Confessions & Confusions: Mother’s Day Is Just Another Day

This,Too, Is Someone's Reality

By Melodie Cook
May 15, 2017
Families

Not every Mother’s Day is like what we see on Facebook.

Last year’s Mother’s Day was a nightmare. Natsumi had not long been with us and at that time both kids were vying for my husband’s attention. We went out to a nearby okonomiyaki shop at my request, and neither child wanted to sit next to me. It was embarrassing and sad; embarrassing, because many of my students worked at that shop and witnessed it. I was sad because it made me feel unwanted. I ended up sitting on one side of the table, while the kids sat with my husband on the other side. “Screw this,” I thought, and promptly ordered some sake.

A year later, on this year’s Mother’s Day, Natsumi came cheerfully into my room where I thought I could sleep late, and said, “Hey, it’s morning!” I hoped it was because there was a nice Mother’s Day breakfast laid out for me, but no, everyone had eaten already, the sink was full of dishes, and on a small plate were three apple pieces in the process of turning brown and one small strawberry. I was expected to fill in the rest myself, which is the usual way during the week, because my husband and kids eat before I do, since they leave the house earlier than I do. I jokingly berated my husband, who had forgotten it was Mother’s Day, and threatened to take a picture of the sad fruit on the plate and post it on Facebook with the caption, “Mother’s Day Feast, 2017.”

Everyone had eaten already, the sink was full of dishes, and on a small plate were three apple pieces in the process of turning brown and one small strawberry.

My son, Shinji (12), sitting next to me at the table, said, “It’s Mother’s Day, but I have nothing for you. What do you want?” “Well,” I said, “It has to come from your heart. I can’t tell you what I want; you have to decide yourself.” “Poop?” he joked. “Snots?” “Um, no,” I replied, “I don’t want that.” “How about ¥10,000?” “Sure!” I replied and put out my hand. He slapped it hard and laughed.

Looking right at me with a devilish grin he said, “I want to go back,” as he dashed off to change into his soccer clothes.

“Go back” means to the orphanage in another prefecture from where we “kidnapped” him. Lately, he’s been saying that a lot, which is normal for his age, because he’s trying to figure out his identity. My brain knows this because I’ve read about adopted kids and adolescence, but it still hurts my heart to hear it. God knows what fantasies he has about his birth parents – he’s been saying that he wants to meet his birth mother and Natsumi has been saying the same thing lately, although not to my face. I think she imagines it will hurt me to hear it. While that’s true, I wouldn’t mind her feeling free to say anything in front of me.

I washed the sink full of dishes, feeling sad. My husband came over to let me hug him. “Thank god for antidepressants,” I said. After I finished washing, my husband looked at me guiltily and said, “I have a favor.” “I’ll make lunch,” I replied. “I want baguette sandwiches because you bought all that nice ham,” he said. “Okay, no problem,” I said. “Did you send something to your mother?” “No,” he replied, grumbling something about this Mother’s Day business. I had given him several reminders over the last few days, but in his defense, he’s been busy and hardly at home. “At least call her,” I said.

Natsumi (13) was eating breakfast in the tatami room while watching TV. I went in to confirm lunch with her and she demanded that I take her tray back into the kitchen for her. “No way,” I said and walked out. She brought it in herself and started singing “PPAP.” I joined her, but when I went to do the little dance at the end, she told me to stop, because it was embarrassing and that I was a noisy old lady. I didn’t mind hearing it because it’s true, and it shows me that she’s acting like a normal teenager. She went back into the tatami room, but soon called me to help her search for something on Netflix. After I helped her, she said, “You can leave now. Sayonara.”

I made myself some coffee, because my husband made the cheap kind and I prefer Starbucks French Roast. No milk. Sigh.

I had a revelation though, while all this was happening. As much as I wanted the kind of Mother’s Day my Facebook friends boasted about, where their kids prepared fancy breakfasts, gave them gifts, and flowers (on their own initiative), for my kids, Mother’s Day was, like birthdays, just another reminder that I wasn’t their mother (from their child’s perspectives) and that the person who’d given birth to them was still a big question mark. I’d read that birthdays can be a stressful time for foster/adopted kids, but I never thought this about Mother’s Day before. Of course, they’d feel distressed about it. I realized that I have to stop making the day about me and think about their feelings.

I realized that I have to stop making the day about me and think about their feelings.

They do show their love for me in other ways on ordinary days. Their insistence that I hang out with them, read to them, play with them, and cook their favorite foods, shows that they want something from me and are happy to get it. When Natsumi saved me from a sudden dinner guest crisis lately, she clearly indicated that she wanted to help ease my distress. Yesterday, I made tacos because she had asked for them – she’d forgotten her request, but was over the moon that I remembered.

And so, in our household, Mother’s Day was just another day — until the end of the day. That evening, the husband bought me a dollar-store pencil case and the kids filled it with pens mostly bought with their own money. We had grocery store sushi for dinner, washed down with a lovely little bottle of sake! 

Melodie Cook (originally from Canada), is an adoptive and foster mother currently living in Niigata, Japan. She is also a Professor at the University of Niigata Prefecture. After adopting her son in 2009, she started an online yahoo group “adoptioninjapan” in order to connect with other mixed-race families raising adopted children. She also has created a facebook page where adoptive and foster families can give and receive advice and support. Both groups are private, so please contact her to join: cookmelo@unii.ac.jp.

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