The best Mother's Day gift I received only cost $5 and it wasn't spent on me

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Whoever came up with the concept of the school Mother's Day gift stall was clearly a genius - and I suspect, most likely a mother. It's a beautifully simple idea that almost guarantees that mums will be honoured on the second Sunday in May: the kids are given cash on the day (often from the other parent), they get to choose the presents and the profits go back to help fund the school's parent committee.

It's a win for everyone, especially those with a penchant for anything pink or scented, or pink and scented.

I once received a soap cupcake from my daughter with the following disclaimer: "Sorry Mum, I don't know if it's a cupcake... or soap." We're still not sure.

Another time I scored a blue plastic watch covered in diamantes. Upon presentation, my son confessed: "I don't think the diamonds are real." Even his innocent six-year-old eyes weren't fooled.

But it's the thought of kids deliberating over whether to buy the 'World's best mum' mug or the 'Wake at own risk' sleep mask that makes the whole experience a heart-warming one, even more so when the gifts are teamed with a handcrafted 'I love you, Mummy' card.

Over the past few weeks I wouldn't be able to count the number of reminder emails I have received from the school about this year's stall.

"Parents, please send $5 or $10 with your child on Thursday" they drilled into us.

There was even an option to enter credit card details online so the child could turn up with a voucher to spend. It really couldn't have been easier for kids (and partners) not to forget Mother's Day. Genius, right?

When Thursday morning came around, I asked my son if he was cashed up and ready to shop.



Note to self: forward the school emails to my husband at this time of year. 

I sent my son to check the contents of my purse.

"Sorry Mum, you don't have $10."

"Really?" I queried.

"Yes, you only have two $5 notes." 

"Take both," I winked.

With the school offering both $5 and $10 options for presents, I knew this would quite possibly be my best Mother's Day haul yet. Hello real diamonds. Or at least a real cupcake.

Later that day, I picked up my son from school and thoughts of the stall had completely left my head.

His first words to me were: "I'm not going to tell you what I got you."

I paused. What was he talking about? Then the pink, scented penny dropped.

"Oh, that's fine. I prefer surprises."

Then he lowered his head. Had I given the wrong response?

"Sorry Mum…" he continued.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"I only spent $5 on your present," he confessed.

I laughed with relief.

"That's fine, I'm sure it's a great present," I reassured him.

He paused again.

"I gave the other $5 to Oliver*… he didn't have any money to spend," he whispered.

He looked at me knowing what I was thinking. He couldn't mention this boy's name without me having one particular thought.

We both just stood there.

He searched my face to see if I recognised who he was referring to. In the small chance that I didn't, he lowered his voice and clarified: "Oliver. The boy whose dad died last year."

I couldn't speak.

Of course I knew who Oliver was. I thought of this 10-year-old boy often. I tried to imagine the sadness that must regularly grip him, and the anguish his mother must deal with daily. I wanted to understand the pain they'd experienced. But I knew I couldn't really grasp it.

The only response I had was to hug my son.

We stood outside the school gate as I held him close to me and sobbed quietly into his embrace. He held me tightly, as I breathed in the familiar scent of his hair.

When I drew back, I could see his face was confused. I asked: "Is Oliver your friend?" It really didn't matter, but I was curious as I didn't think they played together.

"No," he shook his head.

I held him again. He pulled away and looked at me, and I could tell he wondered what he'd done wrong. I didn't know how to tell him that he'd done everything right.

We got into the car in silence and drove from the school without saying a word.

After some time, he turned to me and asked: "Why did you cry?"

I went to explain but couldn't find the words. I wanted to tell him that as parents, we have hopes and dreams for our children, and those aspirations are many and varied. Some are easier to pursue than others. Academic success can be achieved by education. Athletic prowess can be nurtured with training. But what about those less-measurable attributes that you hope your kids will develop?

How do you raise a child to be kind? Where are the teachers for Altruism 101? Is there an Introduction to Being a Good Person subject offered in school?

Mostly it's left to us parents to teach these things. But what makes us the most qualified people for the job? The truth is, it's not easy to role model this kind of behaviour all the time. Actually, sometimes it's really hard.

It was in this moment that I realised that perhaps my husband and I are doing an okay job of it. Raising good kids has always been our ultimate parenting goal and our son's actions on that day showed us that he's on the right path. 

"I'm proud of you," I finally said. "You've just given me the best Mother's Day present ever."

He looked back at me.

"But I only spent $5," he contested.

"Yes," I agreed. "But you spent it in the best way possible."

*Name changed.