From 12 to 18, my mom and I had a tumultuous relationship. In her defense, I was a total brat and a complete pain in the ass. I started wearing makeup. I started smoking. I started skipping class. I was fighting undiagnosed depression. And I was fighting my mother — constantly. It wasn’t until I became a mom of my own that I really understood everything my mother did for me. My dad died when I was young, and it rocked my entire world straight to its core. For years, I took out my anger on my mom, not realizing grieve manifests itself differently for everyone. But having my daughter changed my relationship with my mom and made me realize everything she gave up for her children, and this Mother's Day, there's just one thing I want to say to my mom.
Before I was born, my mother was a businesswoman. She worked a job she loved with people she loved, but when she became pregnant with me, things changed. She resigned, moved hundreds of miles away with my dad, and became a stay-at-home mom. Like so many women before and after her, my mother gave up her job and her career to raise her children. And she stayed at home with me and my younger brother for six or seven years. Hell, maybe it was eight. She did it because she wanted to raise us and care for us, and she wanted to be a constant and present part of our lives. She wanted to watch us grow and she was determined to help us do it. At the time, I'm not sure we understood how important her decision would be for all of us.
What I didn't know or understand back then was that her decision to stay home was one of the first of many sacrifices she'd make for her children. I know now what I didn't know back then: being someone's mom is a hard job. A thankless job. An exhausting, 24 hour, seven days a week job. But she did it. Selflessly and tirelessly. And she did it with a smile. (OK, most days she did it with a smile.) Even when things got hard.
At the time, that wasn't enough for me. Things in my life had done a complete 180 overnight, and I didn't like it. I was too young to truly understand what had happened and way too naive to understand all my mom had to take on after the loss of my dad. I was an angsty, angry teenager walking around with a gaping wound in my heart. For a really long time, I took all of my pain out on her.
When I was 12, my dad died and my mom became the single mother she'd never wanted to be, and my brother and I became the fatherless kids we'd never even imagined possible. She had no choice. None of us did. Life after my dad's death was hard on all of us, especially my mom. She worked long days and even longer nights: in a hospital's billing department, in a legal firm's accounts payable department, in Circuit City's offices. (Back when Circuit City was a thing.) She fed us, clothed us, and cared for us. She helped us study. She helped us learn. She taught us how to carry on and how to grow. But at the time, that wasn't enough for me. Things in my life had done a complete 180 overnight, and I didn't like it. I was too young to truly understand what had happened and way too naive to understand all my mom had to take on after the loss of my dad. I was an angsty, angry teenager walking around with a gaping wound in my heart. For a really long time, I took all of my pain out on her.
All throughout my teens, we both yelled and screamed and said words we didn't mean. I pulled inward, recoiling as far inside myself as I could so that no one could touch me or find me. In the depths of my own loss, I forgot that my mom had lost so much more.
She was a mother when we needed her, a father when we missed our own, and a parent, through and through, even when doing so felt impossibly difficult. She gave us everything.
My mom worked tirelessly to make ends meet. She gave up her life and her identity in order to give us a normal childhood. She did everything she could to make sure we were OK. And every year, we had new school clothes in our closet and Christmas presents under our tree, and every day we had food in our stomachs and love in our hearts. My mother fought for us. She defended us. And always put us first.
So while I didn’t know what to say to her then, I know what to say now: Thank you.
She taught me how to be resilient, even when the world as we knew it came crashing to its knees. She taught me what hard work and unconditional love look like, even in the face of insurmountable pain. Time and time again, she put her pain last to soothe our own.
When I was a little girl, my mom played with me daily. She didn't care whether it was dress up or with dolls or with my imaginary friends Flopsy and Mopsy. Whatever I wanted to do, she was there, and she was supportive. When I started school we still played when we could, and in the off hours she helped me study. When I struggled with spelling, she quizzed me in the kitchen — with one hand on a wooden spoon, stirring homemade spaghetti sauce, and the other on my Words of the Week list. When I wanted to audition for my first "show choir," she helped me practice until I got it perfect. And when I got my first B (and cried and cried and cried), my mom reassured me it was OK. Even though I pushed every single button possible, gave her hell at every corner possible, even though she thought I was never, ever listening, the truth is I was.
Whenever my mom told me not to do something — like smoke or drink or jump off off trees and cliffs or out of cars — it wasn't because she wanted to be boring or a buzzkill; it was because she wanted to protect me. She wanted to keep me safe. When she made me sit in timeout when I was being mouthy and fresh or rude to my baby brother, it wasn't because she wanted to be a b*tch and it wasn't because she was vindictive or spiteful. It was because she loved me. It was because she wanted to teach me patience and humility. And when she told me I couldn't stay home from school just because I didn't like going, she forced me to go anyway, even when I was tired or downright depressed, all because she was trying to teach me how to handle life. In those moments when I couldn't appreciate it, I realize now that she taught me strength and independence.
My mom encouraged me to be me, no matter what, and always reminded me that being unique and different and quirky were added bonuses to who I was, not distractions or character flaws. She fostered my creativity, playing pretend for hours and hours and hours. Dreaming up new ways to tell stories gave me the career I have today, and I owe it all to her willingness to play with me. She was a mother when we needed her, a father when we missed our own, and a parent, through and through, even when doing so felt impossibly difficult. She gave us everything.
She taught me how to be resilient, even when the world as we knew it came crashing to its knees. She taught me what hard work and unconditional love look like, even in the face of insurmountable pain. Time and time again, she put her pain last to soothe our own. She kept us clothed, fed, and cared for. Most of all, she loved me and my brother unconditionally and without a limit, even on our worst days, and even when we didn't deserve it. As a mother to my own daughter now, I see everything she sacrificed for her children. And it's inspired my parenting in ways I'll never be able to express. She was a mother and a father all at once — constantly making the best out of an awful situation — and I know that's not the life she chose, but she did it beautifully.