I've always hated holidays that smack of forced gaiety and commercialism - New Year's Eve, for example - and Mother's Day, after all, was created by the greeting card industry. But I couldn't help being touched by those grade school projects, the macaroni necklaces and coupons for services the kids never really meant to render ("one foot massage" "24 hours of no arguing"). And of course I always send my mother flowers and a sappy, totally heart-felt note that is as different as possible from last year's.

Now my kids are at that in between stage, too old to make something in school and too young to have an account with 1-800-ProFlowers, so for the past few years, I have to admit, mother's days have been pretty disappointing. Husband 2.0 is new to the concept (heck, it was only with my stellar example that he started sending his mother anything besides e-cards), but he's tried, usually without much success. There was the year they tried to make me dinner, and the power (conveniently) went out, so we celebrated with a gourmet meal at Burger King. A couple of years ago I told them I just wanted handmade cards, and I got a scribbled illegible message on ripped notebook paper from one, and an elaborate drawing of a fanged monster the other traced from his Star Wars encyclopedia. Not exactly the Hallmark moments I dreamed of, and frankly, I was starting to miss those preschool handprint cards.

So this year I lowered my expectations dramatically, figuring gender stereotypes DO apply, they're clueless boys and self-absorbed teenagers to boot, so if I get out of doing dishes it will be a miracle. And lo and behold, they did pretty well. David wrote a lovely note that included an accurate count of how many days he's been alive (and grateful for me as a mother), and Ben completely surprised me. Last week he told me an elaborate story about a survey they'd taken in social studies about preferences, and asked me to answer a few questions, including my favorite flower (sweet peas) and favorite type of cake (carrot), and then while I was teaching he rode his bike almost a mile to Safeway where he found a carrot cake and tried to purchase sweet peas (but had to settle for baby roses), and hid both in his closet for 3 days.

All the boys (including husband 2.0) also set a lovely table and prepared an elegant meal. (They didn't exactly cooperate in the menu planning department, so the feast included baked potatoes, french toast casserole AND garlic bread, plus the carrot cake, but let's just say with the leftovers, if I run a marathon in the next week I'm all set to carb load.) And the best part? We got through the meal with almost no bickering AND they let me watch reruns of America's Next Top Model, without teasing me, while they did the dishes.

Sure, it's only impressive in comparison to past debacles, sort of like finding $20 in your pocket when you thought you were broke, or how your headache feels better when you stub your toe, or how easy it is for Husband 2.0 to impress me compared to his predecessor. But sometimes I think that sort of lowered expectation would be good for us - growing up in southern California, I never understood the whole renewal concept of spring, until I went to college in Connecticut and experienced that first glorious day when we could go outside in short sleeves and see the daffodils. Likewise, my friends who are so comfortably familiar with sweet, unexciting husbands might value them more if they had bad memories of an ex. (Not that I'd wish divorce on anyone, of course . . . )

At any rate, of course now the boys HAVE raised the bar and next year needs to be even better - but by then David will have his drivers' license, Ben will have his bar-mitzvah-gift-savings account, and I think I'll have 2.0 hint that they could take me to dinner. (And I'll stop fantasizing about the creative way Ben will get me to reveal my favorite restaurant, or how David will calculate how many minutes I've spent driving him around . . . .

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