matyr act when it suits, and I had gotten plenty of mileage out of the 10pound11forcepsbloodtransfusionbirthtoendallbirths - which you would think may have tipped him off that a mere three months later, a cup of tea in bed would not be out of the question as fair reward. But would a cup of tea in bed have been enough? No. I wanted made-from-scratch pancakes as well. And for a bath to be run for me, with bath salts, in a clean bath. The washing done, the way I like it, without me having to issue instructions. A thoughtful, not too over-the-top present to be bought and carefully wrapped in beautiful paper. I wanted him to know when to take the baby for a walk, the difference between a tired grizzle and a bring-him-to-me-for-a-feed cry. And a perfectly appropriate card bearing a self-penned ode to his undying love and respect would not have gone astray either. In my own mind I would have been happy for an attempt at any of these things - for the effort to be made to show the care. But in his mind, failure to live up to any of these unknown requirements which he had no chance of being able to fulfil, would lead to my inevitable disappointment.
Another, less profound reason for his inaction, is that Chris has always had simple tastes and needs. To him, we care for each other every day and he is not moved by spontaneous (or pre-arranged) outpourings of emotion. My saying "it's the little things" was just a smokescreen - I meant it's the little and big things - but for him, it really is just the little things. I wonder if it honestly didn't occur to him to do anything special. He wouldn't expect it for himself. I have heard some people say that every day is mothers/fathers day, and for some people, ceremony, days to mark special occasions, moments of significance, just don't hold that much extra sentiment. (Not me, I'm a sentimental fool, but you may have gathered that by now).
Not one to let things go easily, come Father's Day that year, I decided to demonstrate to Chris the power of forethought and consideration. I ordered a cake with a smiling photo of baby Alex on it, saying 'Happy Father's Day!' underneath. I invited my grandfather, mother and siblings to attend a Father's Day roast lunch. I bought a special present. As it turned out , fate intervened to teach me a lesson. There was a mix-up with the cakes and we got a cake with a South Sydney Rabbitohs flag on it. As it turns out, my grandfather played for the Rabbitohs so he was very impressed. (And some one, somewhere, turning up with a cake with a picture of a little boy saying happy fathers day, has some explaining to do). And Alex got a bug and spent the afternoon projectile vomiting. So, best laid plans etc etc.
It must have sunk in a little, though - or perhaps I lowered my expectations a bit and he pulled his finger out - because the next year he made an early-morning dash to the shops for croissants before I had got out of bed.
The following year (year three) I got two hand-picked cards on behalf of both of the kids and breakfast in bed. He had realised that although he didn't go in for all that sentimental stuff, it was important to me. And maybe, after a few of those mushy "I love you daddy" cards and photos, he was beginning to see why I enjoyed them.
They say that couples start to morph into each other over a period of time. Looking back to how different we were, it still occasionally shocks me to find how genuinely comfortable I am adopting some of Chris' practical ways. Recently I was browsing our local Borders (by this I mean 'scavenging for book bargains for the kids' - sadly the Borders is closing down) and came across some red heart-shaped bookends that I loved, and thought would look good in our kitchen. I usually try to resist impulse 'because-I-love-it' buying. In this instance, however, I decided to buy them as a gift to myself for Mother's Day. (Also, they were 40% off!) Why make my husband feel he has to go out on a fruitless mission to a place he can't stand, to try and find the 'perfect' gift, when I had just stumbled across something I love? It was never about gifts for me, more about feeling appreciated, but I'm not one to look a bargain-horse in the mouth. And I truly am as happy having found this piece of beauty for myself, as I had been had hubby gone on out for forty days and forty nights and come back with the same thing.
Maybe it's because I just know how much he appreciates me, and over the years we've come to adjust to each other's way of expressing things, and have a deeper understanding of how this works. A little bit more effort from him, a lot less pressure from me. We're each more relaxed about the other's expectations, which ironically increases our ability to live up to them. My husband teaches our kids how to love and respect their mother by modelling the same behaviour every day. He makes me a cup of tea every morning of the year, and cooks dinner and washes up most nights. He displays thoughtfulness in so many areas on a daily basis - we've just had to learn how to negotiate the ways we each choose to celebrate the special ones.
Now the kids are old enough to bring home hand-made presents from pre-school and day care, and a hug and a kiss from them is all I really need. Because as corny as it sounds, I am starting to come around to the idea that every day is mother's day*.
*(although, any time they decide to surprise me by waiting on me hand and foot for 24 hours, I'll make myself endure it).