The Rugrats Mother’s Day Episode Hits You In A Totally Different Way As A Parent

I used to cry for Chuckie and now I cry for his mom.

Rugrats was, hands down, my favorite show as a child. I’ve seen every episode and still turn it on as a comfort show, even if my own kids aren’t around. There are not only incredibly funny and empowering female characters — Betty DeVille, Charlotte Pickles, hello — but it also clearly has moments that went right over my head as a kid. Rewatching Rugrats as an adult? Wow, those writers really told a story about parents, and the absolute best example of this is the episode titled “Mother’s Day.”

It’s Season 4, Episode 2, before we ever hear anything about Chuckie Finster’s mom. This whole time we’ve been sort of laughing about this nervous, scaredy-cat kid with the anxious single dad, and then Nickelodeon cracks our hearts wide open with a whole backstory for Chuckie and Chas.

As a child, you watch the episode and you know it’s big and heavy and important. Chuckie finds the box of his mother’s belongings and decides to give the picture of the beautiful lady he’s found to his dad as a gift, and Chas’s response is both subtle and intense. Even as a little kid, I got it — this is Chuckie’s mom and she died before Chuckie could know her.

But watching it now with three children of my own, connecting with Melinda and the diary she kept in the hospital, I feel it so viscerally. Chuckie is only 2. His mother must’ve died right after he was born, and the thought of facing a terminal illness when you’ve just become a mother, when you have an entire lifetime of loving and raising and caring for your brand new baby to do, is so deeply unfair. Rugrats often tackled some scary subjects with humor and grace, but “Mother’s Day” is incredibly moving. Every person I know who grew up watching Rugrats remembers it, and every person I know can still hear the poem Chuckie’s mom wrote being narrated over the images of him and Chas out in nature.

My sweet, little Chuckie, though I must leave you behind me

This poem will tell you where you always can find me.

When a gentle wind blows, that’s my hand on your face.

And when the tree gives you shade, that’s my sheltering embrace.

When the sun gives you freckles, that’s me tickling my boy.

When the rain wets your hair, those are my tears of joy.

When the long grass enfolds you, that’s me holding you tight.

When the Whippoorwill sings, that’s me whispering, “Night, night.”c

Eight-year-old me understood what this episode was saying back in May 1997, but now 35-year-old me has so many more emotions. That Chuckie never gets to have this deeply loving and caring mom help him grow up. That Chas has to raise his sweet little guy on his own and every milestone is bittersweet because she should be here. That you can’t figure out if it would be worse for Chuckie to know her at 2 and then lose her, or to never know her at all.

“Mother’s Day” as an episode has some very silly, funny moments for everyone — from DeeDee and Stu trying to enjoy the day with their own mothers to Phil and Lil’s memory of being newborns with their mom — but to weave in this story of Chuckie’s mom makes it so touching and poignant. It’s a reality for so many families, and the way the Rugrats team created this storyline to give you some insight into Chuckie and Chas (never again can you make fun of him for being anxious and neurotic, look at the trauma he’s been through!) and to address the question of “where is Chuckie’s mom” might be my favorite part of this beloved series.

I watched the episode a few times recently, just letting my 8-year-old self feel all those things again as a mom of three. My own grandmother lost her mom when she was a child — older than Chuckie at 7, still deeply traumatic — and one of the few things she has of her mother’s is a letter. A letter her mother wrote her — much like Chuckie’s mom did for him — while she was in the hospital, dying of breast cancer.

My great-grandmother wrote as though she might come home, but I think she knew she wouldn’t. And like Chuckie’s mom, I think she had a lot of time in the hospital to think about her children, about how much she was going to miss, about how much they were going to miss her. It is truly such a selfless act to put those feelings into a letter that brings great sadness, but also so much joy and love for your children to keep reading after you’re gone. It’s like a goodnight kiss from them every night, like an “I’m proud of you” after every school year, like a big hug when you need it the most. It’ll never be as good as her being there, but maybe, on some days, it can be just enough.

Like Mother’s Day.