I remember my first Mother's Day. By that, I mean the first second Sunday in May that I was a mother myself. I was in an obstetrical ward in a Brooklyn Hospital. Our son was five days old—yes, ladies, there was a time when birthing a baby gained you a few days of hospital rest—and I was so excited about going home that the significance of that May 10th had completely slipped my mind. But when our food trays arrived, each one sported a little ceramic bud vase with a red rosebud.Mother’s Day? I really was a mother? Responsible for another life?
I felt totally inadequate as most new mothers probably do. I hadn’t diapered a baby since I was ten and I was so unorganized in those days that I was terrified that I’d run out of clean ones, or muddle the formula proportions or not hear him when he cried or just turn out to be plain no good at this whole mothering shtick.
My own mother was five hundred miles away, but my mother-in-law was just around the corner and already a grandmother three times over. She was my rock through those early days. She never gave advice unless she was asked, but how I did ask! She showed me how to fold my son’s diaper, burp him, and give him his first bath. She came over late one night and helped me give him an alcohol sponge when he got a fever, and most of all, she kept reassuring me that babies were resilient and that sometimes they just have to cry. She gave me the confidence to rely on my own common sense.
Six weeks later, we made the trek to North Carolina and my mother took him from my arms before I could get out of the car. Her mother was there, too, and I still have a faded picture of the four of us. I wish now I could ask my grandmother what she was thinking as she looked down into that small face, yet, having looked down into the small face of my first granddaughter, I have a good idea.
All through my growing-up years, I wore a red rose to church on Mother’s Day. A red rose symbolized a living mother, a white rose . . . well, we all knew what that meant and we felt sad for the ones, especially the young ones, who wore them.
I was with my mother that Mother’s day when she pinned on a white rose for the first time. Her eyes misted over for a moment, then she straightened the red rose on my own lapel. “You’ll wear a white rose some day, too,” she said. “And so will your son. It keeps going.”
Hug your mother if she’s still there. Hug her even if she wasn’t always perfect or always there for you. Or if you can’t hug her, hug the woman who was there.
And think about white roses.