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On the coronavirus Mother's Day, get Mom what she really wants: Solitude and no dishes to do

Mothers are locked inside their homes with their blessings who can't go to school or play with friends and make lots of messes. Mothers are tired.
Sink full of dirty dishes
All I’ve ever wanted as a mother on this day was a moment to sit and to feel that I could just be and not have to worry about anything, not the craft debris on the floor or the dishes in the sink.Hill Street Studios / Getty Images

There is a website right now that tells me the perfect Mother’s Day gift is a hive of bees, which is exactly the gift you’d send to your enemy. A Facebook ad suggested what mothers like me really want this year is a subscription to a hot sauce of the month club. A blogger I follow suggested gifting mothers with a sourdough starter, the perfect gift in a pandemic. It’s exactly what a mother needs: something else that requires constant feeding and tending to and will never say “thank you.”

Mother’s Day under normal circumstances can be fraught: Some people are estranged from their mothers; others want to be mothers but cannot; still others hate the whole idea together. Corporations, meanwhile, bend over backward to throw all mothers up on a pedestal. “The real heroes!” they like to label us, all the while ignoring that motherhood in the United States is largely uncompensated labor, for which most women actually pay in lost income and wages as well as a nice tire of flesh around our middle that will not ever go away and the uncanny ability to always pee a little when you sneeze, Kegels be damned.

Motherhood is an eternal negotiation of various selves — your own self with the lives around you — and a balancing of needs (by which I mean who gets to poop alone). Yes, it’s beautiful and crushing, infuriating and transcendent.

But motherhood in a pandemic is something else; it’s motherhood on speed, motherhood both slowed down and intensified. Every moment goes by so slowly, and yet all of them feel like you are being wrung out and you increasingly have nothing else to give.

A recent Morning Consult study found that during this pandemic, even with both parents at home and working, it was still the women doing the majority of the chores and the child care and the homework. The headline from the accompanying New York Times article read like a parody of gender roles. “Nearly Half of Men Say They Do Most of the Home Schooling. 3 Percent of Women Agree.” (The article notes that “past research using time diaries has consistently shown that men often overestimate the amount they do, and that women do more.”)

I am a single mother and it’s a role I am happy in. I’m glad to have the life I have, with the alternating schedule and the court-mandated 50-50 equality. But still, on Zoom calls for work, I find myself saying things like, “OK, so you want to do a new monthly feature — stop hitting your brother, please. Sorry, continue. OK, go outside. OUTSIDE! Sorry, I meant to mute myself. Continue.”

I have to miss deadlines to figure out long division. More than once, my breaks have been to bounce on a trampoline in the backyard or figure out how to do a Google Hangout with a teacher.

In sum, mothers are tired. Mothers are locked inside with the beautiful blessings of their lives that wring and wring and wring out every last drop of everything in them. Happy Mother’s Day.

But Mother’s Day is always a weird day. My kids are little and, without a school’s reminder, they forget it exists at all. It feels like a “Mommie Dearest” kind of a moment to sit them down and demand that they do something for it. I don’t do that; I just make do.

Besides, even when I was married, Mother’s Day always involved more work on my part, requesting small gifts, or maybe we could just plant the garden? These things never happened. And then, of course, I wake up the next Monday morning to a pile of dishes from the special dinner made for me the night before.

Truly, all I’ve ever wanted as a mother was a moment — just a moment — to sit and to feel that I could just be and not have to worry about anything, not the craft debris on the floor or the dishes in the sink or the dust bunnies under the bed. So, every year, I’ve forced my kids to go out to brunch with me. I bring iPads and headphones and, now they are a little older, we all read books and eat food I don’t cook and it’s lovely. For an hour or so, I can forget all the things I am supposed to do and just be a person with no expectations, no demands — just a person.

This year, in a pandemic, there is no brunch to go to, and opening my computer, I’m inundated with articles and advice on how to make it a special day for myself, with tips on what I should do or what I should want.

But they all miss the point: The true gift any mother wants is not to do anything.

A Facebook group I belong to is filled with mothers who all recently confessed that what they want for Mother’s Day this year is to hide in a room, away from all the want and need and reaching fingers, to tuck themselves away into a locked corner of the house with a chamber pot and a bottle of booze and unlimited access to Netflix and snacks.

We are supposed to be grateful for this time — or so I’m told by memes and well-meaning women who tell me to cherish this extra time with my children. And I do. I love the notes that are slipped to me in Zoom calls that read “Why did you say a bad word? We r childrun, we can hear you.” I love playing Dead Man on the trampoline and that time when I was furiously working on an article and my small son out of nowhere came up and handed me a Diet Coke because he “fought dat I wanted one.”

But I’m also, very, very tired, and I don’t feel #blessed, because we live in a time of fear and uncertainty during which I have to explain “community spread” to my kids as they are decked out in cat-unicorn face masks.

It’s a global pandemic after all — and women are still doing the majority of the work.

So if you cannot give mom some space for Mother’s Day, please, for God’s sake, don’t give her bees or hot sauce or sourdough starters. Just give her a do-over on the day, whenever it’s safe to finally have a brunch.