I had a lovely Mother’s Day on Sunday. I slept in, had breakfast brought to me in bed, got cards, flowers and gifts. We spent the early afternoon at the SoWa Open Market and then we broke out the two-wheelers and spent the late afternoon getting the girls ready for summer biking. In the evening, we visited friends for a barbecue. It was almost perfect.
At the end of the BBQ, I found my older daughters doing battle with a Febreze spray bottle in the bathroom of our friends’ home. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy. Back in the car, I told them I was disappointed and embarrassed that they’d done something like that, especially in someone else’s home. Both girls were weepy. At bedtime, my oldest hugged me and told me she was sorry she’d ruined my Mother’s Day.
“Hang on just a second,” I told her. “You did NOT ruin my day. No one can ruin my day unless I decide to let them. I had a great day.” She looked surprised but relieved.
Ruin isn’t about cause. It’s about effect. While we can’t always control the unhappy things that could lead to a bad day, we can absolutely control the way we regard those things and how we define and remember those days. I learned this twelve years ago, and I’ve held onto it ever since.
In January of 1999, Eli and I had just gotten engaged. Our parents threw us a beautiful engagement party in a big, stone room lit with hundreds of candles. It was magical. Friends and family came from all over to celebrate with us. Eli wrote a speech, then couldn’t find it, and delivered instead a charming and sweet toast right off the cuff. The lost speech should’ve been the biggest snafu of the night. But it wasn’t.
Halfway through the evening, my grandmother collapsed on the dance floor in full cardiac arrest. For 30 minutes, the EMTs worked on her, trying to revive her. My family, my closest friends, my future husband and my future in-laws all stood watching, squeezing my hands, while we waited to see what would happen. Finally, the defibrillator worked a miracle and her heart started beating again.
By the time they’d loaded my grandmother into the ambulance, the party was well and truly over. The traumatized guests had left, the shaken caterer had packed up all the food, and Eli’s new suit was spattered with the wax from hundreds of candles he’d blown out in an effort to feel helpful. In his inside pocket, he’d found the speech, tucked away for safekeeping.
Hours later, as my family sat around my dining room table, shell shocked, I realized I had a choice. I could feel sorry for myself over the ruined party, or I could focus on all the silver linings. Once I started looking, there were lots of them, but the biggest one was that my grandmother had survived. The night could be remembered for her against-all-odds recovery, or for the uneaten crêpes. It was completely up to me.
The truth is, I give myself some leeway. When I think about our engagement party, my memories are not fond. But that night gave me a whole lot of perspective and taught me that ruin only happens when you let it.
And did I mention? I had a lovely Mother’s Day.
Although my grandmother did survive that night, her heart, which had been giving her trouble for years, never fully recovered. She passed away less than five months after the party in May 1999. Her funeral took place on Mother’s Day.