Tag Archives: birthday

A non-birthday-card for my mom

My mom and me in 1972. I was embarrassed by my braces and chunky legs but my mom insisted I was beautiful. I always thought she was elegant. But those “Mad Men” era fashions? Not so flattering.

My mom has a real gift for picking out birthday cards. Her cards reflect careful consideration and a deep understanding of the recipient’s strengths and recent challenges. They always seem to say exactly what the person who gets the card needs to hear.

So when it’s time for my mom’s birthday (which, being on May 12, always falls right near Mother’s Day), I fret. Weeks ahead of time, I start looking at birthday cards and Mother’s Day cards. Nothing ever seems to fit. Cards that are marketed “for mother” are typically pretty syrupy. Is it too much to ask that someone create cards for moms that express deeply held emotions without the cliches and gooey gestures?

This year, I gave up looking. I figured I’d spend some time this weekend writing a few words of my own that recognize specific things I love about her. So here goes.

My mom has always been there when I needed her most. She packed boxes for nearly every move I made. She took care of me after every birth. She came to care for my family so I could work day and night to launch a magazine 23 years ago. She even helped me paint my sons’ bedroom the year I decided they needed a purple-and-orange Phoenix Suns motif.

My mom cherishes and shares our family story. When the rest of us allow busy lives to convince us that all that “ancient history” doesn’t matter, she finds subtle ways to bring it back to our awareness, sharing anecdotes that bring long-deceased relatives back to life and offer clues into what makes us the way we are.

My mom is selfless and deeply sensitive to the feelings and needs of those around her. I remember when an elderly family friend was failing and my mom and I went to the nursing home to visit her. I was self-conscious, uncomfortable. All I could think about was that I didn’t know what to do and certainly didn’t know what to say. My mom sat close to our friend, holding her hand and speaking to her in a quiet voice, sharing stories and talking to her like it was any other day. When she noticed our friend’s dry, cracking lips, she pulled her own Chapstick out of her purse and gently applied a coat of relief. I will never forget the significance of that intimate gesture.

My mom does the right thing, even at great cost to her own personal comfort. When that same elderly friend passed away, we attended a sad little service conducted by a clergy person who knew absolutely nothing about her. The service was full of platitudes and devoid of details to help us celebrate and honor our friend’s life. My mother is not someone who easily stands up to speak in front of a group, especially when the subject is emotional. But she stood up that day, with no preparation, and told the stories and said the things that needed to be said. That is real courage.

My mom is resourceful and always prepared. She used to tell me that she took the “be prepared” motto to heart when she was a Girl Scout and it has served her (and the rest of us) well. She is the one we all count on to keep track of the details, plan ahead, think things through and prepare for any scenario. She’s great to have along on a trip. Need a breath mint? She’s got you covered. Stomach growling? She’s got some toasted almonds in her purse. Forgot your hotel confirmation? She’s probably got a copy.

One of the most powerful things my mother has always done for me is to provide affirmation. When I achieve some measure of success, she points to skills and personality characteristics that guide me. When I struggle, she commends me on my courage and determination to get through.

My mom even does this for complete strangers. I remember being at Kohl’s with her one day when she spotted a harried mother trying to get her shopping done with her young son and a crying baby in tow. The little boy was patiently helping as best he could, holding items for his mom and standing near the stroller to distract his little sister. My mother went up to him and said, “I can see that you are working really hard to help your mom.” The little boy (and his mother) looked at her with surprise, but I like to believe that child will always remember the lady who recognized that he was trying. I know I will.

A recent Saturday morning with my mom, my niece Mandy and my brother Bob.

An older, wiser mom

My son Andy’s birthday is today. He’s 26 years old. The number makes me gasp.

My thoughts are pulled back to the weeks surrounding his birth. The mystery, the worry, the pain — and the utter joy. And the vague recollection of a newspaper article that appeared when he was just five weeks old.

Before I got married, went to graduate school and had my son, I was a bureau chief for the Arizona Republic. A lot of the reporters and photographers still knew me. So when they needed a photograph of a new mom with her baby for a story they were planning to run, they called me.

Photographer Michael Ging came out to the little condo my husband and I were renting in north Phoenix and took a bunch of pictures. When the story appeared in the paper on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 1985, it included this photo, which will always be a cherished favorite:

Photo by Michael Ging.

I must have read the article, but I was probably so excited about the picture — or so overwhelmed by my role as a new mom — that I didn’t remember what it was about. When memories of  the photo surfaced today, I decided to revisit the story.

So I went to my three-ring binder labeled “1985″ and pulled out the yellowed clipping.

“A Different Kind of Parental Guidance,” by then Republic staffer Linda Helser, was about a resource for older first-time moms. It described a fabricated character named Rosalie, who had her first baby at 35. This professional wonder had graduated magna cum laude, enjoyed yearly promotions at her job and had married a successful guy with whom she took European vacations.

The arrival of her baby completely threw her for a loop.

“In Phoenix, there are many more older women having babies today, and they probably know less about infant care than even the young ones,” Helser quoted a local parenting expert as saying. The story described how these older, better-resourced moms were seeking parenting education with the same kind of vigor with which they’d pursued education and career training.

I was 29. Raising Arizona Kids wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye. But something about that newspaper article must have stuck in the back recesses of my mind. Because four years and one more son later, I was planning the launch of the Valley’s first monthly magazine for families. By then, I’d realized what Helser’s story meant by “mothers who are wise enough to admit they don’t know it all.”