Words by Abigail Rasminsky. Illustration by Leonard Beard.
I was four years old and it was the morning of Mother’s Day. It was dark when I awoke and my parents and sister were still sleeping. I tiptoed from my second-floor bedroom to the kitchen because I had a plan: I was going to make my mother a special Mother’s Day breakfast.
I loved when my mother made me my favorite breakfast: croissants with a dollop each of honey and jam, so I could alternate dips with each bite, and I wanted to do the same for her. (Never mind that she ate Grape Nuts every morning.)
I knew croissants lived in the freezer, but the door was high and must have been shut with that suction refrigerators sometimes have. I had to grab the handle with both hands and lean back with my whole body to get it unstuck. I pulled a croissant out of its packaging and placed it on the counter. Then I dragged a kitchen chair along the Mexican tiles over to the counter, climbed up the counter and retrieved a plate. Next was the orange juice. I removed the carton from the fridge, placed a small glass on the floor, then, perched on my knees, poured it out using two hands as I’d been taught.
From there I carried the plate in one hand and the glass in the other up the stairs, but how I managed without the croissant sliding off, orange juice spilling or the plate dropping and shattering is beyond me.
Now, looking at my own four-year-old, I can’t imagine her doing any of this—and certainly not without waking me up.
Still what I remember is this: I waited outside my mother’s bedroom, trying—and failing—to stay still on my belly, for what felt like hours, but was probably only 45 minutes. I remember seeing the sun come up. I also kept accidentally knocking over the glass and spilling bits of orange juice. I was worried that if I went down to get more she’d wake up and I’d miss my chance to surprise her, but I also feared that if this kept up I’d have spilled so much there would be none left.
And mostly: hoping against hope that the frozen croissant would unfreeze before she woke up. Every few minutes, I’d stab it with my little finger to check its status.
When my mother finally stirred just the slightest bit, I stormed in and presented her with breakfast. She was shocked. I had, of course, never served her breakfast in bed (and never did again) and usually walked in with a demand (“I’m hungry!”).
“Ab!” she beamed, “How thoughtful of you!”
She drank what little juice was left—at best, two sips—and, with a huge smile on her face, she ate the croissant, saying nothing of the fact that it was, of course, still frozen.
Would every mother have done that? For decades I thought so, but after recently recounting the story to a friend, she said, “My mother would never have eaten that.”
“Really?” I asked, somewhat alarmed.
“She would have suggested we go to Dunkin’ Donuts.”
“Would you have eaten it?” I asked. She has four children, which accounts for a lot of Mother’s Day offerings.
Now that I’m a mom, I can say that I would. I know I would.
I beamed with pride as my mother, still in her nightgown under the covers, ate the inedible breakfast. It was my first experience of understanding the power of giving—how it can be as good, if not better, for the giver than for the receiver. Sitting on the bed next to her warm, familiar body, watching her enjoy each bite, I felt a new kind of joy. Not the kind that is handed to you, but the kind that you create for others. The kind that fills you up completely.
In the midst of all this, it never occurred to me that there was anything unusual about her actually eating the food. This was—and still is—my mother’s particular brand of mothering, and, increasingly, it is mine, too. The kind that goes all in, that makes her feel that everything she does is worthy of someone’s time, energy and attention (and taste buds), that she will never be let down.
My mother, now nearing 80, still makes me feel this way. In the thirty-plus years since that Mother’s Day, more than one person has told me that this is not an ideal kind of love. The kind that’s unabashed, no-holds-barred and uncritical. The kind that, while we may all long for it, only sets us up for disappointment from other people. They’ve told me that no one could ever love me like that again.
“But does that mean,” I ask, “that one person, one single person, shouldn’t?”
We’ve had decades-worth of lovely Mother’s Days since then, all with foods more delicious than that one, but that is the one my mother reminisces about most.
“Remember the time you made me breakfast?” she’ll ask.
And I’ll laugh and say, “Made you breakfast? I gave you an inedible frozen pastry and two sips of warm juice.”
“It was the thought, Ab.”
No matter how good the food or how thoughtful the gift or how beautiful the card – that is the Mother’s Day I’ll never outdo.