Aaah, Mother’s Day, one of my favorite days of the year. Not because it’s the day I’m fed peeled grapes and fanned with a palm frond as I lay on my fainting couch having my toenails painted (especially since I don’t even own a fainting couch).
It’s because this day reminds me of how profoundly my life has changed since becoming a mom; how that little universe I was comfortably operating in shifted on its axis so dramatically that my head still spins ten years later. How my already happy, full, crazy life instantly became more textured and meaningful, and infinitely more challenging (in all the best ways).
Becoming a mom also suddenly compelled me to start doing things I never imagined I’d be doing. For example, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that when Sweet Bug was just a Tiny Bug in preschool that my love for her would inspire me to dig deep into my creative bucket and pull out a quirky idea that would soon transform into a special ritual for both of us.
It started out simply as a little note and sketch in Tiny Bug’s lunch box, but quickly evolved into a more elaborate daily dose of love and learning. Each day I’d chose a new word for her to learn then make a crayon drawing on her napkin and place the corresponding letter cookies in her lunch so she could match the cookies to the letters on the napkin before she enjoyed her tasty treats.
Every single day of preschool I made Tiny Bug a napkin. And yes, she ate and shared a lot of letter cookies, especially when they were long words (bad mommy).
These napkins were simply meant to be momentary messages of love, to connect the two of us while she was away at school, and to surprise her with a new word each day as an extra way to get her excited about learning.
These napkins, which I made long after Tiny Bug went to bed each night, were never meant to be kept and saved. In fact, when Tiny Bug brought them home from school every day and insisted we keep them, I didn’t know what to do with them—especially the ones with glops of food spilled on them. For a long time I piled them in the corner of our kitchen counter. Eventually, they went into a drawer, then finally a box.
It was when we moved to a new house the real decision had to be made. Are we seriously going to move a pile of old napkins? I moaned. I’m sentimental, but not that sentimental. But Sweet Bug was adamant: “Mommy, these are special to me. You can’t throw them away.” So, as you may have guessed, along with all of her preschool art, my preschool art went into over-sized portfolios, which we packed and moved to our new house. The absurdity of it still makes me chuckle.
Fast forward several years later…and the dozens of times Sweet Bug pulled out those portfolios to look at her napkins. Clearly, they were special to her, so when I stumbled upon a local book publisher who could scan each of these…ahem, masterpieces…and make them into a coffee table book, I finally decided to preserve them for Sweet Bug for when she’s old and gray (or a mom herself). My husband, being the Awesome Bug that he is, wrote the check for this not-so-inexpensive-book, as a gift to both of us (this was before the ease and affordability of self-publishing).
I titled the book, Love Letters: Mom’s Daily Dose of Love and Learning. Here’s the cover I made for it–on a napkin, of course, with letter cookies attached.
When I look back at these napkins, I can immediately remember the feeling I had each time I made one: pure joy, even on nights when I could barely keep my eyes open. Some are more elaborate than others, and some the drawings totally suck, but each captures a tiny moment in our lives as many contain some element of our family—whether it was a trip to the Getty Museum or Sweet Bug’s favorite teddy bear, or our old lime green Karmann Ghia.
The two napkins below I made when Jeffrey was working on an art project along the U.S.-Mexican border and Sweet Bug was missing her daddy. That’s Jeffrey in his car yelling, “I’m getting closer. I’m almost home!”
Being Mother’s Day and flipping through Love Letters again, I couldn’t help but think of my own mom and all the ways she showered me with love. One thing she did when I graduated from high school was write her own love letter–a poem in which she poured out her heart. At the time, I remember thinking it was “nice” or “sweet” (in an eye-rolling, clueless, teenager sort of way), but now, thirty years later, I totally “get it” and cherish these pages containing Mom’s love and creativity–especially as they were written in her own handwriting, and especially now that she’s gone.
I am faaaaaar from a perfect mom. In fact, most of the time I’m flying by the seat of my pants, just hoping I don’t screw up too much. Regardless of what decisions I make or directions I take in guiding Sweet Bug through life, more than anything, I want her to know how deeply she is loved, just like I always knew how deeply I was loved. I want all the ordinary moments and gestures that we share to get folded neatly into her heart like a well-preserved love letter.