Bring it on, Mother's Day

Gird yourself, ladies, Mother's Day is upon us! Do you love the hullaballoo? Does it cause some pangs? I know for many it's a day fraught with an undercurrent of emotions: guilt about not quite measuring up to the grand pedestal of it all, disappointment in the sometimes meager gestures, sadness about mothers who are no longer here to celebrate (or never were), awkwardness about the fuss. It's taken me time but over the years I've tinkered with my approach to the day enough to know what works for me: (a) keep my expectations low enough so that any gesture will happily surpass them and (b) concentrate on celebrating the mothers and mother figures in my own life.

When it comes down to it, though, how can any celebration or token adequately repay the fact of the creation and delivery and nurture of a new human being, let alone whatever the next decades brought? One of my favorite poems about motherhood, The Lanyard by Billy Collins, perfectly captures the sentiment. I can't resist sharing it every year.

Here's to you, each and all, and the many lanyard-like offerings the weekend may bring:

Mother daughter vintage photobooth photo  via

Mother daughter vintage photobooth photo via

The Lanyard

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

- Billy Collins, from his collection The Trouble with Poetry
Or, here, treat yourself to listening to him read this himself.