when i was a little girl, they gave out carnations at church on Mother’s Day. white if your mother was deceased, pink if she was alive. my mother’s was white, mine, trailing beside her, obviously pink.  they were crinkly and soft, the flowers, little pom pom indicators.

these days, Oscar tags along to church with my mother some Sundays.  we’re not believers, his father and i, even of the mild sort frequented in the social gospel-focused United Church of Canada with its left-wing politics…but his grandmother is eager to bring him and i like the idea of him having exposure to the literacies of liturgy and scripture that are so foundational to the history of western culture…as well as him being part of a genuine multi-age community, where old folks fuss over him and note that he’s gotten his hair cut.

thus far my mother has refrained from having him guerrilla-baptized, so it’s all going along swimmingly. he likes church, especially the cookies at the end.  i hope his eventual faith choices will be based on deeper calls than those of his sweet tooth, but i suspect there may be a few in every congregation who are actually there for the cookies…so he’d not be alone, at least.

he came home today with carnations. one white, one pink.  one for his Nannie, and one for him to bring home to me. my mother stayed for lunch. and i was happy.

there is much that the pink flower on my kitchen table tonight does not tell about my relationship to Mother’s Day.  it does not explain that my mother and i sometimes can barely speak without snipping at each other. nor how i worry about her.  it doesn’t explain how she was left with me when she was only 23, already an orphan; how i sometimes rail that i was raised with not a single useful skill in the world and other times feel full to bursting at all she managed to hold together for me.

the pink flower does not note my own motherhood.  it does not mark that first Mother’s Day eight days after my son died, sprinkling ashes under the trees dug into the raw earth of our yard. neither does it note that my daughter is eight months old today, my last baby, already pulling herself up.  it does not know that it is carried in Oscar’s sturdy hands,  proffered up with a shy smile of bestowing.

when i was a kid, i thought the flowers told all.

i did not know about neglect, about abuse, about the holes adoptions can sometimes leave in mothers and in children.  i did not know about miscarriage and the death of children, about infertility, about role reversals and daughters who become caregivers and the hurts we inflict all over each other just in living out this primal relationship of Mother.  i did not know.  i was lucky.

i know, now.  i know this whole Mother’s Day thing is fraught with complications that Hallmark can’t begin to address.

but i got a pink flower, today.  and i smiled at my boy coming in the door and my mother behind him, and held my baby close in my arms and was grateful.  i am lucky, still.  i have my mother with me.  i have these children.  i am beyond thankful.

here we is.

mother's day 2009

three-generations