In Honor of Mother’s Day, One of My Happiest Memories of My Mother.

Today is Mother’s Day in the United States and Canada.

Some people think it’s ridiculous to celebrate holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – that these are just commercial holidays forced on us by clever marketers. But I think it’s nice to be prompted to think lovingly about your mother and your father, and the mothers and fathers in your life.

The other day, I was contemplating (as I often do) an observation made by my spiritual master, St. Therese of Lisieux, in her extraordinary memoir, The Story of a Soul.

While writing about being blamed for things and scolded for little transgressions in her convent, she noted, “I noticed this: when one performs her duty, never excusing herself, no one knows it; on the contrary, imperfections appear immediately.”

So true, right? You do something perfectly and reliably, nobody notices. You make a mistake, everyone complains.

This is particularly true of parenthood, which involves a myriad of tasks, small but pesky and relentless, that need to be done without fail. “I packed lunch for four years,” a friend told me, “and all I hear about – to this day – is that time in first grade when I forgot to put in my son’s dessert.”

It’s true that parents don’t get a gold star for everything they do right, but often, just hear about it when they mess up. But it’s also true that, as my mother once told me, “The things that go wrong often make the best memories.” Here’s an example.

Of the countless times in my childhood when my mother drove carpool, or picked me up to go to an orthodontist’s appointment, or wherever, I have only the haziest recollections. All I remember is the time when she was very late picking me up. But this is an important memory.

It was a very snowy day when I was in grade school — fourth grade, I think — and my mother was late. She’s completely reliable, so I was anxious about the fact that she wasn’t there, and I was embarrassed about being left over when all the other kids had gone home, and I was worried about what would happen if she didn’t show up. She didn’t come, and she didn’t come, and finally I was sent to wait in the library, in the main building of the school, until someone came to get me.

It got later and later. I could feel the building emptying out. Still no sign of my mother. The snow was getting heavier. I was getting more and more anxious.

Finally, I saw my mother coming up the steps to the library, and I had to fight back the urge to burst into tears from sheer relief. I was so happy to see her! She was staggering under the weight of my sister, who was probably four or five years old, both of them covered with snow, and she was slipping around on the unshoveled walkway as she battled her way to the door.

And I thought to myself, Nothing can ever stop my mother from coming for me.

I remember that her car had become stuck on a patch of ice, but I have no recollection of what happened next. Did my father come to get us, did the school receptionist give us a ride? I’ve never asked my mother about that afternoon, so perhaps my memory isn’t even accurate. But that’s how I remember it.

And that’s how I think about my mother.

  • Oh, wow! That story made me tear up! How beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Franmk20

    Beautiful story! And thank you for reminding me that the imperfections are what create great memories. It makes me feel better about my imperfections as a Mom today;)

  • gametime2210

    I’ve been a fan of yours for a long, long time, and I just have to say this is one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever written. Thanks for all you do. Happy Mother’s Day.

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s so nice to hear. Thanks for letting me know.

  • shelley lewis

    This reminds me of how I feel about my Mom. She would do whatever she could to help me. This is my 3rd Mother’s Day without her so this sweet story opened the floodgates of emotion. Thank you for sharing your amazing talent. Happy Mother’s Day

  • Mimi Gregor

    It would be interesting to hear the story from your mother’s perspective. We often remember things much differently than the way other people remember them… which is altogether different than the objective facts of the situation. We all color things with our own perceptual filters.

    • Miss Honey

      I bet her mother would say “I have absolutely no memory of that!”

      • Mimi Gregor

        LOL! Probably! It may not have been a memorable occasion from mom’s perspective; just business as usual for a mother. From a child’s perspective, however, it seems that one has been abandoned, and the time stretches out to seem hours when only perhaps a half hour has elapsed. I still remember an occasion from childhood when mom left me with dad (I was a toddler, it was her first time out to go to a baby shower, and I was afraid she was gone for good, LOL.) I cried the whole time and dad was pissed off. Poor mom. All she wanted was an evening out!

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes – I wonder if my mother even remembers this! I will ask her.

      Gretchen Rubin

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  • Kathy

    What a lovely story, and lesson to take from it.

  • disqus_37mrSfqlyT

    This made me cry. Beautiful.

  • Carla

    Such a beautiful tribute to your mother. Thank you for sharing.