When I was a child, I looked forward to Mother’s Day with extreme excitement. Not the waiting-for-Santa-Claus type of holiday thrill, but the anticipated joy of putting a smile on my mother’s face by delivering the classic breakfast in bed on the day meant to honor her.
Later in life, I learned from my stepdad who spent years in the wholesale fish business that Mother’s Day is among the busiest restaurant days of the year. Maybe that’s because burnt toast and cold eggs, no matter how lovingly prepared, isn’t the most satisfying meal? More likely, dinner out has taken root in our society as a way to give mom the day off from her presumed traditional daily role of cooking family meals.
Times have changed, and with them traditions, too. I know many dads who do more cooking than moms, and many families who eat out most nights, making the holiday restaurant meal less special. While I suspect my daughters 7 and 8½ are scheming right now about what breakfast to deliver to my bedside this Mother’s Day morning, they are old enough to relate to our own family traditions, which are more about connecting with each other and with Mother Earth.
I’ve confessed that my “seasonally ecstatic disorder” makes me want to mark most holidays by celebrating cycles in the natural world (I typically plant lettuce on St. Patricks Day). On Mother’s Day, I enjoy being a mom to the fullest sharing my passions with my family, and making time to enjoy the natural world that nurtures our bodies and souls.
My traditions begin with physical labor. Not the kind that brought my children into the world but something more pleasant! Rather than lounge in bed on Mother’s Day morning, waiting for the toast (or maybe after consuming it appreciatively), my husband, kids and I (often along with my mother, who usually spends the holiday with us) don rubber boots and head to our nearby strawberry field. Here, we pick conditions permitting upwards of 40 pounds of juicy, ripe berries.
The outing yields sweet treats for weeks to come, making the holiday last more than a day. But it also gives us a chance to reward our local farmers for the work they put into growing this fabulous produce a task (not unlike a mother’s raising of her children) that requires dedication, long days, and patience. And it comes with setbacks big and small the farm lost over 90 percent of its harvest a few years back due to extreme weather, a phenomenon plaguing many fruit crops.
Next is the issue of cooking. It may be unthinkable for most moms to spend time in the kitchen on Mother’s Day, but leaving 40 pounds of ripe strawberries piled in their boxes on the counter (especially if picked on a hot or wet day) is like leaving your baby in a soiled diaper. To protect and extend the sweetness of our harvest, we have to quickly store them when we get home.
I revel in spending a few hours as a family sorting, dabbing dry, slicing, freezing, and dreaming of the yummy concoctions to come from the fruits of our labor. We leave most of the baking for another day, but a no-bake strawberry pie is an absolute must on Mother’s Day, as are some strawberry drinks whipped up in the blender. Add a salad and quiche or roast turkey breast and we have a simple, delicious meal. Cooking brings me great personal joy, and teaching my girls the pleasure of cooking is one of my great joys as a mom. Plus, lingering in the kitchen and munching on fresh spring produce comes in lower-budget and lower-calorie than braving the restaurant crowds.
Third, on the matter of flowers. Traditionally, April showers have brought May flowers (although those patterns, too, are changing), so flowers make sense for Mother’s Day. I especially enjoy them while wandering outdoor gardens, or natural areas where wildflowers are in bloom. Since holidays are times for special experiences, we often use Mother’s Day weekend to explore places off of our typical path. Last year we visited Hillwood gardens, at the historic DC-area home of Margaret Merriweather Post. This year, my daughter suggested the gardens at Oatlands Plantation, where her father and I were married. What a sweet remembrance of where our “family life” started!
Finally, with regard to gifts, you might assume flowers would be perfect for me. They are, but cut bouquets are generally short-lived, in part because they are flown from far-away places, (adding a high carbon tally to their price tags) and picked days, or weeks, before. Rather than watching my family’s gift to me wilt quickly in a vase, I’d like to watch it grow for years to come. I’ve heard that plants are the Mother’s day gift of choice among rural farmers, and it strikes me as quite fitting to give a living thing on this day. So, I too, prefer plants, especially the flowering kind.
Literature is full of analogies between mothers and gardeners. Both require tenderness, nurturing, patience and persistence to ensure their charges whether seedlings or children flourish. Several years ago, my husband and girls planted a rhododendron for me. It is sadly now being eclipsed by a faster-growing plant, but the unfortunate placement reminds me of the many lessons my kids will learn as they grow themselves.
Why do I volunteer myself for so much work on Mother’s Day rather than pampering at the spa?
Well, like most moms, the best gift for me is the love that comes with sharing food and time together, and making new memories. There are other days for the spa!
Sarene Marshall is a Senior Advisor for The Nature Conservancy. Opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.
Photos courtesy of Sarene Marshall: 1) Sarene and her daughters pick strawberries together, a family Mother’s Day tradition. 2) In a three-generation photo, Sarene, her mother and daughters, at a family outing at the gardens at Hillwood estate.
By Sarene Marshall, The Nature Conservancy