My mother died one year ago today: February 21, 2012. It happened unexpectedly and suddenly, but thankfully not so suddenly that she was alone. My father and sister were with her in her last moments. My brother and I arrived home that night. That Tuesday began a very difficult week that included planning, visitation on Friday, her funeral on Saturday, and her burial the next Monday. It doesn’t feel like a whole year has already passed. I miss her very much.
Mom loved doing things for people: for family, for friends, for the Church, for strangers. She decorated cakes for church functions, friends’ weddings, and family members’ weddings. She volunteered in several capacities over the years in our parish. She made sandwiches to deliver to the hospital once a month to feed the families of patients who were there waiting. (Incidentally, Mom died in this same hospital.) She never passed up a gift-giving opportunity. In fact, she created them.
We all have Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day in June. Well, in our family, we had Children’s Day. It was always the third Sunday in July. As far as I know, it was Mom’s idea. Dad mentioned sometime this past year that she might have gotten the idea from one of the magazines she read, but even if she did get the idea elsewhere, it became something that was very “Wanda.” I believe — and I could be wrong, because you know how memories aren’t always reliably accurate — that our first Children’s Day was in July 1980, when I was four years old, my sister was two years old, and my brother was a couple months shy of being born. I remember the first one, and my memories only include my sister, not my brother. Mom chose July because it was far enough away from the other gift-giving occasions of the year: Christmas; Easter [the Easter Bunny always treated us well]; and our January, February, and soon-to-be September birthdays. Mom had started her cake decorating hobby already, and both of us got our own small cake for Children’s Day. We got to decorate them ourselves. Mom always made us a card for Children’s Day as well. They started out handmade, and then in the late 1980s when we got the Print Shop software, she printed them. In the last several years, the cards became handmade again.
I don’t remember if there were presents that first year we had Children’s Day, or any of the early Children’s Day, but they were probably there. I do remember presents from most of the years, mostly because of how they were given to us. In our Children’s Day card was the location of our first hidden present. Always wrapped in Sunday comics from the local newspaper, which Mom probably saved all year to use for Children’s Day wrapping paper, our presents were hidden all over the house. The note might say something like, “Connie, find your first present in the clothes dryer.” So I’d run out to the clothes dryer, find my present, open it, and along with that present would be instructions to find the next present. Presents could be hidden pretty much anywhere: under the couch, in the dishwasher, in a cabinet or drawer in the kitchen, in the garage, etc. I don’t remember very many of the presents. Most were small, but once in a while there’d be a bigger one, which was always the last one that we found.
It was such a fun day, something I looked forward to every year. Even as we grew up and moved out of the house, we’d still have Children’s Day, just without a cake or scavenger hunt. Every year Mom threatened to have that be the last one since we were grown, out of the house, and lately, we were all in our 30s! But we were always her children, and we always had Children’s Day.
If I were able to have children, or if I thought that adoption is something that I would pursue, it’s a tradition I would certainly carry on with my children. As things look now, I probably won’t be having my own children. I’m blessed instead with three wonderful godchildren, and thanks to my recent move, we’re now pretty much in the same city. I decided a few months ago that starting in 2013, I would have Godchildren’s Day for them. Birthday season at their house is August through September, so the 3rd Sunday of July wouldn’t work for them the same way it worked for me and my siblings. After some thought, I decided on the 3rd Sunday of February. I like the idea of having it on the 3rd Sunday of a month since that’s what my mom chose for us. February is far enough away from Christmas for me, though I admit having it later in the year would balance out the gift-giving occasions a bit more. But the 3rd Sunday of February has one more thing going for it that trumps everything else: some years, it will fall on February 21st, the anniversary of Mom’s death.
This past Sunday, February 17, 2013, was our first Godchildren’s Day. Heather brought the kids down to the house, and Eugene fixed us lunch. We had hoped to use the grill out on the porch, but winter decided to show up again on Saturday night, and temperatures had gone below freezing. Still, we had burgers and hot dogs, and everybody enjoyed them. As the 9 year old said, “Mr. Eugene, you’re a pretty good cook. Almost as good as me!”
After lunch, I gave them their cards. Up until that moment, none of us had used the words “Godchildren’s Day,” and even then we didn’t really explain it. They read where to find presents, and that was all the explanation they needed. The kids had fun running around the house finding their presents, ripping them open, and almost completely ignoring the present so they could find the clue for the next one. [This was one of the moments that made me miss Mom the most that day. I wanted to call her and ask her if we had done the same thing as kids.]
After they’d found all their presents, they took some time to color in their new coloring books, and then we tested out the big box of Legos that I brought back from Tennessee on a recent trip. We all had fun with those.
Dessert was banana splits, complete with green maraschino cherries for the kid that can’t have red dye. We played some more to run off some energy before it was time for them to head home. All in all, I’d say it was a success.
I didn’t tell the kids that we were going to have Godchildren’s Day every year, and they certainly didn’t ask. But while they may not be anticipating the next one, I’m already thinking about it: good ideas for presents, hiding places for them, and fun and kid-friendly foods for lunch and dessert. I’m excited to be on the other side of the holiday; I’m thrilled to be passing this on to the next generation even if they aren’t my own children; and mostly I’m grateful to my mother for loving us so much that she made up a holiday for us.
I miss you, Mom. I love you.