home Pacific NW Magazine home

Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Taste Northwest Living Now & Then

spacer Photo
A family comes clean to make Mother's Day meaningful

If you're reading this, it's probably too late to make restaurant reservations for Mother's Day. But perhaps that's just as well. Even though the second Sunday in May is the most popular day of the year to dine out — or maybe because of that — a restaurant is no place to be on Mother's Day.

A friend of mine, who has logged his share of Mother's Days working in restaurants, put it this way: "It's a freak show."

Not a comment on the customers, his remark was all about the people in the kitchen. "Most of them work on Saturday nights," he says, "and they're in no shape to work the brunch shift on Sunday morning." Even if they didn't work the night before, brunch is a horrible shift; no one wants it. "Dinner's just as bad," he says. "A restaurant meal on Mother's Day is just not going to be pretty. It's too busy for anyone to do his best work."

My wife has her own reasons for not liking to go out on Mother's Day. "For one thing, it's too expensive," she says. "And for another, it always seems to be about getting really full." (After nearly two decades with my wife, I have come to realize that while those members of our race who have been blessed with a "Y" chromosome seem to enjoy getting really full, especially if a nap immediately follows, those of the double-X persuasion seem to think this is "really gross.")

Thumbnail Sparkling Lemonade
"One thing I DO like about going out," she says, "is that everyone gets cleaned up." In our family, there are two boys, one dad and one mom. The boys and I like to believe that we stay pretty clean as a rule. But the mother of the boys insists that weekly showers aren't nearly enough and that a damp comb through the hair does not constitute thorough grooming. So on the Saturday night before Mother's Day, even if they don't need it, the boys are forced to bathe or shower, and clean clothes are laid out for Sunday morning because "Moms like it when their kids are looking sharp."

Last Mother's Day I opted to cook for my wife at home. I made the coffee and directed one of our children to deliver a cup to the woman of honor, who was propped neatly up in bed. The other child was instructed to go pick some flowers and bring them to his mother. Then I set about making some waffles. Unfortunately, I was out of baking powder. No problem, I thought, a quick trip to the store and all will be well. I drove a little too quickly, though, and ended up waiting on the side of the road for what felt like forever while a cop slowly reviewed my dismal driving record and wrote me out a ticket. It was days before I confessed what had taken me so long. My wife in turn confessed that she doesn't really even like waffles.

What's a poor man to do? How to honor the woman who bore him children on her day of days? The desires of a mother are impossible to fathom, at least by us males; and while I wouldn't say she's a bundle of contradictions, the motherly one at my house does present something of a paradox. "If there's anything moms don't like," my wife has carefully explained to me, "it's being bossed around. On the other hand, we do like a little direction; mothers do not like to have to make all the decisions on Mother's Day." In other words, have a plan for what the day will hold, but make sure it's a plan she will like.

The authority on all things maternal also offers this advice:

"Moms like flowers." And just in case I was thinking I'd be off the hook with a simple bouquet from our own garden, she made it clearer: "Flowers growing outdoors. Moms like picnics."

It's true that our most successful Mother's Day mealtimes have been spent in some beautiful setting like the Washington Park Arboretum, or in a boat on the way to Yellow Island. When we lived in Friday Harbor, it was our annual tradition to visit tiny, wildflower-covered Yellow Island every Mother's Day.

OK, OK, so it's too late to plan a trip to Yellow Island, but how about a walk along that path around Green Lake, or a short stroll through Kubota Garden, that little-known gem of a park tucked away in South Seattle? Seattle has a wealth of parks. (Check out the Seattle Parks and Recreation Web site, With a modicum of effort, a last-minute outing could be made to look like something that had been planned weeks in advance. Of course, it would help if you had a pre-packed cooler or picnic basket in the trunk of the car.

Had I but world enough and time, I would force the boys into some really smart-looking clothes, hire a horse and carriage and take their mom for a ride through a park to a grassy meadow where, beside a bank of violets, a picnic would already have been laid. A jar of sparkling lemonade would be brought forth to quench my lady's thirst, and a hamper would be opened to reveal soft cheese, crisp baguettes, chilled grapes and delicate cookies. And just to keep everybody looking sharp and clean, linen napkins would be included, too. The boys would wait until their mother had been served before they even asked for something from the basket, and all the while, they would make sweet remarks about how good their mother has been to them.

Greg Atkinson is chef at IslandWood on Bainbridge Island. He is also author of "The Northwest Essentials Cookbook" (Sasquatch Books, 1999). Michelle Kumata is a Seattle Times staff artist.

Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Taste Northwest Living Now & Then home
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company