“You’ll never know how much I love you until you have children of your own.”
I can’t tell you how many times I heard those words come out of my mother’s mouth when I was growing up.
While other kids’ moms told them to stop making faces or their mouth would freeze that way, or elaborate tales about walking to school in the snow or having only one toy to play with, my mom always told me how much she loved me.
It didn’t matter whether she was proud of me-for getting a good report card or remaining a good sport when I lost a hard fought tennis match -or disappointed -for honing my sarcastic wit at the dinner table or rolling my eyes when my little sister annoyed me -I always knew how much she loved me because she never stopped telling me.
She still tells me, almost every single day, and sometimes more often than that.
She shows me too, by always being there for me in a million different ways.
So here I sit writing a column about her, trying to be funny and not make her mad. It’s not that easy. My mom is often hilarious, without trying to be, but doesn’t really like to be teased or the butt of our jokes. Plus, the last thing I want to do is publicly embarrass someone who has enough dirt on me to fill a small park
“Just write that,” says my husband.
“That’ll make her mad,” says my son, who’s precocious enough to know that moms-and especially your mom’s mom-rank number one on the list of the top five people you don’t want to tick off (the others are your principal, your teacher, the person who’s making your dinner and the guy with the pit bull across the street).
“That’s the thing about having a great mom, though,” I tell him. “It’s okay to make her mad because you always know she loves you.”
“Really?” His little nine-year-old eyes light up.
“That doesn’t mean you should try to make me mad,” I warn. He knows that look, and drops the matter right away.
It took me until I was at least ten to figure out that my mom had a full range of super powers: eyes in the back of her head, a knack for being able to let me know what she was thinking with just a look, and the ability to fling guilt rays at me from a thousand feet away. She can fling them from even farther away if there’s a telephone involved.
Until I had a child of my own, I didn’t realize what a thankless job it was to be a mother. If surviving nine months of pregnancy and 37 hours of back labor aren’t enough to help you develop a sense of humor, there’s breast feeding, changing diapers, cleaning spit-up, and wiping bottoms to enjoy. Would you do that for someone you didn’t love?
And it’s not like kids ever grow out of needing their mother. When I had bronchitis a few weeks ago, my husband laughed as I whined that I wanted my mommy to come and take care of me. Within minutes she was there, bearing homemade chicken soup. Eyes in the Back of the Head Woman, to the rescue!
Food critic Ruth Reichl wrote a book, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, where she talks about dressing up in her mother’s clothes and going out to restaurants disguised as her mom. As much fun as that might be, I have no illusions that I will ever be able to fill my mother’s shoes-even though she hands me down a practically new pair that “hurt her feet” every other week.
My sister and I are both convinced that we’re her favorites, as are her three grandchildren. Even her sons-in-law think they’re her favorite. But the truth is our mom’s got more than enough love to go around. She managed to take hordes of family friends, classrooms full of Roosevelt School students and scores of SBCC football players under her maternal wing, without ever making any of us feel neglected. Some of my childhood friends still call her “Mom” and she’s much better at keeping in touch with them than I am.
She’s got more energy than someone half her age, more friends than a brand new lottery winner and does more for other people than anyone else I’ve ever known. She defeated breast cancer and lung cancer while hardly missing a tennis match, and while she officially retired from teaching, that doesn’t stop her from teaching her grandchildren, the kids her granddaughter’s school and anyone else who will listen, at any opportunity.
She’s still teaching me things, and I’m still listening, Mom. I love you too.
Happy Mother’s Day.