Every day I try to be more like my mother and every day I fall short.
She exudes goodness. It follows her like a pretty scent on a warm day.
I’ll never be as good.
My mother’s goodness can’t be learned. It doesn’t come from reading self-help books, practicing yoga or going to church. It’s inherently selfless and unaware. It’s ingrained in such a way that my unassuming mother would never laud herself for possessing such a redeeming character trait.
If she’s reading this right now — even if it’s alone in her house in the afternoon hours before my father comes home from work — she’s probably blushing. She has red hair and a freckled complexion that easily flushes.
Today is her 52nd birthday.
She’s also the kind of woman who doesn’t care if her age is broadcast to the world. To her it’s just a number.
As a journalist, I repeatedly have to ask people their age. You wouldn’t believe how offensive this question can be.
An editor once told me that readers instinctively use the ages of sources in a story to gauge how they would react to the situation being reported on. It’s human nature, love it or hate it.
Some people flat-out refuse to disclose their age. More than once I’ve been chastised for asking. The nerve of some reporters. My mother is too laid-back to care. When I turned 30 and wallowed in self-pity, she didn’t get it.
“So you’re 30,” she said. “You’ve got a beautiful family, a roof over your head and food in your belly. What’s there to be sad about? Go get some vodka and celebrate!”
Yeah, my mom. She’s that person. Undramatic. Undemanding. Peaceful disposition. When she’s handed lemons, she makes lemonade with a pinch of mint from her garden, drinks it heartily with a friend, and when the pitcher is empty she claims it’s half-full.
She’s the kindest, warmest, most nurturing person I know.
When I catch myself fretting over something I can’t control, or knocking myself down for something I have yet to accomplish, I think of what my mom would do in the situation and then I try, I really, really try to do that thing and usually I fall short.
Why? Because I’m not my mom.
“Because if we were all the same, the world would be a boring place,” she says.
I like to think I inherited her imagination. She’s got a wild one. As a girl, she once jumped off her parent’s roof with an umbrella because she thought she’d catch air like Mary Poppins.
Instead she caught the ground. In her face.
When we were growing up she used to make us what she called “a giant’s breakfast.” We’d eat out of kettles and mixing bowls using ladles as spoons and salad tongs as forks.
When Henry was about five months old I caught her staging an elaborate puppet show in his nursery. The night before, she had advised me to sleep in so that she could care for him in the morning. Relieved, I left her a bottle of milk and dozed until 8. When I woke up, I spied her in his bedroom looking like the ghost of Shari Lewis.
Henry was propped up in his umbrella stroller facing his crib. Through each crib rail she had slipped a different stuffed animal: an orange moose, a talking dog, a blue bear that sings Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, a stuffed Pedro doll from South of the Border and Duke, a dog with a burned tail that I’ve had since I was a child. (When I was 12, I scorched his fur on a reading lamp.)
Undetected by my mother, I peeked into Henry’s room. He was captivated by his crib-side puppet show. I think it was the first time I’d seen him sit still for weeks. (Yes, even at five months old he was high-energy.)
I watched my mother pass from stuffed animal to stuffed animal, flailing critter limbs like a Muppeteer with ADHD. When I made myself visible, she immediately stopped the charade. I had startled her; caught her in the act of tap-dancing an orange moose. Her face reddened.
“He was whimpering,” she said sheepishly. “He looked like he could use a puppet show.”
“Of course,” I said. “Pedro has been dying to show off his poncho to Blue Bear.”
“So you don’t think I’m weird?” She asked.
“Never,” I said.
Happy Birthday Mom. I love you for everything you are and continue to be. You make motherhood look like one effortless adventure after the next. Thank you. Maybe one day I’ll be more like you when I grow up.
PS. Hank was born five days after we took the photo above. We were headed out to dinner, dressed in semi-matching shirts — a total coincidence that delighted us immensely.