It’s the Friday before Mother’s Day and my ten-year-old son, Matthew, comes home from school holding a gift that’s wrapped in pink tissue paper and tied with yellow ribbon.
“It’s for you for Mother’s Day,” he says. “But you can open it now.”
Wearing a big smile, I take the lightweight gift from Matt and wonder what sort of treasure awaits me this time. I think back to the many gifts my children have given me over the years. A half-painted wooden napkin holder. A vase made from a salad dressing bottle. A red-felt eyeglass case that’s large enough to hold a pair of binoculars, and a blue blob of glazed clay that my eight-year-old son Michael insists is a whale.
With each handmade gift I receive, I oooohhh and aaahhh enthusiastically and do my best to convince my child that I love it. Then I find it a place of prominence on the kitchen counter or on the family room mantel, where it remains for weeks on end until one day it mysteriously makes its way to the back of the hall closet or the bottom of a drawer.
Now don’t get me wrong — it’s not that I don’t appreciate the effort. I love the thought of my boys sitting at their school desks, carefully cutting and pasting and wrapping something they made just for me — but there’s a fine line between admiring my children’s handiwork and having to decorate my house with it.
Now, as I remove the ribbon and pull back the tissue paper on this latest gift, a familiar wave of anxiety creeps over me. Once it’s opened, will I know what it is? Will I be able to convince my son that a) I want it, b) I need it, and c) I love it? More importantly, will I be able to store it out of sight?
Fully unwrapped now, the answer to all of the above is clearly “no.” For there, in all its glory, is none other than a toilet paper roll decorated with scraps of ribbon and fabric.
“Do you know what it is?” Matt asks.
“It’s…it’s…” I stutter, stammer, and stall for time. Luckily for me, Matt comes to my rescue.
“It’s an extension cord holder,” he says. “You know, like if you have an extension cord that’s too long, you just stuff it all in there.” Then he adds, “It’s dumb, isn’t it?”
“Of course not,” I lie. “It’s great. And useful too.” And then, with even more conviction I add, “I especially like the decorations.”
“Oh, I didn’t do those,” Matt admits. “I don’t really like gluing things so the girl who sits at my table did it for me.”
“Well, she did a good job,” I tell him, as I wonder how long I have to pretend I like a toilet paper roll decorated by someone else’s kid.
Matt reads my mind. “You don’t have to keep it. Everyone in my class said their moms won’t like it.”
“Well I do,” I tell him. And as is the custom, I find it a place of honor on the extra-long extension cord in my bedroom where, more often than not, it “accidentally” gets kicked under the bed.
A couple days later, Matt comes home from school and I watch as he cleans out his backpack. Among several pieces of tattered and torn schoolwork is a card made out of construction paper. On the cover, in Matt’s best 10-year-old scrawl, it says “To Mom.”
“What’s this?” I ask.
“Oh,” says Matt nonchalantly. It’s the card I made you for Mother’s Day. I didn’t finish it.”
With his permission, I open the card and read his words aloud:
“Dear Mom…You are the best. You beat the rest. You knock ‘em over dead. I like the way you hold me tight, and when I have a problem your (sic) always there.”
“It’s beautiful,” I say through my tears.
“It’s not even done yet,” Matt protests. “Maybe I can finish it tonight.”
“I love it just the way it is,” I tell him. “I’m going to treasure it forever.”
And this time, I really mean it.