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Flying Solo on Mother's Day

Last year, I woke up on Mother’s Day like any other day, at o’dark-thirty with a baby screaming from her crib, my two middle kids fighting over the remote control and my oldest still snoring soundly in her bed.

The closest I got to breakfast in bed was the Cheerio I found stuck to the back of my arm.

My husband’s job as a commercial pilot and Air Force Reserves officer supersedes most holiday celebrations, no special exceptions for his often harried work-at-home wife who solo parents their four kids for the greater part of each month and really needs a day off.

When we met, he never worked weekends or holidays, and while his active-duty military pilot days were long, he was home in the evenings to tuck in our little one in her crib, or around in the mornings to feed her breakfast. And our little one was our only one.

Since then, our kids have multiplied times four, and his 12-hour days have become 12-day trips, leaving me to fend for myself, a sort of Fear Factor meets Survivor double feature. And part of me longs for the days when “going to work” meant that he’d be packing a lunch, not a suitcase.

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He does what he can to arrange his schedule around Mother’s Day, but neither the military nor the commercial airlines have a typical “day off” policy. So every year, I wait to find out his May schedule in mid-April and then prepare myself for the stream of social-media updates with happy families and relaxed moms showing off their Mother’s Day spoils much to my envy.

The first time I was alone for Mother’s Day, my husband tried to convince me that the spa would be less crowded and the flowers would be cheaper after Mother’s Day. Our budget appreciated his frugality. My mental state did not.

The next year, he tried to tell me that since I was not his mother, he didn’t technically need to get me anything. I told him that my vagina, which pushed out four children, felt otherwise. And then I politely asked him if he ever wanted to have sex again.

Mother’s Day became Mother’s Week that year.

These days, I’ve learned that I’ll never get the Mother’s Day I always pictured in my mind, which has somehow come to resemble a Maxwell House commercial, where the happy dad and the two chipper kids surprise the impeccably coiffed, made-up mom still nestled snuggly in her pristine bed with a deliciously cooked meal and blazing hot cup of coffee. Heck, I’d just take the blazing hot cup of coffee. And maybe the chipper kids.

As much as I’m loath to complain about missing out on a completely commercialized Hallmark holiday that has become a bit more about selling any product that could be remotely related to mothering (irons! bibs! vaginal dryness cream!), I really do think we need a day just for moms that’s printed in red ink on calendars everywhere. It’s the least we can do for the woman who will unflinchingly reach into a public toilet to save her child’s favorite Lego from being flushed into oblivion, endure yet another birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese without alcohol and answer the same exact question 400 times in a row.

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Now I don’t necessarily need a special award. The last time I checked, a medal, as pretty as it might look, can’t give me an oil-soaked back rub while the New Age muzak plays in the background.

And a trophy won’t magically let me sit in silence, with only the sound of my breath, a good book and my friend Mojito to keep me company. All I really want is a day when no one is asking me to make, find or wipe something. Though I won’t complain if you forced a pair of size 10 Louboutins on my feet.

After a few years of solo Mother’s Day celebrations, I’ve learned that the thanks and appreciation can come any day of the week, not just on that special Sunday. The handmade cards covered in crayon scribbles and dandelion bouquets make me just as weepy. The burnt toast and lukewarm coffee taste fantastic because I didn’t have to make them or clean them up. And the gifts, the flowers and the spa days that I’m storing up for an entire week at Miraval, will be just as thoughtful, fragrant and relaxing. Maybe even more.

But the moments I have with my kids, as they are right now, can’t be saved for future enjoyment, not even with all the fancy digital photos or rolls of video stored on my smartphone. The ability to spend the day with the four little wonders who made me a mother is truly the best gift of all. Well that, and the noise-canceling headphones my husband got me this year.

I’m a mother. Not a saint.

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