Monday, December 20, 2010

Always There

Sometimes people explode into your life and change it in an instant. I can think of a few in mine—a quirky friend in junior high, an influential teacher, a boss, a boyfriend. Then there are other people who are always there, like a foundation you build your life on.

My mother is one of those.

I wanted to write about some big bang moment between me and my mother, something huge that impacted or changed my life. To my horror, I couldn’t think of one! I began to panic as I racked my brain for some turning point, some compelling story.

But that’s not what my mother is in my life, and as I’ve reflected over this essay of sorts, I’ve come to realize she’s much more important than one of those people who has plowed through my life and then disappeared just as quickly.

It started early with my mother and me, on a cold December day when the doctor said, “Well, do you want to have your baby today or tomorrow?” Mom excitedly chose that day, though she’d already had other important things planned. Because that day wasn’t just any other day—it was her birthday. And she spent it in labor. Having done that whole giving birth thing myself now, I’m even more in awe of her sacrifice. She gave up her own birthday, for heavens sake, deciding forever to share it with me. That pretty much says it all right there (though I plan on saying a lot more, trust me, Mom).

I remember watching my mother create and craft. She’s good at making things beautiful. Even in our small apartment days, she found ways to make it feel like a home. She was my first art teacher, and in a small moment she taught the most important lesson in creativity.

“I can’t draw like you,” I said in tears.

“How long do you think I’ve been drawing?” she asked.

“A long time?”

She nodded. “If you keep practicing, you’ll get better and better.”

But it wasn’t all sweet moments like that, where we seemed to communicate and understand each other perfectly. I don’t how old I was, but I remember coming home from elementary school to find a five-foot pile of toys, clothes, and trash in my room. I’m not kidding—it was a huge pile. I couldn’t even get to my bed.

My mom had had it with her kids’ messy ways, and that day instead of cleaning up she put it all in our room to see how we’d deal with it. How did I take it?

I bawled.

Completely overwhelmed, I stared at that pile thinking there was no way I could make it go away. I didn’t know where to start. To my little mind, it truly seemed impossible. But my mom knew what to do—she divided up the work and showed me how to in the process. Find the trash and throw it away. Find the clothes, sort into dirty and clean. Find the toys, sort into keep, trash, and donate. Bit by bit, the work got done.

Not that I became a pro cleaner after that, but I’m pretty sure that’s when she taught me how to break down tasks into smaller pieces. I use that principle constantly in my life, and it’s all thanks to her.

Over the years, I’ve watched my mother give. Give to her children, her church, her neighbors. I remember how she visited a woman who most people avoided. The woman was a hoarder, and her place was smelly and unwelcoming. But every month my mother visited, usually with baked goods in hand. Even after the woman passed away, she helped clean out her house, giving to the last.

All I have to do is look to my mother for an example of service. Years of quietly quilt-tying and donating and making meals for others. From her, I’ve learned where the true rewards lie, I’ve learned how good it feels to make someone else smile.

Like most teens, I did not appreciate my mom. I am ashamed to admit I was often embarrassed of her, of how involved in my life she wanted to be. I have this image in my head of me, dressed in some fancy dress for some kind of event. My mother was trying to take my picture, and I didn’t want it. Then she wanted a picture with me, and I’m pretty sure I refused. She cried, and I was mortified. None of the other mothers were doing this. Why couldn’t I just go already?

My poor mom has been through far too many of these scenarios with all of her children. In hindsight I regret every time I turned my back on her, because she never turned her back on me. No matter how many times I decided insert-whatever-new-activity was my destiny, she backed me up. She believes in me—I know that for sure—and she will always be there for me, even when I act like I don’t want her there because it’s not cool to like your mom so much.

It’s these little moments, stitched together, that make me who I am. There are too many to name, more than I can even remember, patched across my life. My mother is the quiet miracle in my life, the one who taught me how to live and love and work. I love her for it, and I know I don't say it enough.

So happy birthday, Mom. Let’s celebrate many more together.


  1. This was beautiful! I lost my mom a few years ago, and there are a few regrets I have. One was when we went to the mall together (I was in my early 20s) and we had lunch at the food court. She ate super slow and I really, really wanted to go shopping. She told me to go ahead and she'd catch up to me. Now I feel guilty for leaving her there to eat alone, even though at the time she didn't seem to mind.

    PS happy birthday:)

  2. Aw! Say Happy Birthday to her from me :)

  3. Oh geez, I'm crying... What a beautiful birthday tribute, and what a wonderful woman you have for a mom. Thanks for the reminder to all of us to treat our parents with the love they deserve.

    And hey, happy birthday to you too. What a lovely daughter, mother, sister, friend, writer, and person you are. :)

  4. Goodness, thank you for making me teary at work! This is beautiful. I feel the same way about my wonderful, giving mother (though we don't share a birthday) and her influence has impacted me in countless ways.

    Thanks for sharing and Happy Birthday!

  5. Happy Birthday to you both! A great tribute. I only hope my children think that well of me.

  6. This was so beautiful....made me tear up.

    Happy Birthday to you both.


  7. What a beautiful tribute to your mom. I'm assuming she reads your blog, yes?

    Happy Birthday to you both!

  8. You inspire me! I swear my daughter--just turned ten yesterday--and I have had the same art conversation, and her drawing skills grow every day.

    I have even made a huge pile in her room, and then shown her how to clean it up by sorting. I only hope she and I still have a great relationship when she is your age, and that I can show the same grace and unconditional love your mother has shown you.

    Happy birthday to you both!

  9. Your mom really is great. Hope you two have a great birthday. You are both very cool for having December birthdays :)

  10. What a lovely tribute! I hope you both have a very happy birthday!

  11. What a beautiful tribute to your mom! It makes me think of mine...I'm so excited to see her for Christmas. I never really realized how much I'd miss her until I moved three hours away.

    Happy birthday to you and your Mom!

  12. Happy birthday to the both of you! Beautiful post. What a nice gift for her!

  13. It's one thing to share a birthday with your mom.
    It's another to share a birthday, well, with the planet.

    My older sister was born New Year's Eve. So was my younger sister, six years later.

    Happy Birthday to both of you!

  14. Happy Birthday to you both!

    That's a beautiful post, Natalie!

  15. That was a wonderful post, thank you for sharing all of that. My mom is one of my best friends and I just adore her. I hope you and your mom have wonderful birthday's today! :)

  16. Happy Birthday, Natalie! To you and your mom! :D

  17. <3 You're amazing. Happy Birthday to you and your mom!!! :)

  18. Happy Birthday! What a beautiful tribute to your mother. She must be a lovely person. It sounds like your she gave you a great foundation for being a mom yourself. I imagine you'll have some of those same moments with your own children and the memories you have of your mother's love and unfailing support will help you do the same for them.

  19. Beautiful tribute to your mom! I think I'll call me mom right now and bug her at work again to tell her how much I love her.

    You're awesome, Natalie. Happy Birthday! Merry Christmas!

  20. It's funny when life turns around and we see our mothers as people who gave up so much for us to be happy. My mother passed away a few years ago. I miss her every day and wish I'd had more time to tell her how grateful I was for all she'd done for me.

    Your mother sounds wonderful. How great is it to share such a special day with her as your birthdays!

    Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas and Happy New Years!

  21. Happy Birthday(s)!

    My son and I are both December babies. I didn't have the option of picking the day he was born, but I would have loved to share my birthday with him, too. (As it is, we're only four days apart.)

    I hope that when he's an adult, he'll think of me the way you think of your mom.

  22. Happy Birthday to the both of you! You are both lucky to have each other! :)

  23. This is sweet. It made me cry.

    Happy Birthday!

  24. Happy birthday to you and your mom!

    I was the same way with my mom when I was younger. She's always been there for me, but I always thought she was holding me back. But now I'm older and I love that she leans on me for support from time to time. I feel more like her best friend than daughter, but I'm lucky to be both :)

  25. This is beautiful. Your mother sounds like an amazing woman. :)

  26. happy b'day, mama... and belated to you, as well :)

  27. I only met your mom once but I'll never forget how warm and charming she is. This is a beautiful tribute to her.

    Wishing you both the happiest of birthdays!

    p.s. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, too!

  28. Oh boy did I ever cry reading this. I lost my mom 7 years ago and she, too, always believed in me and was my biggest fan. My YA book got accepted for publication yesterday and I've been aching with missing her. She'd be so proud and excited (and even validated).

    Happy birthday to each of you and please hug each other from me. :)

  29. That was beautiful- it brought tears to my eyes, thinking of my mom too. They really do sacrifice a lot, and I don't think we really appreciate it until we become mothers ourselves (or even just adults, aunts, pseudo-aunts, etc). Happy Birthday!