A Mother’s Day Gift – The Lanyard by Billy Collins

Here’s a gift for you to give your mother, but be prepared to laugh out loud and to cry.

First I have something to share. My kids have one grandparent now though they once had five, lucky them. This weekend we think about our parents, mothers in particular. We are oh-so-American with our commercialized holidays and flowers and gifts and ads and store displays; Mother’s Day is one of the biggest flower days of the year, but by God don’t they deserve flowers?

Mother’s Day accounts for one-fourth of the floral purchases made for holidays. About a third (31%) of adults bought flowers or plants as gifts for Mother’s Day 2014.

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, two-thirds (67.2%) of those celebrating Mother’s Day will buy mom flowers, spending a total of $2.3 billion in 2015.  (Site link)

Weeping cherry

Spring in the TreeHouse, weeping cherry

It’s a sad thing to wait for an organized day to say thanks or simply check in.  Last year I wrote about what it means to give, because I believe we lose sight of what’s most important.  Flowers are a perennial favorite, (pun intended though “annual” might work better) for their beauty and freshness.  Emerson wrote that “The only gift is a portion of thyself.”

Next to things of necessity, the rule for a gift, which one of my friends prescribed, is, that we might convey to some person that which properly belonged to his character, and was easily associated with him in thought. But our tokens of compliment and love are for the most part barbarous. Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a gem; the sailor, coral and shells; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing. This is right and pleasing, for it restores society in so far to its primary basis, when a man’s biography is conveyed in his gift, and every man’s wealth is an index of his merit. But it is a cold, lifeless business when you go to the shops to buy me something, which does not represent your life and talent, but a goldsmith’s.  (Link to Letter on Giving)

A gift of yourself.

I want to share something about parents. This is what I want to tell you: give your time, your love, your laughter.  Give that gift.

This writer, this child, this daughter did not always appreciate her parents and sadly, I admit that I realized too late the joy and goodness and decency of my mother-in-law.  This is our first year without her and I have learned so much since, from her house, her instruments, her jewelry, her books, her pictures, her journals. And most importantly, her friends and family.

She’s flawed like the rest of us and sometimes we let those flaws fill the space between us, but that’s a mistake and one I work on  changing. My mother lost her mom in infancy, so how lucky am I to still have my mother? The day doesn’t matter, but if you’re like I was, Sunday is as good a day as any to give the gift of yourself. I’ll even help you.

I asked my mom what she needed and she wouldn’t say, so I bugged her until we agreed on bird food!  How’s that for a gift? The garden, flowers, birds, and spring make her happy.  I drew her a flower in pen and ink and mailed it to her.  Spring is for mothers and that makes sense, new life and rebirth and all that goes with it.

Spring

Plum tree blossoms, my mother’s favorite, and daffodils, my favorite

Here’s a poem for your mother.  Read it to her, send it to her, share it with your friends because it’s good and it says it the way it is.  I found it in a volume of poetry on the worn sagging shelves of my husband’s childhood home, a legacy from his mother after she died, a lasting gift for all of us.

Here is the beloved Poet Laureate at his best.

The Lanyard – Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

from The Trouble with Poetry.   (book link here).

My review of The Trouble With Poetry link, including 2 other poems

**   Here you can view Collins reading it himself,  The Lanyard

Pen and Ink Mother's Day2

My “lanyard” for my mother

May 8, 2015

2 Comments

  1. Mary

    Thank you for remembering Beth with such kindnesses. All the rough edges seemed so quickly washed away, and I, like you, remember and honor the gift she was to us all. When you have a big sister significantly older, she does hold a place in your heart like a mother. I miss her so much. I think of her everyday and long for her presence and the sound of her voice.

    • mylinhshattan

      I’m glad you visited and read this letter. I’m lucky to have my own mom and Beth’s death has taught me a lot. It’s been a hard year for you and you have handled challenge with grace, so enjoy your day tomorrow. Love to you all.

About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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