Sisterhood Blog

Claiming Mothers Day

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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As a child, Mothers Day was about making my mom the kinds of crayoned cards and beaded necklaces I now relish receiving from my own children. As a teenage and then adult daughter, it became about honoring my mother and grandmothers by visiting with them.

We would go out to New Jersey, where I grew up, to visit my mom on Mothers Day, and after she moved to Philadelphia, go there. As my own children arrived and travel became more demanding, it was one of those command performances that I secretly slightly resented.

Then my mom got sick with brain cancer when I was pregnant with my youngest, and I took the train to Philly every other week or so to see her and accompany her to doctors. When RockerChick was just two days old we rushed down as mom was about to be taken in to a neurosurgery.

I had to fight with the nurses to bring my newborn into her room. They were right, of course, that it presented a risk to the baby, but I wasn’t sure mom would survive the surgery and I needed to know she’d held Rockerchick, even once.

Mom did come out of that surgery and died seven months of arduous treatment later. My parents had been divorced for many years, and she died precisely a week after my father married his long-time girlfriend.

The following May my father made clear that we were expected at his apartment for Mother’s Day, so off we dutifully went. He told me then that he’d like it if my children called his wife “grandma,” but it was just too soon. Far too soon. His wife (who I love and has come to be a loving grandmother to my children) has a family tradition of each woman bringing a small gift for every other, so that year and for several more I came home loaded down home with mugs and the like.

For years I wanted not to spend Mother’s Day with D’s extended family, but I didn’t feel brave enough or adult enough to disappoint my father.

Last year, though, finally, it was time. I sent my step-mother a lovely flower arrangement and we bought tickets for a Circle Line cruise around Manhattan – something I’d always wanted to do.

And this year Mothers Day was nearly perfect. I got to sleep in until 11 and was awakened with a call from my sister, our relationship made far stronger through our mother’s illness and death eight years ago now. My girls made me heart-shaped whole-wheat-strawberry-and-chocolate chip pancakes, and brought them to me in bed. Then we took a drive to a distant part of the city, a beach community deserted on this windy spring day. We played wiffle-kickball-baseball and then walked on the empty beach. Girlchik collected shells, Rockerchick wrote in the sand with a good piece of driftwood and Boychik sat with me on the rocky jetty, giving me long hugs throughout the day. On the way out we stopped in an art gallery and found a Turkish restaurant with great food, full of Russian families out for Mothers Day dinner. The kids also (mostly) heeded my request not to bicker — which was the best gift of all.

It has taken me a long time to make the internal transition to accepting that I am the mother in my family and what that means for my children and husband (and me). I am the gravitational force exerting pull on my children’s choices and moods whether I like it or not.

With my mother and grandmothers all passed on, now I am at the head of the maternal line.

And I’m finally accepting that Mothers Day is mine to claim.


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