Who really deserves the gratitude on Mother’s Day?

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* Editor’s note: Debra is on vacation this week. This column originally ran in 2010.

Mother’s Day. Yup, it’s all about me, kids. Time to show your appreciation for all those years I fed you, dressed you, carted you hither and yon, and sopped up whatever noxious bodily fluids you produced. Pay some overdue homage to the one who made your very existence possible.

Or not.

Let’s flip this holiday over and examine its underbelly.

I’m not a mother because I’m an all-loving, all-knowing superhuman. I’m not a mother because of me. I’m a mother because of my children. Whatever special qualities I may have exist only because of them. So, whose life is better for it? Who really deserves the gratitude?

Becoming a mother was a pivot point in my life. That moment I first held that damp, pink, bleating little creature, blinking at the light and staring at me skeptically through one squinted eye, my life was transformed. I was transformed. Nothing would ever again be as it was.

If you’ve never been a parent, you might think you know what love is. You may be absolutely sure you’ve experienced love’s depth and breadth, and let me tell you most assuredly that you have not.

A child unlocks a door to a hidden room in your soul filled with an emotion so rich and deep that the word “love” trivializes it. This love is swirled with devotion, fascination, adoration, obsession. It’s so unequivocal, so fierce, that if a gun were being waved back and forth between your head and your child’s, you’d cry out, with no hesitation, “Shoot me!

Lord, yes, take me first, because I never want to experience one moment on this earth without my children. Death itself would be gentler.

I pondered this thought one recent evening, looking at my children’s portraits on the wall … my daughter’s senior portrait — serious, smoky sepia, big gray eyes like a gathering thunderstorm, gazing away and out the window, yearning to fly away from the nest. And my son at 5 in a bright red sweater, lying in the autumn leaves, chin on his hand, one front tooth missing from his impish grin, bright green eyes sparkling upwards with dreams of dragons and robots and rockets.

One dark and stormy, the other bright and sunny — the yin and yang of my soul. And I allowed myself to imagine what it’d be like if something had happened to either of them. Yes, I stared into the face of that demon, because it galvanized my intense gratitude in being able only to imagine and not to know.

I remembered that evening when a babysitter didn’t realize the thermostat in our two-story townhouse was broken. It was a chilly evening, and she cranked the heat all the way up while I went out to dinner with friends. Everyone wanted to go dancing afterwards, but something tugged at me, “Go home. Go home.”

I returned and discovered the babysitter and my son snoozing away in front of the blaring TV, the downstairs hot as a furnace. I charged upstairs and into a dry sauna to find my 18-month old daughter clinging to the rails of her crib, flushed, whimpering and soaked with sweat. I threw the window open and peeled off her clothes, fanning her frantically. I wondered, had I gone dancing, if I’d have found out the hard way how long it takes for a baby to die from heatstroke.

Then there was the time she rolled into the street on her little bike and into the path of an oncoming truck, just as her dad turned his back for a moment. Thankfully, he turned back in time to snatch her from the truck’s path. The truck kept right on going. Years later, while dropping her off at a friend’s house, she ran around the car and right across the street, never checking for cars. There was no time to open the car door, no time to grab her, only an instant to shriek in horror. The car screeched to a stop a finger’s width from her. The howl of the brakes still makes me shudder.

In high school, she came home one night thoroughly rattled after swerving off the road to narrowly miss a high-speed, head-on collision. In college, there was that trembling late night phone call, stranded after work in Haight-Ashbury, surrounded by street people… she’d missed the bus, had no money for a taxi, and at that moment, her cell phone battery died. She managed to reach a friend to pick her up, she told me later, calling from his cell phone. In that span of 30 minutes, I’m sure I died a little.

Oddly enough, my rough-and-rowdy boy shattered far fewer of my nerves than my moody, murky girl. He crashed a four-runner chasing jackrabbits through the orchards (right after his dad told him not to) and wrecked his truck one stormy, rainy night after hydroplaning on a dark, flooded road. And “remember that time I went para-sailing in Mexico, Mom?” He told me only last month that the harness slipped while he was soaring high in the sky, far from shore, the deep blue ocean churning below. He was dangling by his armpits the whole time. That was 14 years ago. It makes me shiver now.

I could have lost either of them on any of these occasions, but I didn’t. My gratitude for that nearly sucks the wind from my chest. I can’t fathom life without them. I can’t fathom “me” without them. There’s no other title I’ll ever cherish more than “Mother.” And there’s no one on earth I’ll ever cherish more than the two who gave it to me.

— Email Debra DeAngelo at debra@wintersexpress.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com

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