Huntington Beach, circa 1977.
My mother is riding her bike, and I’m in the seat on the back. I’ve spent a lot of time in this position, seeing the streets and the beach from the back of my mom’s bike. She doesn’t drive a car, so this is how we get around.
I recall thinking to myself, “I wonder what would happen if I leaned this way.”
What happened was an epic crash. It was totally my fault.
This one incident is an accurate metaphor of what being my mother has been like.
I could say that I have no idea how my mother survived parenting me, but the truth is, I know exactly how- she laughed her way through it. How do I know this? Because I have a daughter just like me and I have found that’s the only way. I also have 3 other kids who are not like me. Laughing helps with them as well.
8 year old me: Why do they have all those tanks? Who are they guarding against?
My mom: I dunno
Now, you and I both know I heard what she said. In my 8 year old mind, though, the idea that the local national guard armory was keeping tanks in case of an attack from Idaho seemed much funnier.
She could have rolled her eyes. She didn’t, she laughed. And every time she laughed at my antics (there were many) she taught me an important life skill. Laughter makes everything better. The greatest gifts I ever received from my mom, and there have been some great ones (she always knows how to find the most interesting, most applicable stuff), are not material. They are the legacies she has passed on to me.
Let me paint a picture of me as a kid.
A little bit of an attention hog.
Yet one of the greatest gifts my mother ever gave to me was the freedom to be me.
Even if being “me” meant dressing in my Wonder Woman bathing suit, putting a yellow plastic headband across my forehead with a red star sticker in the center, covering up in my pink polyester robe and then spinning around in circles in my living room, all the while stripping off my robe in transformation.
Even if being “me” meant dressing up in the Native American dress that she hand made for me, begging her to cut slits in all my clothes so people might think my towhead pale self belonged to a local tribe, and sitting around playing “10 little Indians” over and over on my fisher price record player.
Even if being “Me” meant converting my sister’s pilgrim dress (also handmade by my mother) into a raggedy pre- Daddy Warbucks Little Orphan Annie costume and wandering the house singing the entire soundtrack at the top of my lungs.
Another gift that my mom passed on to me was the tradition of making every holiday a special day. I read a blog not too long ago, where a mom lamented the trend towards elaborate holiday tables. For me, this isn’t new. Every holiday I would wake up to discover the table decorated, and I have done this for my kids as well. Zoe has already told me she plans to do this for her kids.
I remember one year I came down on Valentine’s Day to find handmade lace doily valentines and a handmade Valentine’s Day outfit. She had worked on this outfit after I went to bed, creating a vest and skirt combo with hearts all over it. She. Sewed. Me. An. Outfit. I can barely comprehend it.
I love the opportunity to make those days extra-special. I remember the feelings I had when I came downstairs to find the table transformed, and I enjoy doing that for my own kids. I figure this somehow makes up for all the other ways I fail as a parent, just a little.
I also inherited my love of reading from my mom. I remember reading Erma Bombeck to her as she cooked dinner and we both laughed until we couldn’t breathe. She introduced me to her favorite mystery authors, J.A. Jance and Sue Grafton, getting me hooked on them and the mystery genre in general. She bought me Bill Bryson and Molly Ivins, both of whom inspired me to write what I observed.
She brought music into our home. Many weekends growing up there was no TV on, just a never-ending rotation of records playing John Denver, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt. She gave me the confidence to sing out loud.
My mom has modeled compassion for others, a social conscience, and a desire to serve.
She gave me a voice and a platform to express my oh-so-many opinions.
She has been my cheerleader, my sounding board, and a soft place to land in a sometimes hard world.
She stood by me as I dealt with consequences of bad choices. She taught me put on my big girl pants and face problems head on. She’s given me boosts when I need them and she’s let me pull myself up by the bootstraps all on my own. She’s shown me that a contrite heart and being willing to admit your mistakes as a parent is the key to gaining the trust of your kids. I have called her crying saying I understand why she lost it sometimes over the years. She has told me those moments are her greatest regrets. I’ve been able to real with her about my struggles and failings and I know that she will be real back with me.
I would say she’s been my friend, but that word doesn’t suffice. In the end, the only word that truly tells the story of who she is to me is simply MOM. It’s all encompassing.
She’s cool, freshly washed sheets on a sick day, hands in the dirt replacing weeds with flowers, freshly baked chocolate chip oatmeal cookies when no other comfort can be found.
Thank you, mom, for all of this and so much more.