I had to take a break from the tissue paper stuffing and blowing up three dozen pink balloons Thursday evening for two reasons: to get this column written, and because whatever powder is in those balloons was starting to get to my head, which was frightening my little dogs (and amusing me — not gonna lie.)
What’s up with the balloons and tissue paper, you ask? Well, here it is: on Aug. 28, my mother had a birthday. And not just any b-day: she turned the big 5-0.
As I was alternating between working and blowing up the balloons, I began to reflect on my time with my mother so far. Granted, I’ve only been alive and seen 23-almost-24 of her 50 years with her, but I’ve noticed that this year, I’ve been reflecting a ton on our relationship from growing up to what we have now.
Mom was a homemaker when I was very small, so 90 percent of my early childhood memories are of her. I can still see our old neighborhood from the child’s seat on her bicycle, and I can still hear the footsteps of my mother, my bedroom door creaking open and Mom saying “Good mor-ninngggg …” in her sing-song voice she used then.
There was always an extra emphasis on the last syllable in morning. Always.
Then came my father leaving shortly after I turned 5 and the divorce that followed. Mom remarried that year, admittedly because she wanted to go back to the norm of being a married, at-home mom and give me the sense of normalcy she felt every kid deserved.
Looking back, it amazes me how Mom really went above and beyond to keep the innocence of childhood — of Barbies and cookies and being involved in my elementary school — alive.
I was grateful for it and her then because I could trust Mommy would always be there, be of consistent temperament and protect me from outside danger once I got home.
Mom and my former stepfather divorced when I was 10. This time though, she had to work while I went to stay with a buddy and her mom before and after school. Something changed after that second divorce.
For starters, puberty kicked in and I was going through a complete shift in my attitude and personality. Frankly, I was angry about the way life was turning out and a part of me was angry at Mom. When she was at home, she took care of everything and was always chirpy; now she was working, trying to adjust as best she could, and came home in a lousy mood. We often argued then about why I wasn’t helping out more when I was definitely old enough.
The pattern — as well as head-butting — continued. In addition to the self-absorption and moodiness that comes with adolescence, Mom was fiercely protective, always managing to be there and keep an eye on me in spite of her other responsibilities … and I hated it.
During one argument I lamented why I had ever been born.
At that point she had enough. “I became a mother because I wanted to have you, and like it or not, being overprotective goes with it,” she yelled. “You have a child of your own and tell me how if you love them, you just let them do whatever they want and not care. I’m not your father, I’m not the other girls’ moms —and I’m not going to be. Like it or not, I’m your mother, I’m not going stop being your mother and caring about what you do until the day I die.”
I still think about that exchange and I realize something. No matter what was going on in our lives, how the weight of the world weighed her or both of us down — my mother was always there. She was Mom first, always putting me first and always pushing me to go after my dreams of going to college and pursuing my then-undefined dream job in politics, supporting me wherever she could along the way.
“That’s what parents are supposed to do,” she would say whenever we talked about my career goals and the work we’d both have to do for me to realize them — even if the trade-off for her was not so hot. “You want your kids to do better than you. I don’t want you to just do what I did. I want you to go on and do better, and if I have to give up a few things — that’s OK. I’d rather see you happy and successful than have a few extra ‘things’ anyway.”
Mom, your consistent dedication to being Mommy and to being my parent first, no matter what (or how rotten I was as a tween) taught me that life is a matter of endurance and honoring all commitments, of helping the people you love first before yourself. You were the one who taught me I had intrinsic value and believed in it, even when my own feelings and internal pressures had me feeling otherwise.
I am so grateful to have you and to have your love and guidance in the sometimes scary journey called life, and I cannot wait for what the next 23-almost-24 years bring us … as well as the opportunity to pass down the wisdom about life and true love you instilled in me.
Happy Golden Birthday.