Yesterday was Mother’s Day, COVID style. My daughter Anne was 8 when I re-married, so Julie started to celebrate Mother’s Day the very first year that we were husband and wife. Initially, our celebrations varied, but after a few years, we were in an established routine. This was especially the case when we started to have our children 23 years ago.
A typical Mother’s Day would include some sort of breakfast in bed. At the same time, the kids would sing “Happy Mother’s Day To You,” using the familiar birthday melody. Church followed, and then we headed off to my niece Karen’s house for a fabulous brunch. Karen would make everything from scratch and did not want guests to bring dishes. Instead, she wanted the moms to feel special and pampered. Note that Karen has three kids of her own.
After several hours of partying, we would head home. Julie would request a special dinner, and we would make it for her that evening. It was a pretty standard celebratory day, and it has become a family tradition.
COVID-19 has put a few obstacles in our Mother’s Day program this year, but our efforts were not deterred. Our main obstacles included limitations in grocery availability, difficulty in getting gifts, and the cancellation of both in-person church and my niece’s brunch. We have already navigated a COVID Easter. It seemed appropriate to follow a similar course for a COVID Mother’s Day. The plan was to do what we could to maintain our traditions while adding new “fillers” to round out the experience.
The morning started with breakfast in bed. My kids are now young adults and value their sleep, so I stepped in and prepared this simple meal. I couldn’t get our usual yeast cinnamon rolls, but I did find some ready-to-bake ones that were pretty good. I cut up some fruit and made strong coffee. I woke up the kids, who were happy to join in. I sent one of them on a mission to find our “breakfast in bed” tray. It was missing, and we decided to make do with a red cafeteria-style plastic tray. I tried to glam the tray up by using other red items on it. The idea being, “Look, we did this on purpose.” As we have for decades, we marched up the stairs loudly singing, “Happy Mother’s Day To You.” As Julie has done for decades, she gasped with excitement and surprise. Score!
Later that morning, our oldest daughter, Anne, phoned to wish “Step-Mom” a Happy Mother’s Day. Julie was delighted to take her call, which was terminated early due to the needs of Anne’s small children.
Our church attendance has been a streaming event for the last two months, and we fired up a MacBook to Chromecast the Mother’s Day service to our family room TV. I passed out Ritz crackers for communion, but something was wrong with them. Although the package was new, it appeared that some of the crackers had peanut butter on them. After the service, we solved the mystery by visiting the Nabisco website. What appeared as peanut butter was just some remains from the baking process. Whew… our crackers will survive another day.
Much of the afternoon was spend individually and peacefully; until it was time for dinner. At 5 PM, I sent out a group text and was happy to see three smiling faces. Julie had found a recipe for a Mediterranean shrimp dish in the “Tribune,” but it called for odd (for us) ingredients. Will and I had gone to “Fresh Thyme” on Saturday. We were able to find Fetta cheese and Kalamata olives without difficulty. Still, we were at a complete loss when it came to the elusive fennel bulbs. A helpful produce man pointed us in the right direction.
The recipe writer waxed something like, “Easy weekday shrimp and fennel bake.” It was not so easy when you had never made it before. I took the director’s role and set the kids on various tasks. Grace sliced the fennel bulbs, Kathryn peeled potatoes, and Will had the job of shelling and deveining the shrimp. I’m a big believer in cleaning as you go when cooking, so I washed as the prep dishes piled up.
The only asparagus that I could find was pre-wrapped and was slightly past its prime. I processed what I could into short spears. I also tossed together a chopped salad loaded with sunflower seeds and pistachio nuts. Lastly, Grace placed “bake and go” baguettes into our toaster oven for a quick crisping. While our concoction was baking, we set the table using some of our “better” dishes. By better, I mean that they matched each other. We were ready.
Although we couldn’t go gift shopping, I found a few things on Amazon, which I had (thankfully) ordered weeks before, as the pandemic has slowed down deliveries. I quickly wrapped them using some of our pre-COVID-19 wrapping paper stashes.
With dinner on the table, it was time to call down our honored guest. We had all made the main course, but we had no idea what it was going to taste like. Shrimp, fennel bulbs, oregano, olives… it was a mystery meal. Thankfully, it tasted pretty good, and Julie was happy with our efforts.
Julie often requests an ice cream cake for her special days, and I have traditionally ordered them from our local Dairy Queen. However, I found one at the grocer and grabbed it as a quick substitute. I did my best to decorate the small, quarter sheet cake. It was pretty good, but I still shudder at its $40 price tag. Price checking has become a casualty of racing in and out of the grocery store.
I don’t particularly appreciate playing games, which, for some reason, makes my participation all the more desired by my kids. I submitted to card games and dominos and tried to be a good citizen. The evening ended with a group watch of “Alone,” an Amazon reality show that chronicles the adventures of people who are dropped into the wilderness. That ended our day. We did our best to create a special Mother’s Day, and in the end, our celebrant felt special.
As I go on my daily walks, I am noticing more Happy Birthday banners in the front yards of houses. I think that they are taking the place of birthday parties. Others are finding alternative ways to recognize events in their families.
We celebrate special events for a reason, and it is crucial to attempt to continue traditions during these challenging times. Don’t abandon cherished family activities; modify them instead.