May 9, 2013
I received a great Mother's Day gift last year. We were just about to cut into a beautiful cake topped with mounds of fresh strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, when our son rounded the corner into the kitchen. He looked at me with a straight face, said, "Happy Mother's Day," and handed me an old brown dustpan that has to be at least 45 years old.
A gift? It was more like a reunion. I was ecstatic. For years, I wondered whatever happened to that dustpan. I should have known.
When I left home for my first job after college, I took the brown dust pan that had stood alongside a broom in my parents' basement for years. I think I had permission to take it, but I don't remember for sure. It could have been a gift, or it could have been a theft.
It was the best dustpan ever. It wasn't flimsy, thin, breakable plastic. It wasn't metal, the sort that gets bent in the middle, snarly on the edges and scratches the floor. This dust pan was indestructible, a sturdy thick plastic like professional maintenance workers use.
That dustpan crossed the country with me, from job to job, apartment to apartment, into a marriage followed by three kids, from the Northern Plains to the Pacific Northwest and back to the Midwest.
When our son left home after college, he took the dust pan with him. No one seems to remember if it was a gift or a theft.
From time to time I would look for that old dustpan, cleaning out the garage, sweeping up potting soil or broken glass, and wonder where it went. We bought one of those nifty rechargeable dust busters, and cheap plastic dustpans, but that old dustpan was always my initial go-to. It was an odd piece of personal history, somehow representing the home I came from: sturdy, reliable, organized and clean.
That the dustpan came back to me on Mother's Day was symbolic of the day itself.
A mother's heart needs to be like that dustpan — mostly sturdy, pliable but not breakable, willing to serve, sweep up the broken pieces and play a part in starting fresh. A mother offers her heart as a gift, but sometimes it feels more like a theft.
Every mother's heart longs to see a part of what she gave, or what was taken, take root and bloom. Every mother hopes that at least a few of the things she said or did, the habits she cultivated, and the truths she lived, somehow stuck.
It can be as simple as hearing, "I learned that from you," or "I always remember you saying." Sometimes the wait is short; sometimes the wait is long.
Sometimes it flies beneath the radar in a quiet understanding, something as simple as your son knowing you well enough to know that an old dustpan will delight you on Mother's Day.
That said, a mother does not give her heart waiting for thanks. A mother gives of herself because investing in another human being is a noble act of service, the right thing to do, and a messy but marvelous work of art.