Letter to My Mom on Mother’s Day

Mom,

From you, I’ve learned many things. A fantastic Christmas cookie recipe. How to make amazing corners when gift wrapping presents. Passion for planning trips and vacations. All great things, and all learned from a great Mom.

But perhaps the greatest lessons are the ones that you weren’t actively teaching me. The lessons taught by example. Lessons that I didn’t even realize I had learned until many, many years later. Lessons that I’ll bet you didn’t realize you were teaching.

I remember your intermittent part-time jobs … especially the one at McDonald’s. That was such a cool job that got me all the Happy Meal toys at one time, without even having to wish that the one I got wasn’t one I already had. Years later, I realized that you would always get those jobs leading up to big vacations we had planned. You were earning extra money for us to have the absolutely best time.

From that, I learned about earning your life perks. Vacations and new toys and the new siding on the house and the sea-foam green wall-to-wall carpet don’t just appear. We work for those things. The harder we work, the more we get.

And I remember what a great cook you were for Dad, despite being such a picky eater yourself.  You used to make him these fantastic, delicious meals with all the new recipes that he found, and include all the veggies he’d grow in our garden. Meals that you would never, ever eat.  Because if it wasn’t pasta with plain tomato sauce or a simple meat with nothing on it, you didn’t care for it.  So every night for dinner, it was two entrees. One for Dad, and one for you.  And mine would be dependent on how crazy Dad’s was. Too many veggies? I’m eating baked chicken with you.

As a kid, I never realized how much work that must have been … but you did it.  Every night.  Every. Single. Night.  Dinner at 4:45pm.  I’d watch Three’s Company while you cooked until Dad got home.  Then I’d sit and wait for you to serve our meal, not even realizing how much prep, planning, and work went into what you were doing to make Dad happy.  Because you guys were partners, and because you liked to take care of him.

From that I learned about partnership and selfless love.

I remember one birthday celebration very specifically. I don’t remember who was all there, but I imagine it was all the usual suspects. Jason and Josh and maybe a Stoddard kid or two. Not a large gathering, but enough to make our small kitchen crowded. I remember the walls of light wood paneling clearly, and the table being pulled away from the wall and having a leaf in it … obviously a very special occasion. All the kids were gathered around and I was at the head of the table, in the end seat that we never used because there were normally only the three of us and that was the seat where you kept your purse. From that seat, I could see the whole kitchen, and I watched you walk from the counter over to the table with my cake.

As an adult, I know that is only a 4-step walk. As a child, you were walking across a massive room, carrying the pan of baked amazingness that symbolized another year gone and wishes for a year to come.

But there were no candles in the cake.

‘What’s happening right now?’ I remember thinking. ‘What about my wish?’

I started to panic.  I could see the box of candles on the counter.  ‘Why aren’t people singing?’

You set the cake down, and matter-of-factly said that you screwed something up. The frosting came out more like fudge and putting a candle into it was impossible. But I could still get a wish if I just closed my eyes and blew into the air while thinking of the wish. And after I did that, you had something really funny to show all of us. Maybe the funniest thing any of us has ever seen.  So I closed my eyes and wished for something that was probably so very important to me at that age, like a bike without a banana seat or a Mr. Microphone or a rock tumbler and opened them back up. And everyone sang to me … quickly … so we could get to what was so funny.

And then you put both hands on either side of the cake and lifted.  ALL THE FROSTING CAME OFF.  It was like a GIANT CANDY BAR.  The cake was naked and the frosting was in your hands. IT WAS AMAZING. And to the group of us, it was HILARIOUS. We cut pieces of cake and broke off chunks of frosting and I’ll bet you don’t even remember that birthday party.

But I do.  Because it’s when I learned that it’s OK to admit when you screw something up.  And it’s when I learned that it’s OK to laugh at yourself and let other people laugh at you sometimes.  And when I learned that things don’t have to be absolutely perfect to actually be perfect.

So, thank you Mom, for screwing up my birthday 30 years ago. And for all the lessons … they ones you intentionally taught me, and the ones you taught me by example.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Jeff