This past Sunday, I found myself standing in the local Hallmark store, staring at my shopping list. I needed cards for my mother and my ex-mother-in-law for Mother’s Day in two weeks. In addition, my parents’ anniversary is the day after the holiday, so is my niece’s and her husband of one year.
My ex-mother-in-law, whom I still see regularly, is a very sweet woman. However, Hallmark simply doesn’t make “Happy Mother’s Day to My Ex-Mother-In-Law” cards. That’s too many syllables and too convoluted a concept even for the people who invented Grandparent’s Day and annually come up with new “Happy Administrative Assistant’s Day” cards. But Elaine is also very easy to please, so I was able to find something rather quickly in the “For Anybody” section of the Mother’s Day aisle. Now came the part I was dreading.
“Mom,” the first card I tried for my own mother read, “you were always there with a tender word and a soft voice … ” Put that one down; tried another. “To my Mom, you always supported me with a hug and a kind word … ” Stuck that one back in a hurry. “Mother, your sweet and gentle ways … ” Couldn’t put that one back fast enough.
OK, I love my mother. My mother is intelligent, strong, and capable. My mother helps children and little old ladies, and held down a full-time job while keeping the house immaculate and cooking every meal from scratch every day for forty years. But my mother is not sweet or gentle or tender. For those of you who are old enough to remember this reference, imagine General George S. Patton, but five feet tall, with breasts. And less patience. Without going into graphic details, suffice it to say that my mother is a loud, demanding, intolerant, hyperactive control freak, who frequently does wonderful things for everyone around her, so you can’t even stay mad at her. But just try to find a Mother’s Day card that fits.
I swear, after ten minutes of searching, I had picked up every card in the damned store with no luck. Three other women had come and gone in that time, looking the cards over, making their selections with mushy little smiles, and happily leaving.
I was getting pretty huffy by the time a young couple, about twenty years old, approached. The pretty blond girl smiled at me innocently, not realizing what she was risking until I spewed out, “What I want to know is, where are the cards that say ‘Mom, you drive me freakin’ crazy, but I love you anyway?!’"
The girl just giggled, probably thinking I was kidding. However, behind her back, her boyfriend’s eyes went wide in comprehension and he did that frantic OH-MY-GOD-YES head nod, 1-2-3-4-5 mini-nods in a row, really, really fast. This kid got it! I immediately felt slightly better, because I obviously wasn’t alone in my dilemma. I took a deep breath, selected a card that I felt was the least objectionable, and made my way to the next gut-wrenching item on my list: the anniversary cards.
Now, given what I’ve told you about my mother, you can imagine what kind of a marriage my folks have. The fact is, my parents do love each other. However, they don’t like each other; they, in fact, bring out the worst in each other. My mother is a perfectionist and my father is a screw up. So I was ready to bang my head against a wall as I read all those cards that said things like, “Mom and Dad, thank you for the loving example … ” and “You showed me what marriage should be … ” not to mention “You made our home a warm and safe haven … ” I was ready to scream.
Again, I love my parents, but I just hate going through this farce every year. They just don’t make You-Tolerate-Each-Other-Because-You’re-Too-Stubborn-To-Do-Anything-Else cards. So after three more trips around the store to determine that, no, there really wasn’t anything else better to offer, I finally chose one that wasn’t as much of a lie as the rest.
And moved on to the last card on my list, which should, in theory, be fairly easy: the anniversary card for my very amiable niece and her equally nice husband. They’re young, attractive, bright, hard-working, fun-loving outdoor types, upwardly mobile, and pleasant to be around. Hell, this should be a piece of cake compared to everybody else on my list today, right? Think again.
It seemed that all of the anniversary cards were either in the vein of “still together after all these years, huh?” or fronted by cutesy little hand-holding teddy bears that made me want to poke their button eyes out. Yet again, I tramped up and down the aisles, pulling out card after card to no avail. This was ridiculous! I’d now been in the damned store for more than half an hour; this was supposed to have been a ten-minute stop on the way to my important errands of the day!
Finally, FINALLY, look at that! There, peeking out from behind the card with the stupid kissing giraffes! I found it: A simple, cream-colored background, with a soft-focus photograph of a young couple on a beach, walking away from the camera, obviously laughing and hugging and enthusiastically enjoying each other’s company. It even looks like Ashley and Nate! It’s perfect for them! Until I notice one thing: it’s in Spanish.
Now, the only things I know how to say in Spanish are “nachos” and “margarita,” preferably together. But the inside says “Feliz Aniversario,” which I’m pretty damned sure makes it an anniversary card, so you know what? That’s what they’re getting.
I can’t wait until June, when my mother’s birthday arrives right on the heels of Father’s Day.