What I Learned From Asking Your Kids About You For Mother's Day
The stories I've heard are epic, embarrassing, somewhere between painfully true and totally inaccurate, and filled with love. The basics are iffy. When you receive that handmade card from your child’s daycare or preschool this Mother's Day, or open up a questionnaire declaring that your natural habitat is “Target,” know that someone like me had a blast asking kids in my care about their moms.
I have taught little kids for years, and here is what I have learned.
Most kids don't know their parents' actual names. To them, you are just "Mommy." That is your name, your whole identity. They usually believe you are either 6 or 60, or, as one child put it, "just really really old." If you work, they have no concept of what your job is, which I understand, because I still don't really know what my parents do.
The details, however, they remember. They remember you don't like your face in your hair. They remember you like to eat a salad while daddy drinks beer. They remember you like flowers and hugs. They remember that sometimes you yell. They remember you're happiest in the sun, you wear glasses, you cut your hair when they didn't want you to, you love drawing, you're good at macaroni and cheese, you drive a messy car, you always sing, you have a big purse, you’re beautiful. They remember that “mommy doesn’t drink water, she drinks wine." Their details are personal and revealing; they notice you.
It's easy to find a template for these questions online. Google "Mother's Day questions" and a wealth of options come up, but I always much preferred to have organic conversations with children and just document whatever arose.
"Tell me about your mama," I'd say, and that open-ended question is why I also call this gift challenging. Three-year-olds are busy (busier and often more distracted than a secretly pregnant woman working a 55-hour work week who just wished she could lie in bed and eat chocolate). I'd ask about mom and they'd ignore me. I'd ask about mom and they'd say, "I don't know." I'd ask about mom and they'd say, "She's my mommy." They were too busy playing trains and babies and puzzles and dumping every last grain of rice from the sensory table onto the floor to be bothered with my questions.
There is not a single child, ever, in the history of mama stories that has not at one point wistfully said, 'I love my mommy. She loves me.'
Over the years I got smart, though. When do kids want to tell you something? When you don't have time. When you're talking to somebody else. When you're not asking them to tell you something. So I'd follow them around and record their personal conversations during class time (what counts as stalking in other arenas of the world is just being attentive and documenting learning in a preschool classroom!). Or I'd ask a different child about their mama when I actually wanted another child to answer, at which point the indirect subject of my questioning would succumb to my trickery by excitedly sharing their own response.
Most importantly, they all remember they love you. There is not a single child, ever, in the history of mama stories that has not at one point wistfully said, "I love my mommy. She loves me." They might not know your name. Maybe sometimes you yell. But at the end of the day what sticks with these tiny, funny, truth-speaking people is a vein of love and reverence for the one, who carried them first and continues to carry their hearts forever.
Over the years, I've heard all kinds of different stories. But they all end the same. What a gift it's been to witness that again and again — that, in summary, having a mom is pure loving and being loved.
This year will be my first Mother's Day as a mama, myself. My 7 month old won't be able to tell funny, charming stories about me for someone to commit to paper. but I'd like to imagine that if it was possible, she'd say, "She's a damn good mom," "I love her," and also, because it's true, "She needs to wash her hair."
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.