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?
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.