Monday, May 11, 2009

On Things Maternal

It is not unusual for me to be awakened at an early hour. After all, I live with a five year old. She sometimes climbs in bed with me in the middle of the night. More often, she wakes me up “when it’s light out” to tell me she wants breakfast (the “light” cue is when she knows she can watch tv. If it’s still dark she assumes it’s the middle of the night). So it was no surprise when she climbed onto the side of my bed at 6:00 this morning, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

The surprise came when she wished me Happy Mother’s Day.

This is our third Mother’s Day without her mommy, and each one has taken a different turn. Apparently this year, she decided that the day was going to be about me. The first year we had the good fortune to be able to spend the entire weekend at a friend’s beach house. She was only three, and I elected not to mention why we happened to be going that particular weekend. So we spent two days playing on the beach during the day, and I mourned the occasion while sitting on the ocean-front porch each night after she was tucked safely into bed.

My memory is not quite as clear regarding what we did last year. I know that we went to church and suffered through the traditional sermon about mothers. Don’t get me wrong, I love my own mother more than I can say, and have been blessed to know several other good mothers in my lifetime as well. But as a widower with a young daughter, it’s incredibly hard to listen to a sermon like that, knowing what said daughter has been and will continue to miss throughout her lifetime. I think that we also spent the afternoon at the beach then too, but we could just as easily have spent it at home playing on her swing set. I do know that she understood the day better than the year before and that it was definitely about her own mommy. I’m pretty sure we both shed some tears that day too.

The Mother’s Day for Daddy theme she’s seemed to embrace this year actually began earlier in the week when her teacher handed me an invitation to the Mother’s Day breakfast scheduled to be held Friday morning. I half-expected something to be sent home, so I took it and told her thanks. Then she mentioned that I was welcome to come. Hmm. A dad at the Mother’s Day breakfast. Last year I would have found that to be an incredibly sad thought. Two years ago, I would have been devastated to think about it.

This year, for the first time, I actually found it to be humorous.

I had this vision of myself surrounded by all of these mothers and grandmothers and it just struck me as a bit funny. I have read on some of the widow blogs about finding humor in their “situations”, but had not understood that until now. Please do not take this as disrespect for my wife, but after two and a half years, I have finally been able to look at a situation directly related to my widower status and react with humor.

I took it as a sign that I’m finally starting to heal.

Thursday I received two phone calls from school regarding the occasion. The first time, the teacher mentioned that they were making something for Mother’s Day and asked me how I wanted them to handle it. Now, my daughter’s teacher is a wonderful, kind woman and I applaud her for calling to ask instead of making that decision on her own. So I hope she did not take offense when I told her to ask my daughter who she wanted to make a gift for. I told her it was fine if she wanted to make it for me or one of her grandmothers, but trailed off before saying she could make it for her mommy. She could have and it would have been fine, but I wanted that decision to be hers without any influence from her teacher or me.

During the second call the teacher asked me if we would be going to the cemetery on Mother’s Day. This teacher is new at the daycare and did not know that my wife is buried 800 miles away. So I had to explain all of that while she offered her apologies for not knowing. I told her to continue with the project the way she had planned and that if it was something we needed to take there, we’d be sure to when we visited this summer.

On Friday afternoon when I picked my daughter up from school, there was a big basket for me with the card she had made and a small “yard stake” with a laminated poem for us to take this summer when we go visit the stone. My daughter was very proud of it, and that is when she first declared that Mother’s Day was about me this year.

After my 6:00 am wake-up call this morning, I went back to sleep for a bit while my daughter watched tv (what did I ever do before she could navigate the remote independently?). Then we went to church, where I made it through an entire Mother’s Day sermon on a virtuous woman (Proverbs 31) without crying and checked off all the qualities of said woman my wife had matched.

So it just figured that this song, which I posted here a few weeks ago, would come on the radio on the way home and I would spend of the rest of the sunny drive home looking through the windshield as if it were spattered with rain drops.

If only my eyes had windshield wipers...

Those were the only tears for the day though. We went on to have lunch, then spent the rest of the day shopping, which, ironically was my wife’s absolute favorite past time. I’m not a fan of it myself (I shop like a true man on a mission), but my daughter needed some new summer clothes and it seemed like a good way to pass the time on Mother’s Day.

I was a little concerned about being so publicly solo father-daughter on a day that is dedicated to all things maternal, but we did not afford the stares I had expected. At least not where I could see them. In fact, we almost made it through three hours of shopping without it being mentioned at all.


As I finished paying for our purchase at the last store we visited, the very well-meaning cashier said “and tell your wife we wish her a Happy Mother’s Day”. I just said”thanks” as I folded my receipt and took my shopping bag. But my daughter had heard her and said “My mommy died”. These are the times when I’m glad most people don’t pay attention to little kids. The woman didn’t hear her and thus didn’t respond.

Now, I suppose it would have been fine if she had, but it’s already awkward enough being a young, widowed, single father at times without the added guilt of thrusting our “situation” on some unknowing, but well-meaning person. So I have found it easiest to handle things the way I did this afternoon. When we were out of earshot I explained to my daughter why I had not told the woman. I do not ever want her to think it’s not okay to tell people about her mommy, but I also wanted her to understand why I did not do so just then. She understood and as we continued walking out of the store, she wished her mommy a "Happy Mother's Day in Heaven.” If she had been crying, I would have too, but she said it with a smile on her face.

All in all, I think this Mother’s Day turned out fine. My daughter seemed very content in making the day all about me, the one who does all of the mommy duties now, while still remembering her real mommy, the one who would gladly be doing them now if only she could.

And she seems content in knowing that there will be two days to celebrate my parenting this year. This evening she asked me when “Daddy’s Day” was. When I told her it was in June and she realized that’s just next month, she jumped up and down excitedly.

Ironically, she gets that from her mommy.


  1. What a lovely way to spend Mother's Day, and a very good post.

    You handled it very well in my opinion. I had similar issues this year (Mother's Day in the UK was some time ago), and also had to consult with the nursery, who were faultless in their handling.

    Well meaning assumption is a pain in the ass, and that explanation you gave your daughter was top work.

    Take care.

  2. You have an incredibly special little girl... She must take after both of her parents.

  3. Single Parent Dad - I actually recalled your post the day of the two phone calls from daycare and remembered how you handled your own calls this year. Having read that helped-thanks!

    AndreaRenee - She is a wonder, a marvel, and a sight to behold, all of which she gets from her mother.

    She is also down-to-earth, insanely organized, and has a sarcastic wit - those things are purely me.

    But you said it best in that she is "incredibly special". And a blessing every day.

  4. Your daughter sounds VERY, VERY special!! God bless you both!! I love the song you posted and enjoyed reading your blog about mother's day. Thank you for sharing..........

  5. Rick - My daughter is an absolute mess (which is a compliment in the area of the South where I live). She brings me unspeakable joy and having her has made my wife's death somehow more bearable.

    Thanks for reading.

  6. Likewise, compliments from me. Perhaps it would be great to ignore Mothers' Day, but somehow it seems to be taking on almost a religious kind of significance these days.

    In that sense it's becoming almost like Christmas in that people just won't let you pretend it's not happening, however much you might like to really do that.

    You handled it well, and so did your daughter. Hats off to her for standing up for her Mummy in the shop! That takes guts on her part to speak up, even if it rips the guts out of you when she does.

  7. Roads- For as introverted as I tend to be, my daughter tends to be equally outspoken.

    I'd still be content with staying at the beach for the twenty-four hours designated as Mother's Day here in the U.S., but I think it will be important to her to see that I have continued to acknowledge it for her as the years go by.