Mother’s Day is a celebration for so many. But what if it’s not as simple as buying a flowery card and gushing about your love for your mom? Contributor April Reigart shares her experience of the minefields of Mother’s Day. 

It’s May. I’m in this little card store that I love on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. I usually pick my mother-in-law’s card first, because it is easy to pick out a beautiful card for a woman who has given me unwavering love and support. Sadly, she is not with us this year. I move on to Elaine—my husband’s father’s ex-wife—she’s been like a mother to me for 13 years. “Whenever I count my blessings, I count you twice…” “Your strength and love have always guided me…” “Thank you for always being there for me…” I continue to browse through all the beautiful Mother’s Day cards—I miss my grandma, a pretty one for my stepmother—then, it’s time.

Last one. My mother. Every year I read every card, cycle through a series of facial exercises, and then move on to the section of cards labeled Blank Inside.

I sit at some table, every year, and I stare in to the blank space—pen poised and ready—and I think of things I’d like to write. Mom, remember that time you kicked me out of the house when I was still in high school—because your boyfriend didn’t want me there… Mom, I can’t understand that decision you made—when I was just 6 years old—to let your second husband (out of 4), whom you barely knew, take me, alone, on a car trip from our home in Texas to Mississippi, for a month… Mom, it was really hard on me that time I tried to reach out to you when I was putting myself through college—when I was struggling with the eating disorder—and you told me you don’t understand me because I’m black and you’re white… Mom, remember when I worked up the courage to tell you what your second husband did to me, and you responded with ‘Why are you doing this to me?’

When most people hear the word “mother”, they’re filled with feelings of warmth, support, love and protection. When I hear this word, I hear that sound you hear when you are standing inside of a tunnel—the sound of void. When I hear this word, I feel blank inside. Often, I think of other people’s mothers. I’ve had to stitch motherly love together like a quilt—my grandmother, my aunt, Elaine, Grandma Annette, Mrs. Becker (my 3rd grade teacher), Mrs. Fischer (my 6th grade teacher), my mother-in-law, my girlfriend’s mom growing up. I’m truly grateful for these women in my life, as they’ve made all the difference for me.

The fact remains that when it comes to my own mother, my feelings are somewhat hollow and blank. I accept this. I am not sorry for myself. I am not a victim. I was, once, when I was young and trying to grow up. I had a lot of fear and self-loathing. I made a lot of mistakes. I accept this, too. I know I am not the only person with a rough start in life, and we all have to find the courage to persevere. I also know that my life experiences are what make me the strong, compassionate woman I am today. I realize something else very important—all of these things that I am have allowed me to become a great mother.

I can now take a blank card and write it out for myself—to the mother that I amRemember all those times you massaged oil into his delicate little limbs, after his bedtime bath, and sang loving songs to him… Remember when you would hold him and rock him to sleep… You know how you take him for those long walks in the woods—picking wineberries, mint leaves, and careful with the nettles… You know how you always show up at school to talk with his teachers or read a book to his class… You know how you draw the faces on all his lunchbox bananas… The warm, fresh-baked cookies for afterschool… You know how you’re there for him, unwaveringly, always…

I am no longer blank inside. That motherly void is filled with so much love and fierceness for my son. In a way, my son has helped heal me and given me the most important validation of my life. I am a mother, worthy of my gift.

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April Reigart is an Institute for Integrative Nutrition Certified Holistic Health Coach, and also certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. She holds a Master’s Degree from Tyler School of Art, and lives in Philadelphia with her husband and young son. She is available for one-on-one coaching and health strategizing, and offers free initial health consultations. Her first book, Dinner Rush: A Busy Parent’s Guide to Better Nutrition, will be available in June. You can find April through her website, www.aprildawnreigart.com, on Facebook or follow her on Instagram.