Mother’s Day

This past Mother’s Day, after the day at an amusement park, my husband and two small children took me out for dinner to celebrate. As I try to never discourage thoughtful gestures, we went to a nearby restaurant to have a “real family meal”, despite being exhausted and longing for home. 

After asking for a booth as far away from the other diners as possible “just in case” the children were loud, as children aged 2 and 5 tend to be, we settled in and began to examine the menu. Normally we try to pick food that can be eaten quickly and will taste good when re-heated in the event that we need to cut the evening short and get the children home. This time, we thought the children would be calm and accommodating since we had just spent a fortune on season’s passes and I had sacrificed my Mother’s Day to do something geared to the children. As is common with children, the depth of my “sacrifice” went unnoticed and the children did what children do and I quickly remembered why we usually go to a restaurant with a playground. Simply stated, chaos ensued.

Somewhere between picking my daughters socks up off the floor and reminding my son for the 10th time that he can’t eat his dinner underneath the table, I noticed an older couple at the table beside us. Normally I try to avoid eye contact when my children are being difficult because you never know if people are looking at you with pity or understanding because they empathize with the plight of a mother with small children in public. In any case this time I looked and what I saw surprised me greatly, the older gentleman had a huge smile on his face and the lady holding his hand across the table had tears in her eyes as she too smiled at the scene unfolding at our table.

Now it is not uncommon for tears to be present in this situation, but they are usually mine, so it was very interesting to me that a total stranger was staring, as my children took turns throwing forks at each other and touching the head of the man seated in the adjoining booth. I smiled and shrugged at the woman hoping that she would not judge me based on the behaviour of two children hopped up on sugar awake past their bedtime. She leaned over to me then and said the most surprising thing, she said “this is the best time of your life as a mother; enjoy them now while you can, even when they frustrate you, I wish I could go back!”

To be fair I have heard many a mother of grown children tell me that they wish they had enjoyed their kids more when they were small, but something in the face of this older mother struck me and inspired me to listen further to her sage advice. Maybe it was the tears, maybe it was the way her husband lovingly clutched her hand in a sort of honouring way, I’m not sure but I knew she was worth listening to and so I did.

She went on to say that her children were all grown up and they had children of their own now, and she advised them the same, to enjoy the craziness and the difficult behaviour of their young treasures. This woman had received that advice a long time ago and had tried her best to do so the entire time they were raising their children, holding tightly to those cherished memories now that the nest was empty and memories are vital.

As our meal arrived, I thanked the woman for her encouraging words, pulled my two year old down from the windowsill, reminded my son that feet do not go on the table and quietly contemplated my outlook on being a Mom. Was I really enjoying my children? Did I spend too much energy stressing about the little things and nagging them about age-appropriate childish behaviour? When I am older and my children have families of their own, will I have memories that bring me to tears of joy or tears of regret at wasted moments and opportunities lost?

Since that day I have come to understand that the couple looked on my family with longing and tears born of happy memories. They could see us struggling and imparted to us the most wonderfully encouraging reminder, life is short and our children are ours only for a brief time period and then they will move on as is the normal way of life. This is the time that we need to cherish and make an effort to enjoy whether things are going as we had planned or not.

So I will cheerfully clean the sidewalk chalk off the television, wash the peanut butter out of the cat’s fur and rescue family photos from the guinea pigs cage, because I know that one day when my husband and I are sitting alone on Mother’s Day, those memories will be the most important part of our meal.

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