The trouble started on the day before Mother's Day.
"Am I supposed to give you something tomorrow?" my husband, Bill, asked. "Of course not," I said. "I'm not your mother."
But I was hiding one tiny fact: I wanted a present anyway. A box of chocolate truffles, say. Or jewelry. Or maybe even something Bill had made for me. Most of all, I wanted him to read my mind, know that I would love one of those things, and produce it the next morning.
I felt like a jerk for wanting one thing and saying another. I told myself to grow up. If Bill gave me nothing for Mother's Day, he would simply be respecting what he thought were my wishes. A man who respects me: What more could I want?
A present, that's what. All the next day—the day—I kept hoping. When Bill left the living room to take a shower, I pictured him in our bedroom, wrapping. When he went outside to get the newspaper, I imagined he was in fact dragging my present from the garage, where he'd been storing it because it was just too darn big to hide in the house. He wasn't. By lunchtime, nothing could fully distract me from Bill's lapse—not even when 13-month-old Davey pointed at me and said "Mama!" for the first time.
My secret tumbled out a few hours later. The three of us were running errands when Davey bumped his head on a store counter. "I thought you were watching him!" Bill said—loudly. And despite all the people shopping nearby, or maybe because of them, I hit a new low: "Most men are taking their wives out to brunch today," I shot back, just as loudly, "and you're yelling at me in Kmart!"
On the ride home, Bill apologized for his outburst. "Well," I admitted, "I shouldn't have said what I said either. I can't have it both ways: I can't tell you I don't want anything for Mother's Day and then be mad at you when you don't get me anything."
"So you're saying you really did want me to buy you a present?"
"Yeah," I said, embarrassed.
The next day, wondering if I was alone in my Mother's Day neediness, I polled a few moms I know. One said she was glad her husband hadn't given her a present: "It means I don't have to worry about getting him one for Father's Day." But the others all said they had wanted, or even expected, Mother's Day gifts from their husbands. Never mind that some of their kids were old enough to make presents themselves.
"Why do we care so much if the guys give us something?" I wondered. My friend Sara, whose husband gave her a gift certificate for a spa massage, put it best: "We like to feel appreciated." After all, we tend to do the lion's share of kid care, from breastfeeding babies to carpooling Cub Scouts. Mother's Day presents from our husbands help show us that they recognize this.
Melissa Balmain is the author of Just Us: Adventures and Travels of a Mother and Daughter.