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FAMILY LIFE

Hammock Made a Statement; Children's Gifts Made Her Day

May 13, 1989|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Tomorrow, they tell me, is my day off--that once-a-year respite during which we moms don't have to perform our usual duties.

I'd better hurry, then, and get the laundry finished up tonight.

As any mom could tell you--if she dared--that "day off" business is a hoax. We spend just as much time and energy being moms on Mother's Day as we do the rest of the year. We just do it differently, that's all.

Instead of preparing a big Sunday dinner for four, for example, we prepare four for dinner, scrubbing faces instead of vegetables, making sure everyone is washed and brushed and wearing matching socks for our trip to the fancy restaurant.

For a few hours, our families try to be responsible for themselves. Nobody asks us to help find lost shoes or books or keys. But by then, we've spent several days answering such questions as, "Where's the tape?" and "Mom, can you show me where we keep the shiny wrapping paper?"

What's often inside those wrappings says as much about the Mother's Day hoax as anything. If you believe the ads that abound this time of year, the perfect Mother's Day gift is a vacuum cleaner or computerized recipe retriever or some other handy household appliance that will make it so much easier for Mom to do what she usually does for everybody else. Contrast that with the Father's Day ads that will arrive next month, touting specials on the ideal gifts for Dad: hammocks and reclining chairs, of course.

Last year, I decided it was time to rebel. After the traditional breakfast in bed--as usual, delivered hours before my eyes were ready to open--I got up, got dressed and announced that we were going shopping. I marched purposefully into the store, pulled out my credit card, and marched back out with a brand-new hammock under my arm.

"Wow! Who's that for?" the kids asked.

"It's for me," I told them sternly. "This is my gift to me for Mother's Day." I explained, using a manner and vocabulary appropriate to their ages (then 10 and 12) about Mother's Day vs. Father's Day and the dichotomy and sociopolitical implications thereof. The hammock, I told them, was far more than a fun place to lounge around. It was a statement, a manifesto, not just for me but for moms everywhere.

"I get to sit in it first!" they shouted simultaneously, launching an argument that lasted until we pulled into the driveway.

I rephrased my statement. "It's mine. I'm going to sit in it. All day."

They were stunned.

"It's Mother's Day. Remember?" I said.

"Oh, yeah."

But first, we had to hang it. They helped, fetching tools from the garage and crawling around in search of dropped drill bits. By the time I was finished, they had bought into the idea.

"Here, Mom," my daughter said, handing me her whistle. "Whenever you need anything today, just blow and we'll be here to wait on you."

I climbed in. Then I looked at their faces and climbed back out. "Get in," I said. "But one at a time." Wisely, they didn't bicker over who went first.

After they had both given the hammock a thorough test swing, they turned it back over to me. Then they ran back and forth into the house to haul out newspapers, iced tea, cookies, a sweater, a pillow--whatever they thought I might want.

I blew the whistle as soon as they disappeared inside, and they both hurried back over to me.

"Yes, Mom?"

"What can we do for you?"

"Close the door behind you," I told them, as if to prove that I was still actively a mother.

I spent a delicious afternoon there in my Mother's Day hammock, dozing, reading, and dozing some more. I even swung it just a little, and felt as if I had achieved some sort of justice at last.

But I have to confess, even though I picked it out myself, that hammock was hardly my all-time favorite Mother's Day gift. To be honest, it's not even in the top 10.

How could it compare with the handmade construction paper daisy I got one year, with each of its petals a coupon good for a free hug or bedtime story or other special favor? It's still intact--I could never bring myself to cash in any of the petals.

Or the stationery my daughter made, decorated with her own handprints? Or the card my son gave me when he was in third grade, with a pair of paper lips that sprang toward me when I opened it to deliver a Mother's Day kiss?

Then there's the Mother of the Year award they gave me, even though I hardly deserved it. And the ceramic plate my daughter made, decorated with a smiling elephant and equally smiling sun. I still have the poems they wrote me, and the bouquet of flowers made of tissue paper and pipe cleaners. Over the years, let me tell you, I've made quite a haul.

Every mother has similar treasures, whether she keeps them on display or stashed away in a box somewhere. They're the reason we maintain our conspiracy not to expose the Mother's Day hoax.

So tomorrow, like all the other moms, I'll go along with the myth that I'm taking the day off. After all, someday I'll have more time off than I want. I just hope the hammock holds out until then.

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