When my sisters and I used to ask my mom what she wanted for Mother’s Day, her birthday or Christmas, she would say something like, “panty hose.” Or, she’d ask for stationery, stamps, measuring spoons or Tupperware lids. (Not needing the bowls, you see, but the lids that always came up missing.) These answers were ridiculous to us. We cracked jokes about them. We cracked jokes about her. We didn’t believe anyone could be so unimaginative, so uninspired by the opportunity to improve herself. She was only interested in the trifling, mundane things. We assumed that she just didn’t get the concept of getting, and that she lacked a grand vision for her life that could only be realized by seizing every opportunity to procure shiny, new things.
Mothers can be a mystery to us in so many ways. It took me more than 40 years to comprehend a fraction of my mother’s life. But I’ve been coming around on this front. My mother wasn’t what I thought she was. She never stopped improving things or keeping things going. She took every opportunity to make things better. She knew all along what I’ve only learned lately. Once you put yourself into the effort – your whole heart, your undying love – there’s really nothing else you need.
When Mother’s Day comes around, and even more on every day after, I remember the things my mother asked me for most often. And then I do them. In doing these five little things, I’m giving my mother her heart’s desire: I’m taking good care of myself, so she can finally sit back and rest easy.
1. Make your bed. The state of your bed is the state of your head. Making your bed enfolds your day in respect and gratitude. The five minutes you spend making your bed slows you down from your frantic, morning scrambling and creates a calm retreat to welcome you home at night. Plus, making your bed means you’ve already achieved an even more challenging feat: getting out of it. Your mother can stop screaming at the top of her lungs to wake you up.
2. Wear clean underwear. Clean underwear, clean socks, clean shirts, clean pants: when you have these to wear it can only mean you’ve been doing your laundry, one of the most consistently transformative events in our everyday lives. Doing laundry is a supreme act of responsibility. It requires maturity, attention and discipline, and it engenders happiness. Don’t believe me? Your mother smiles every time you do your own load.
3. Eat your vegetables. Moms have never been more right about anything. Making conscious, healthful choices about what, when and how much we eat may be the single largest contributor to our well-being and longevity. Coming clean about our food addictions and aversions is powerful and lasting medicine. Eating is so central to family life and culture that we can pass on our habits for generations to come. Make friends with broccoli and your mother’s wisdom will nourish your family well past tonight’s empty plates.
4. Go to your room. Mothers know well how to quell conflict and restore peace. When the stress of the day has you at a breaking point, when family friction erupts into open warfare, retreat to your room. Make sure it’s quiet there. Make sure it has a place where you can sit, catch your breath, reflect and relax. Take a moment or two or ten, all the time you need for a thorough time out. The tactic to manage a two-year-old can do the trick at any age. Go to your room. When you emerge calm and refreshed, peace and forgiveness await, and your mother is proud of you.
5. Do something nice for yourself. When I grew up and left home, gifts from my mother often came tucked inside a Hallmark greeting card. She would send a check with the simple instruction, “Do something nice for yourself.” After the beds, the laundry, the cooking and cleaning up; after the feuds and misunderstandings; mothers want one thing above all else. They want their children to be happy. So do something nice for yourself every day, and you’ll be giving your mother endless joy. You can start by making your bed.