The worst Mother’s Day gift I ever got my mom was also, at the time, one of my proudest purchases.
I was working at Burger King and I was giddy because for the first time in my life I held actual cash in my hands.
It was my second paycheck of my first job ever, and I didn’t have to ask dad for money to buy a Mother’s Day gift. Being a practical 16-year-old, I bought my mom a carton of cigarettes. (No minor tobacco-purchase laws had been enacted in my state yet.)
Don’t bother pointing out how bad that is. My sister was all over it. She said:
Smoking kills. We want our mother to STOP smoking. You’re only hastening her death. Your gift is thoughtless, lazy, tasteless.
I was sufficiently shamed.
But it was too late.
It was Mother’s Day morning, so I presented mom the carton of smokes. I took a deep breath and plowed through my reasoning. Yes, I had reasons. It went something like this:
I noticed as I bought my own gum and Dr. Pepper with my hard-earned $3.35 minimum wage cash, that a carton of cigarettes was expensive. Outrageously expensive!
And then light bulb moment.
Why don’t I save you the trouble of having to buy pack after pack, and you can save your money and buy something you REALLY want with the money you save now that you have an entire carton of cigarettes? Exhale.
My mom, not exactly known for her sweet disposition, looked at me and then the carton of Tareyton smokes she held then back at me. Much to my smug sister’s disappointment she said:
“You’re right. They are expensive. Thank you for the gift, Sonja.”
It’s interesting, the memories that stick with you…
I got to thinking how I’ve turned over this memory several times when my mother was alive and since her death (not from smoking.) And I wondered on this Mother’s Day: What will my three daughters, ages 10-13, remember about me after I’m gone?
It’s such a bizarre story to remember, but I remember it clearly. My mother’s puzzled face, the way the veins stood out in her hands as she clutched the carton and my own deep relief and gratitude.
My girls and I make dozens of memories every day. What will they remember?
Will my 11-year-old daughter remember how last night she asked for help on her report on Afghanistan and I told her firmly, “No. It’s important that you do your own work.”
And it is important. But really, I was just too tired to help.
My daughter saw right through that B.S. answer. Will she remember that?
Or will she remember how this morning, I was late to work because I stopped everything to overturn laundry baskets, to move couch cushions and pull open every drawer in the house to find a needed costume piece for a play she was doing?
Honestly, probably neither.
We as parents have no control over what memories our children will carry forward with them through life and after we’re gone from this Earth.
But whether we’re conscious of it or not, we are trying to forge some lasting impression. Will they remember us as fair or fierce? Ambitious or compassionate? As kind or kick-ass?
Why I think that memory stuck.
I think the reason the memory of the worst Mother’s Day gift ever has stayed with me is because my mother SAW me in that moment. She saw past the absurdity of a gift purchased at a gas station, and saw me.
A proud teenager presenting her mother with a practical gift bought through hard work by manning the fryer at Burger King that I hoped would save her oodles of money so she could buy something nice for herself.
Our children see us.
Our good. Our ugly. They will forget much of it. Remember some of it.
We can’t control what they will remember.
But maybe there is one way we can influence a tiny sliver of the memories our children will carry about us parents. It comes at those hold-your-breath moments when they’re looking at us, looking at them.
For example, when you buy your mom a carton of cigarettes on Mother’s Day and you’ve locked eyes.
We parents hold a lot of power in those moments. How we react is everything. Our children care what we think. About them. About their choices. (Especially the dumb ones.) And when they are in the moment waiting and watching us, it matters how we react because we could just be creating a forever memory.
When I think back to that Mother’s Day, I’m a little bit embarrassed about my choice of gift, but when I think about my mother, I get a warm, all-over feeling.
I didn’t know how she would react to my gift. She could have destroyed me with her response and maybe I would have remembered that to this day or maybe not.
But she paused for two beats — I’m guessing because her first unspoken reaction wasn’t all that loving — and took the gift in the spirit it was meant.
Because of this, my lasting impression of her is someone who’s cool, wise and compassionate.
As for my sister, I remember her as kind of snotty.
Like All the Moms?