From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

A Red Rose for Richard

“Mom, why do just the girls get flowers?” my son asked in the car. We were driving home from the first performance of his fifth-grade musical, a coveted rite of passage for the elementary students who were graduating to middle school.

I thought back to earlier that evening, how I had beamed at my son from the second row as he spoke his lines from memory perfectly and how, after the performance, I had hurried backstage. For once, Richard didn’t shun my open affection: a big bear hug. Yet he was distracted by the bouquets of roses and carnations lavished on all the girls and the female teachers. Somehow, the tradition seemed a little unfair to him—he wouldn’t mind getting a few flowers himself.

“I don’t really know why it’s that way,” I answered him.

As we continued the drive home and the excitement of the evening wore off, I settled into a habitual train of thought: fretting. As an overloaded single mother, I often felt I wasn’t up to meeting my son’s needs. The musical’s final performance—the most important one—was scheduled for a morning, and I absolutely could not get off work that day. My job was sixteen miles away, and I had back-to-back meetings and scheduled appointments.

When I kissed Richard good-bye on the morning of the final performance, I told him for what must have been the hundredth time: “I wish I could be there today, Honey.”

He smiled. “It’s okay, Mom. I understand. Honest!”

He was trying to be stoic, and I tried to convince myself that it was okay. After all, I had been able to see two of his performances—that should be enough. I was trying my best. So why didn’t I feel good about it? My resentment at having to be at work that morning must have shown; my assistant and secretary figured out why I was so glum. “We’ll help you reschedule your appointments,” they offered. “‘We’ll make it work.”

And before I knew what was happening, I was speeding down the road toward the school. As I zipped past a grocery store, with only five minutes to spare, I impulsively pulled into the parking lot. I ran inside the store, quickly reemerging with a single red rose.

When I finally arrived inside the school, the gym was packed to standing room only. Friends in the last row scooted aside to make room for one more. Just as I squeezed into the seat, the lights dimmed and the curtains opened. There was Richard, center stage. I was sure he did not know that I was in the audience.

When the curtain opened the last time to reveal the entire cast, I quickly located my son on a middle row of risers. He looked out over the audience, not seeming to focus. Then suddenly, his gaze turned in my direction. His whole face lit up, and he smiled so radiantly that the women sitting on either side of me gasped, then excitedly exclaimed in unison, “He sees you! He sees you!”

Afterwards, I pushed my way up through the crowd to meet Richard in the wings, my heart still thumping from the loving intensity of that beaming smile, and thrust forward the red rose. Richard didn’t say much, but I thought he was pleased. By the time I got back to work, I felt peaceful. Maybe I wasn’t doing such a bad job of parenting after all.

A year passed, a difficult, tiring year that pushed out of my mind any sense of peace and accomplishment as Richard’s mother. I finished my master’s degree by commuting to a graduate program 160 miles away, yet the new career I had anticipated didn’t materialize. I plodded along in the same position, burned out and overwhelmed with responsibility. My plate was too full, and I knew it, and I feared the one thing I cared about most, my son, was suffering because of it. Was I giving my son everything he needed?

One evening, I rushed from work to a meeting at Richard’s school, arriving fifteen minutes late. I still hadn’t quite figured out what the meeting was about when it adjourned. As I stood up to leave, Richard’s resource teacher gently touched me on the arm, urging me to stay.

“I think you should have this,” she said. “Normally we don’t allow parents to review the completed testing, but this is what Richard wrote for the essay component. I’m a mother, and I know that if my son wrote this, I’d want to take it home.” She handed me an essay with Richard’s name on it:

The Best Day I Ever Had
by Richard Irwin-Miller

The best day I ever had in school was in the fifth grade. We worked for months on a musical. We did the musical seven times. The last time was my favorite. It was a performance during school. I really wanted my mom to come to see it and to bring me a rose, but she said she had to go to work, so I didn’t ask her. In the musical, there were three acts. I was in the first one. Then I had to go backstage and wait until the end, come back out with everyone and sing a song. Well, I finished my act. Then I came out to do the last song and saw my mother. I was very happy. At the end of the last song, she came up and gave me a red rose.

My tears threatened to spill over the page. I wanted to give my son everything, and what I actually had to offer him was far less than that: stolen moments, rushed meals, brief hugs and kisses at bedtime, a single rose. But I loved Richard, and he loved me, and that made it all more than enough. That made it the best.

Earle Irwin

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