Today would have been my Mom's 77th birthday. On her 75th birthday, fearing, perhaps somehow knowing, that it would be her last birthday with us, I made the following list and titled it "75 Things that Make a Mother."
It was a hard list to make. it took me a few weeks and in the midst I was 7 months pregnant, chasing two little ones and studying for my written comprehensive PhD exams on classical and contemporary sociological theory. There were evenings I added items to the list in spite of myself and in spite of her. Sometimes I was mad that she was so sick, but most of the time I was grieving and lost. Just truly lost. I didn't know what to do to help her. She had always been so capable of everything; she was self-sufficient in her child's eyes. I couldn't quite comprehend her needing me for anything. The only thing I could come up with that would be a loving gift was to just tell her so many of the wonderful things she did for me, and in spite of me and my antics, over the years. I think she liked it; she told me so. And in her final weeks she asked that it be handed out at her funeral, which it was. I was nervous about it, but it honestly provided a nice outlet for someone who is sort of an outgoing introvert.
Anyway, she was pretty great. And I miss her. Here are some reasons why. Happy birthday, Mom.
75 Things that Make a Mother
Waiting in the carpool line at school every morning and afternoon for 13 years. (Now that I do this everyday, I have a new respect for the patience necessary in such a task.)
"If you can read, you can cook." Though this mantra of my Mom's is one of my favorites, it has caused me at times to question whether or not I am, in fact, literate.
Letting your 19 year old get on a plane to spend a semester half-way around the world because you know it will be life-changing for her, even though it was heart breaking for her.
Making blueberry muffins at least once a week for breakfast because they were my favorite, and despite the fact she hates them.
Throwing up everyday for nine months when pregnant and not resenting the little beast that wreaked such havoc.
Being the consummate host whenever friends came over. My mom always had the best snacks and homemade brownies or cookies. She cooked a full and hearty breakfast for friends who slept over. She did so without ever being asked and did it every single time.
She even let me host a dinner party over the summer between high school and leaving for college with close friends. She cooked and prepped and did it all so I could have my first dinner party. I learned how to host and enjoy hosting great events with loved ones from her.
She made many costumes for me for Halloween. My favorite was Annie. She made the red dress with the white collar and even made a wig out of red yarn.
She never once made macaroni and cheese from a box. She always made her own.
She ironed my sheets. SHE IRONED MY SHEETS! Honestly, I'll probably never do that, but it's kind of amazing. I can't even fold sheets well. (Hers were folded perfectly in the linen closet, of course. Even the bottom sheet!)
Great family travel. San Francisco. New York. Chicago. Palm Springs. Mexico. Vienna. Salzburg. Vegas. Scottsdale. So influential on my own desires to see the world.
She taught me to care for others in the world. I rode around with her as a young child while she delivered meals on wheels to elderly people who needed help. When I was a teenager/young adult, I watched her manage a program for homeless people in our community at our church. She was amazing at it. (And Dad volunteered too.) These are just two examples of the myriad of ways she took care of those who couldn't take care of themselves. She always gives, and she gives extravagantly.
Organization. I recently cleaned out my closet at her house and came across all kinds of folders with her notes and articles kept about college preparation and schooling. She was always organized and prepared, therefore I never missed anything.
My mother is possibly the most thoughtful person who has ever existed. She remembers everything and takes care of it. If I said in passing in August that there was something I liked, I would get it as a gift for my birthday in November.
She always has everything together, on time, and well-packaged. She never missed an activity, event, or field trip. She was always there to support everything I did.
She combed my mangled mess of wild, thick hair, despite my screams and anger and cries. She patiently managed my wild messes, not just my hair, but others too.
"We're all trying to get to the same place." That was my Mom's way of dismissing and denouncing the often silly, dogmatic controversies among varying church doctrines and say that Christians all have the same goals and hopes of living good, lives as servants of God. My own views these days are probably a bit too ecumenical for her taste, but her acceptance of those around her in her corner of the world and desire to let little differences go always stuck with me.
I love pie crust. Just pie crust. When she baked a pie, she often baked just a crust for me to snack on.
She never forgets a birthday, holiday or special occasion. Throughout childhood, college and life, I have received cards or gifts for everything. She sends the grandkids gifts and cards for Halloween, Valentine's Day, Easter, everything.
She always sends things on time. She's never late. SHE"S NEVER LATE.
Homemade oatmeal cookies. For breakfast. "Because they're made with oatmeal and applesauce, and that's breakfast food."
Because instead of flipping out when she accidentally dropped her purse in a hotel toilet she laughed for ten minutes uncontrollably before she could tell us what happened.
In a world in which paying for services is standard and expected, there are some things she just doesn't do. One time I suggested something about getting a pedicure. She said she doesn't mind getting manicures, but she just can't get a pedicure because it feels rude to put your feet in someone else's face.
She loves the city. Preferably a big city. Lots of lights and beautiful places and fascinating people to watch. Don't ever wonder where my love of the urban originates.
She took me and my friends rolling (toilet papering) when we were too young to drive. She has always been somewhat embarrassed about it, but she kind of loved it too. She's a rule follower. Most of the time. :)
She took me to horrible concerts, like New Kids on the Block. ( I am sorry.)
She loves her grandchildren with true zeal.
She bought me things like wooden clogs and Birkenstocks and let me wear torn jeans I bought at goodwill even though she would have preferred that I wear heals and pearls all of the time. The good news, Mom, is that despite the fact that I still wear the Birks on a regular basis (the same two pair you bought for me 20 years ago), I know when I am suppose to wear heels and pearls, and I can do so flawlessly.
When we travelled, she always accompanied me to art museums. It wasn't her favorite way to spend time, but she did it because I liked it. (Though one time at the Guggenheim the special exhibit was an Armani retrospective, which she quite liked.)
All of the pencils in her pen and pencil holder are sharpened perfectly. Always. She's prepared for anything.
She made me take piano lessons even when I didn't really want to. And now it is one of the skills (though admittedly a bit rusty) that I value most.
She takes care of everyone in her life. She visits, writes, sends cards, and calls.
Everything in her home is perfectly appointed. Nothing stays broken longer than a day, stained longer than a minute, or dirty longer than a second. She takes pride in all she has and maintains things not because things are most important, but because she values the time and effort it took to acquire those things and she will honor that by taking care of them.
Sweet tea. REALLY SWEET TEA. With lots of lemon. Sweet nectar of the gods.
She can be rather stoic, but such a façade covers an interior that is deep and wide emotionally and is revealed in a thousand little acts of love and kindness on a daily basis.
She still uses little bowls I painted as a child and keeps pins in a pincushion I made in elementary school.
My parents trusted me. When I was in high school, they didn't keep a strict curfew on me as long as I called and let them know where I was and with whom I was spending time. I didn’t have the expected teenage rebellions and never really desired to do so, in large part because I was trusted by my parents instead of being looked at as a bad teenager who should be held in suspicion at all times. (And I was too type A and desirous to always be in charge to ever take a substance that might alter ability to boss people around.)
For years whenever I came home from college or New York, the first dish mom always cooked for me was captain crunch chicken and twice baked potatoes. It was my favorite as a kid and she must have kept making it until I was 30.
Mom continued to give me a stocking for many years after the truth of Santa was revealed, but she started stuffing it with things like fancy lotions and make up and gift cards.
Patience. With a cranky toddler turned cranky teenager who thought she knew it all.
Puts up with assertions like there's a great restaurant "just around the corner" with amazing food that's "really cheap."
She grew tomatoes and beautiful roses in our yard. Her care of her flowers and gardening appeared to be a nice hobby, but also made life beautiful around our home. I haven't yet acquired a green thumb, but I hope to do so soon.
Empathy. She was always empathetic to my concerns, even the wildly emotional ones as a teenager. She never made me feel silly. I could always see on her face that she hurt with me too.
Her love of her family. She would do anything for her siblings or other family members. She is always there for them too, and in the process setting a great example to me of how to love family.
She requested that I sit up straight. Good posture. I didn't like it at the time, but still I find myself catching myself slouching and I straighten right up, knowing it physically makes me feel better and portrays a confidence I might not always have but at least one for which I am trying.
Chocolate fudge at Christmas.
Exceptionally generous. She never hesitates to share with me or others.
Adoption dolls. Before there were Cabbage Patch Kids, there were adoption dolls. And she made them, sewed them and put them together herself, for me and for my friends. She made their clothes, painted on their eyes, braided their yarn hair. Amazing.
One time their was a spider on her windshield and she got on the highway and drove faster and faster to see how long it would take to lose its balance and fall off. I think it was 90+ miles an hour. I have no idea how this makes her a great mother, except that it's kind of hilarious/awesome. Oh, I wasn't in the car.
She put up with gross antics from me and Dad. Example: fish pudding.
She makes holidays special. Everything is beautiful, there are lots of great foods to munch on, and everything is thoughtfully and lovingly prepared.
Because she took me and my childhood best friend to see the Nutcracker every year. She got season tickets to plays/musicals at the performing arts center. She valued cultural events, and today so do I.
She (and Dad) went to all of the games at my high school that I attended. Even though I didn't play a sport, they wanted to be a part of what was going on in my life, socialize with the parents of my friends, and just be there. For some reason it never embarrassed me. I loved it, actually. I always felt comfortable with them around.
She thinks of and takes care of the things I just don't think to do. She sent the kids monogrammed Easter baskets this year. It would have never occurred to me to so, but they are so nice, the kids love them, and they'll have them for years to come.
Despite her inexperience with technology, she is using an Ipad and social media to keep up with her grandkids even though we are far away. She's willing to try new things for those she loves.
She taught me a love of farm fresh foods. She was always going to the farmers market and stopping at roadside farm stands to pick up local tomatoes, Tennessee strawberries, and fresh corn.
Family photos are everywhere in her house. More valuable than the art on the walls and a reminder of what is most important in life to her.
When she laughs, she laughs hard. I like her term for it: she "gets tickled." Because it is that kind of uncontrollable, tears in your eyes, can't compose yourself laughter. (Just not as loud as my version.)
Because she posts the following in her kitchen at Christmas: Three Wise Women would have...Asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, brought practical gifts and there would be PEACE ON EARTH.
Because she is capable of change at any age. She never exercised a day in her life. Then when at 74 the doctor said she needs to workout multiple times a week in order to stay healthy, she joined a gym, drank protein drinks and bought sneakers for the first time in her life. (The first time she went to the gym, she wore flats on the treadmill.)
She always gets parking spots at the very front of a lot. It doesn't matter if it is Christmas Eve at a shopping mall at 4pm (though she would never save shopping for gifts until that late). My Dad and I refer to this as "the spirit of Phyllis" and we always hoped that it would be with us when searching for parking spots even if she was not. How does that make a good Mother? I don't know, but it never hurts to have someone with good luck on their side. DId I mention one time she opened her car door (no doubt in the front spot of a lot) and found a ROLL of pennies. Not just one lucky penny. A WHOLE ROLL OF 100.
She always made friends with the mothers of my friends and continues to maintain those friendships to this day.
Crème Brulee. A family favorite. She has the kitchen blowtorch and everything, and she always made it on special occasions. And when I moved out she bought a kitchen blowtorch for me. (Or was it for Todd? I forget. But she knew I needed Crème Brulee.)
She was always willing to learn something new. She took swim lessons when I took swim lessons. She took piano lessons when I took piano lessons. She proved that just because one grows older doesn't mean you can't try new things. (So, I'm thinking about taking tennis lessons sometime soon.)
She likes to watch the evening news and read the newspaper everyday. As a kid, it seemed boring. But as an adult, I look back and I see that such simple habits exhibited a care for what is happening locally and in the world around us, and it certainly influenced my love of current events.
Because when I was a little girl she took me to fancy little places like Miss Daisy's Tearoom for lunch. Just us.
She encouraged my interest in creative pursuits as a child: dance, piano, art. I look back and so value all of those experiences.
After a visit with me in New York, she called a few days later to say a package would be delivered to my office. It was a handbag I had seen while we out and about on her visit. She called the store, bought it, and had it delivered to my office. Just to be nice. Just for fun. What a great surprise and treat!
After my husband, she's always the first person I call with good news, like a raise at work. I know that no one in my life cheers me on after my successes quite like my parents.
When planning a baby dedication for our daughter, I asked Mom for a special thought or story about her Dad, from whom Anna's middle name came. She said her daddy was good and kind to everyone and that as a young child she thought he let the sun out each morning to shine in addition to tending to the animals on their farm. What a lovely image.
She remembers all of my friends from childhood and high school and inquires about them often. She also gives me updates on folks with whom I don't keep in touch.
Chocolate flourless cake with raspberry sauce. Another obsession of mine growing up. My mom would order one for me on my birthday or special occasions.
She was always up earliest and stayed up late too. Always busy and working on something to make life lovely for us. She never napped and rarely rested. She made her life about my life, and though I was oblivious as a child, I see it now.
She made me excited about getting older and not scared of it. She always said her 40s were her favorite years because she was confident and comfortable in her own skin, still young enough to do whatever she wanted, and I was at a really fun age. Because of this idea, I've never really feared turning 30 (Done. No big deal.) or 40 (Soon, folks. Soon.). What a gift to not think that the earlier years were the best. The best is yet to come.
I now carry my third child at the age of 37. My Mom was 37 when she gave birth to me. It's something I think about often, how in so many ways I forged my own way and in so many I am following in her footsteps. I am happy with who I am, and that is largely because of who she is, and how these 75--but, really, more like a million--little acts make a Mother.