A fictional tale to celebrate mothers in the thick of raising a family.
The idea of Queen for a Day began with a text. I was leaning against an office cubicle browsing through emails on my phone when a message popped onto the screen, “I am now a member of the suspended kids club too” (followed by a smiley face emoji). There was only enough time for a quick response before I headed into a meeting.
Two months before, my daughter was suspended from school for her involvement in a fistfight in the lunchroom and the same week my son was arrested for possession of marijuana at school. Rumors were quickly getting out at school and at church; the pastor’s kids were messing up. At first I kept quiet about what was happening in our family. My husband became the pastor at the local church 2 years ago. It felt like we were finally settling into our new environment. I wondered what kind of an example we were setting for other families. After I received the text from my cousin about her son being suspended, I began to wonder how many other moms were in similar battles at home. It prompted me to start listening to other mothers at church and school. Sometimes, when I sensed an opening, I would share something about what happened in my family; often, in return, I would hear the heartbreak and guilt of their own struggles. The question I commonly heard was had we failed as mothers?
Like a quiet army of hurting mothers we found each other. We would cry, share, and give grace to each other. After awhile I realized this little sisterhood of mothers needed to laugh together and be encouraged to not give up. That is where the Queen for a Day idea was formed. We were headed into the holidays so I chose January 2nd .Ten women agreed to participate in Queen for a Day.
On January 2nd I arrived 11am at ZinBurger in the Scottsdale Quarter. I reserved a table under one of the outdoor umbrellas near the fountains. A waiter came over to wipe down the tables and helped me slide two tables together. I added a pink feathery boa down the center of the table then sprinkled bits of fake diamonds all over the table. In the center I placed a white ceramic cake stand, covered it with a silky pink cloth and took a jeweled crown from the depths of my large purse that my children lovingly referred to as a suitcase.
Susie was, not surprisingly, the first to show up for the lunch. She was the ever-bubbly mother who always came ready with extra noisemakers and hats, which she hastily added to the table decorations. We hugged. Then Ashley and Carin came. Carin walked toward the fountains nearby to answer a phone call before joining us. Her forehead was creased. I was talking to Ashley when I noticed Mary walking toward us her eyes concealed under a floppy brim fedora. She looked up as she neared the group. As I was watching her I was thinking it was time to update my hat collection, “Mary, I love your hat.” She laughed softly, “All this holiday business and I didn’t have time to cover the grey roots”. She was the frankest member of our group. We were soon gathered at the table, all 10 of us engaged in noisy chatter. After the waiter took our orders and brought our drinks, we started the meeting.
Ashley shared first. “My worst holiday story was Thanksgiving dinner. My parents flew in from Chicago. They chose Thanksgiving dinner to share the news of their impending divorce. We have had a difficult, distant relationship for years but I was shocked at this. I tried to talk to them after dinner but they didn’t want to talk. I don’t know how to act as their daughter. I feel helpless. And how do I help my children deal with the break-up of their grandparents when I don’t even know how to deal with it?” Still composed but teary eyed she looked around the table. Not even a single tear had hit her cheek before every woman reached a hand toward hers. We didn’t say anything, just sat silently with her for a moment.
Carin spoke next. “My worst holiday story was actually New Years Eve.” As you all know Jarrod has skipped school so many times that he was kicked out of the district. We have enrolled him into an alternative school for the rest of the school year. On New Years Eve we had a small gathering with family. We watched ‘White Christmas’ and ate Carmel popcorn. I took the kitchen trash outside after midnight. When I lifted the lid of the trashcan I noticed something shiny in a nearby shrub. I was shocked to find a half empty bottle of ‘fire-ball whiskey’. I grabbed the bottle and marched through the side gate into the backyard. Jarrod was hanging out with his friends in the yard. Or at least that is where I thought he was. I texted him and fretted over whether to call the police. At 2:30 he came stumbling into the house clearly drunk.” Carin paused; she couldn’t go any further but dropped her head and cried into her arms. We all pushed back our chairs and rushed to her side. We swallowed her in a group hug.
Cassandra, usually quiet, broke from the hug first. “I’m ready to share now.” We all sat down waiting to see if Cassandra could one-up Carin’s story for the crown. “My story was also at Thanksgiving time. John’s family always comes in for Thanksgiving so they can spend Christmas skiing in Aspen. I worked very hard on this years’ dinner preparing what I thought was my best dinner to date. My mother-in-law commented to John that I could have purchased better sides at AJ’s Fine Foods. She commented how sad it was the younger generation wasn’t adept at cooking. I was so angry I could barely look at my mother-in-law the rest of the day. As I finished cleaning up dinner our new neighbor knocked on the door. He was informing us that our Labrador had gotten out of the backyard, tipped over our trash can and strewn it all over his front yard Christmas display. My in-laws watched the National Dog Show while the rest of the family picked up garbage.” Cassandra stopped abruptly. We all reached over to stack our hands on top of hers.
One after the other the stories were told. My own story was also a tale of family dysfunction over Christmas dinner. Many tears were shed, and hugs were given. When we all finished talking I quietly handed out small folded pieces of paper. Each one wrote a name down then placed it in the jar we passed around the table. Opening each paper, I glanced at the name written on them. Everyone was unanimous. I stood to reach for the crown in the center of the table. “And our Queen for a Day is—Carin!” All the women cheered and ran to hug and congratulate her. I placed the crown on her head. Today everyone else would pay for Carin’s meal. Then each of us told her why we valued her. The crease on Carin’s forehead relaxed.
It was the one day it was ok to outdo each other’s stories. It was a day we determined to share our heartbreak, look it in the face and choose to see our value as mothers. We were all Queens when we left to return home. I sent a quick text to my cousin “I need to tell you about Queen for a Day” (smile emoji). It was time to start a revolution.
I want to encourage mothers to listen to each other and be gracious so we don’t become isolated in our struggles. We need each other.
(I read about the “Queen for a Day” game in an online article about surviving the holidays with dysfunctional family.)
Tina D. Stephens
Author of The Common Hours
and the mother of 4 adopted children.