“I’ve got three dollars saved up,” announced Ryan, “and I already know what to buy.”
As a divorced mom, I raised my son alone from the time he was two. I soon learned that single parents have some unique challenges. Take gift-giving occasions, for example. Every year at Christmas, my birthday, and Mother’s Day, I had to help Ryan buy his presents for me. I would give him the usual hints – bubble bath, new potholders, scented candles. I’d let him choose from the short list, then help him buy and wrap it. That pretty much eliminated the element of surprise. That is, until the Mother’s Day when he was eight.
For the first time, Ryan was determined to shop alone and, armed with three whole dollars, he had an idea. So, I took him to a small variety store, and waited near the cash registers. Minutes later he came bursting from the end of an aisle, concealing something behind his back. I pretended to be interested in the postcard display while he made his secret purchase. Then on the drive home, I teased him.
"What's in that bag, Ryan? Is it a piano?”
"Wouldn't you like to know?" he asked, with an impish grin. He loved to give gifts and could barely contain his excitement, but he was determined to surprise me.
"Will you tell me what it is if I guess?"
"Mom!" he growled. Even at that age, his voice was deep, so he could really pull off a good, strong growl. “Besides, maybe this isn't even for you. Maybe I bought myself some Hot Wheels."
"So… I’m not getting a piano for Mother’s Day this year?”
"Maybe next time,” he said. He was good at teasing me back. “Actually, I got you a button. It’s broken, so it’s half a button. I found it on the floor. But it's shiny and it’s your favorite color, and since it was broken I got it cheap," he said. He glanced sideways at me, as if to see if I was buying his story.
“Great,” I said, playing along.
At home, he asked for wrapping paper.
"You won't need much for half a button," I said, as I handed him the paper.
He took it and started to walk away.
“Wait Ry… you’ll need scotch tape.”
He paused, thinking. “Nah, I don’t need any.”
Later he emerged from his room looking mighty pleased with himself.
"I hid your present, so don't even try to find it."
"Okay. I’ll wait till you’re asleep.”
"Nuh-uh. And if you do peek, you'll only spoil your own surprise." I was impressed. Those were the exact words I said to him often. I guess he did listen, sometimes!
Early on Mother’s Day morning, Ryan was bouncing on my bed, holding a hot pink package of indeterminate shape. It was definitely bigger than half a button, and there was no tape on it, but there were lots of mysterious, shiny smears.
“Let me try to guess,” I said. “It’s the wrong shape to be a potholder, a candle, or bubble bath.”
I noticed it had a flat bottom, and was narrow on one end. I was stumped, so I peeled back the paper. It was pretty well stuck together with something other than tape. I began to wonder if it was a gag gift. But it wasn't.
Ryan looked like he was about to explode, waiting for my reaction. Finally I got the paper off and saw what was underneath. It was a jumbo-size bottle of Elmer's glue.
I was a little puzzled, but I improvised. "Ryan, that is so neat! How did you know I wanted glue?”
He rolled his eyes. "It's not just glue Mom." Clearly I had missed the subtle fine points of his gift. "It's Elmer's glue. They had cheaper stuff, but I got the best. And I got the jumbo size. It was a better deal than the little bottles. I shopped for the best deal, like you always say."
It was the oddest present I’d ever been given, but my heart melted at his enthusiasm. "Did you really get this huge bottle of the best glue on the market for only three dollars? You did find a bargain! But how did you know I needed glue?"
“Cause when I asked you for glue, you said we ran out. I remembered, just like you always do."
I still wasn’t following his logic. "Like I always do?"
"You know. On my birthday you check my room to see what I need, like new Play-Doh or crayons and stuff.”
Ah, now I understood. It was definitely a surprise. But for me, the best gift was to hear that my son paid attention when I talked – at least sometimes -- and saw the wisdom in how I did things. On his own, he’d recognized a need and filled it.
That Mother’s Day was two decades ago. Since then we survived a lot, like his various trips to the emergency room, his minor surgery, the usual disasters and traumas that families face, some small and some major. The good times have been wonderful and the bad times, pretty dismal. Like most young adults, Ryan sometimes listens and occasionally takes my advice, but mostly, he does his own thing. Whatever happens in life, Ryan and I will always be bound together at the heart. Our shared history is the glue that binds us together. And we use only the best glue. We still use Elmer's.
And every Mother’s Day, whether I need it or not, I’m presented with a new, jumbo-sized bottle.
Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.