Every year, Facebook memories makes sure I won’t forget an idyllic Mother’s Day of the past, which started with a breakfast-in-bed menu written in crayon. I got to choose between toast and cereal, and the fact that it was two hours earlier than I would normally eat was unimportant. Only half-awake, I blissfully ate my Cheerios and too-hard toast.
This year? I got out of bed and made a pancake breakfast for everyone. It was nice foreshadowing for later when I also made lunch. No adorable handmade cards. No badly wrapped handmade gifts. My spouse bought me a single red rose late in the afternoon because she was at the store anyway (very nice), but overall I didn’t feel celebrated. And it was tempting to feel a little resentful about that. I know it’s a stupid Hallmark holiday, and I know the work of being a mom is its own reward, and I know my kids are teenagers now and way too cool, I know I know I knowiknowiknow. But I liked the scrawled menu and the ritual, too-early breakfast in bed. I actually like Hallmark. I even cry during their stupid commercials.
What we did instead of celebrating the achievements of my uterus was to set up the trampoline that my kids got way back as a Christmas gift (speaking of holidays that demand selflessness and giving and sacrifice and all the best-mom qualities). My usually too-cool-to-notice teens were vibrating with excitement at the prospect of finally using this thing until I told them they would be doing most of the work to put it together. Friends had told us that their kids (who are younger than mine) had done it, so it seemed worth a try.
It was a sunny, warm-enough day, and we dragged the giant boxes to the chosen spot. My spouse collected the required wrenches, screwdrivers, and rubber mallet. I plunked myself down on a flattened cardboard box on the ground, and got ready to relax, drink coffee, and watch. My vision was to be in charge of delivering a dramatic reading of the extensive instructions to my anxious, uncertain-they-could-do-this-themselves, uncertain-they-wanted-to-do-this-themselves, not-sure-why-I-wasn’t-doing-this-for-them teens.
You’re wondering what any of this has to do with recovery, I know. Stay with me. It’s coming.
Setting up a trampoline is difficult if you imagine the project in its entirety. It’s a big thing with a lot of parts, and the safety concerns are real so you have to do it right. But each individual step of setting up a trampoline is so easy a kid can do it. Insert this tube into that tube. Tighten this nut onto that bolt. Now do this step again twelve more times.
“Ah ha!” you’re thinking. “Setting up a trampoline is a great metaphor for recovery!” And you’re correct, but it’s not what I’ve come to say. (Also—what do you take me for? A sucker for a cheap metaphor?)
(If you said yes, you’re correct again.)
My thirteen-year-old son and fifteen-year-old daughter, it turns out, had no idea how to adjust a wrench, so I had to get off my box and demonstrate. They were impressed by the way I used a Phillips-head screwdriver and a wrench at the same time to deftly crank a nut down the length of a thin bolt. I did it once, then it was their turn to do the next thirty. Everyone knew the difference between “finger tight” and “tool tight” within the first five minutes and why it mattered. Stretching the springs into place was an act of strength, and we had to work together. The instructions for tying on the pad that covers the springs weren’t clear, so we had to start over and everyone learned why knots needed to be the kind we can untie without using our teeth. We laughed together when I couldn’t find the screwdriver I had hidden by shoving it into my own pocket, and when my son got frustrated (which he does sometimes), I had to do that thing I do where I cajole him out of his own way so he can keep participating. (Being thirteen is really hard. I don’t pray, but if I did it would include a plea to never be thirteen again.) I was momming hard. It took hours and a lunch break (provided by this mom right here) but by midafternoon they were bouncing away in the May sunshine. Those carefully stretched springs squeaked a song of happy under their weight.
They even made sure I got a turn, and as my feet left the rubber surface, and I could see over the top edge of the safety net, I realized that the only thing missing this year was the beer. (Here’s the recovery part.) Not very long ago, I would have come back from our lunch break with a bottle of craft brew in my hand, returned soon to the house for another, and slowly I would have disappeared. I would have, almost imperceptibly, dissolved, and I wouldn’t even have known it was happening. I would have still helped and demonstrated and taught and laughed, but my momming would have diminished. Instead of sharing an experience with my kids, I would have paralleled them, drifting alongside, watching from somewhere else. It’s the difference between showing up in person or joining by speaker phone. The rubber bouncing surface sank beneath me, then propelled me toward the sky, and I recognized (for the first time, and with blinding clarity) that the fucked-up-ness of even a low-level, daily drinking habit is that it takes us away.
Bringing that clarity to my understanding of the day, the pancakes I made were better than a bowl of Cheerios, it’s awkward to eat in bed anyway, and my kids were psyched because I never make pancakes on a normal day. And now we have a trampoline. And that is why this may have been the best Mother’s Day I’ve had yet: because I stuck around for it.