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.