Mother’s Day is a big deal in my family. A really big deal. It might not rival Christmas or Thanksgiving, but it blows birthdays and Father’s Day out of the water.
In theory, all the kids would be involved, but since my brother lives so far away the planning falls to my sister and me. Each year, a month in advance (give or take a month), one of us sends the ominous email to the other: “So, any ideas for Mother’s Day?”
We could always default to a simple lunch out or flowers, right? Wrong. Not in this family. Oh no. We have the best mom EVER, and goshdarnit, she deserves a Mother’s Day for the ages!
The problem is that when you painstakingly craft a legendary event, where each year’s celebration surpasses the last, there’s an exponential growth in expectations and you pitiful humans just can’t keep up. You slip. You backside. The expectations keep following the same trajectory, but the climb is too steep for you to manage.
My sister and I should have thought about that before planning Mother’s Day 2001.
* * *
I was 8, my sister 22. To my delight, my sister had moved in after finishing college and would be staying in the pool house room out back for a year or so.
One fine spring day when I was rummaging through my sister’s old stuff, I found a furry white hood complete with cat ears. It was her costume from her high school performance of Cats, in which she had been a dancer. NB: I can’t dance and my sister can’t sing. We call it even.
That’s when it hit me. It was the perfect opportunity. We might never have it again. Mother’s Day was coming, but this year we had the time, proximity, and facilities to prepare something truly epic. We even had a top secret place to practice in my sister’s room.
I pestered her for a week, enumerating the countless reasons why we HAD to do it. She finally relented. Cats was coming to our house, this Mother’s Day 2001, starring yours truly. And her sister.
I was a harsh taskmaster and bossy as only an 8-year-old can be. We decided to perform three songs (I would have loved to do all of them) and held rehearsals thrice weekly (though I would have preferred daily). We chose my favorites: Jellicle Songs For Jellicle Cats, The Rum Tum Tugger, and Memory.
I was the director and my sister was the choreographer. We worked tirelessly for weeks, months, until the lyrics were memorized, steps mastered, cardboard sets created, and costumes prepared. We had the CD, the boombox, the cat ears and tails, the face paint.
We were ready, and my mom was none the wiser.
On Mother’s Day morning, we brought her the traditional breakfast in bed. On the tray, an invitation: Cats, the spectacular Broadway musical, is coming here, to your own home, today! One show only! RSVP now!
When our parents settled down on my sister’s bed to watch, I’m sure they had no idea what to expect. We adjusted the sets to make sure everything was in its proper place, I introduced the show, and we told them to wait — the performance would begin in ten minutes’ time. My sister and I scurried out of the pool house into the back yard, changed into our skintight cat outfits with ears and tails, and quickly applied our face paint. Then we made our grand entrance. [I recommend playing the videos as you read, if you want the full effect.]
I’m sure they laughed and clapped with delight and listened at rapt attention, but I have no memory of my parents’ reaction. I was too busy being a Jellicle cat, moving to the rhythm of the music, earnestly singing my parts, and darting through the air like a flying trapeze. My sister and I played equal roles in the intro, but as the show progressed, I moved steadily toward center stage.
I strutted my stuff as the Rum Tum Tugger. Oh, did I strut. I owned that stage. Erm…carpet. My sister served as a brilliant counterpoint to my larger-than-life character, intermittently voicing her observations on my fickle personality so I could keep singing about myself.
We took a brief intermission after that, because all real shows have intermissions. I had smudged my whiskers while dancing, so I ordered — ahem, asked — my sister to reapply my face paint. She obligingly brought the crayon to my face and SPLURDGPPLP. The melty crayon left a huge tar splotch on my face.
I flipped. There might have been tears shed. The show would be ruined, and it was all my sister’s fault. Her fault for not noticing the face paint had melted in the sun, not mine for having the brilliant idea to leave it out there in the first place. Of course not. Luckily, my sister handled the catastrophe better than I did and managed to salvage my makeup.
Once I had calmed down, we reentered the room for the final act, my mom’s favorite song and my pièce de résistance: Memory.
Song gets going at 2:40.
I sang my little heart out. No sharing of verses for this one — this was my solo, my masterpiece. I daresay I brought a tear to my mother’s eye, I was that good. My sister did a nice job as the leaves fluttering in the gutter, I can’t deny that, but we all know that standing ovation was just for me.
What I actually sounded like.
I ask you. How could we ever top that? Especially when you factor in the little girl cuteness. The answer is that we couldn’t. It was the end of an era. And as my sister started to have kids of her own, and I went off to college, crafting the perfect Mother’s Day just got harder.
But don’t worry, Mom. Mother’s Day isn’t actually cancelled. It’s just under construction. Now that there are so many variables involved, it needs some renovation. Because you are the best mom ever, and you do deserve to say that every Mother’s Day is the best one yet.
In the meantime, please pardon our dust — progress is messy!
Writing 101, Day 15: You’re told that an event that’s dear to your heart will be cancelled forever. Write about it.