Saturday, May 07, 2011

A Mother's Day Tribute

I have used this blog space to write about many exceptional people in my life. I have written about my dad who died entirely too young. I have written about my beloved grandmother who I dearly miss. I have written volumes about Ruanita. I have written about my siblings as a whole and my brother individually. I have even written about my entire large extended family. I have written more about my children than, I am sure, most of you care to read about. Somehow—and I am not entirely sure how this happened—I have never written a piece solely about my mother. How could this be? How could I have committed such an egregious act of omission? How could I have overlooked a tribute to the one person who had the most influence on the person I am today? I am at a loss.

Okay, I am not being entirely honest. Actually, I think I know exactly how this happened. Like all mothers—as far back as history is recorded—my mother often get taken for granted. Her strength, resilience, and charity of heart are often overlooked because much of what she does goes on behind the scenes. Much of what she does, she has been doing for thirty-eight years. After that length of time, her support has become predictable. Her love, assumed. Her devotion, expected.

On this Mother's Day, I would like to take the opportunity cast a spotlight on the amazing woman who gave birth to me. The woman who has been my constant support through every single day of my life—the deeply painful, the infinitely joyous, and every mundane moment in between. Shirley Marie Hardesty Ralph Robbins Ralph Bauer (I have to use your full name for my own amusement, you know), this blog is dedicated to you. Being the consummate list-maker, I thought I would make a list of the important—and some not so important—life lessons I learned from my mother. Some she taught me blatantly and purposely. Some she taught me, unsuspectingly, by example. Others she taught by omission. When she couldn't be a shining example, she made certain she served as a terrible warning. I learned my lessons from her either way.

A clean house is highly overrated. The house I grew up in was rarely clean. It wasn't dirty, but any means—just messy. Cluttered. "Lived-in." Laundry piled up waist-high on the cold concrete of the laundry room floor. Beds often went unmade for days on end. Dishes sat in the sink until my sisters and I nearly beat the hell out of each other trying to determine whose “turn” it was to wash them. No, our house was not clean, but it was full of love and laughter and family and fun. These days, when my own laundry piles up waist-high, I think of the house I grew up in. I managed to survive and thrive, and so will my children.

Books are humankind's greatest invention. I don't remember a day going by my entire life that my mom was not reading something. Until she bought a Nook (damn that little device), she would always buy a book, read it, and then pass it on to my sisters and me. She instilled in me a love of literature that exists to this day. I credit her with my kick-ass vocabulary and mad Scrabble skills. Speaking of Scrabble...

Scrabble is the greatest game ever invented. My mom taught me how to play Scrabble decades ago. To this day, she is the only person who will play Scrabble with me. Strangely, I am the only person who will play with her, as well. I wonder what this says about us.

Family has nothing to do with blood. When my son, Lucas, was born, my mother was pacing in the hospital waiting room, anxious for us to bring him out. She was the first person to hold him other than his parents, and loved him from day one. He shares none of her blood. He possesses none of her genes. But she adores him unconditionally, regardless.

There exists deep within me more strength and resiliency than I would ever imagine possible. When my dad died, my mother was twenty-nine years old. Not yet thirty, she lost the one great love of her life, and was left with the task of caring for four young children on her own. I was the oldest at eleven. My brother, Matt, was the youngest at three. She had never worked a full-time job in her life. Somehow, she managed to pull herself out of the depths of absolute hell and be the mother her children needed. She taught me that anything is possible—even when everything appears hopeless. Life goes on and our job on this Earth is to live it. To grab it and relish it and never let it go.

The written word is one of the most powerful forces on Earth. My mother is the consummate letter-writer. When I was a child, my mother constantly wrote letters. She didn't like the way the t-ball coach spoke to my brother? She wrote a letter. She got a burnt bag of potato chips? She wrote a letter. She was unhappy with the closing song selection the nun picked for Sunday mass? She wrote a letter. For every injustice she encountered, both real and imagined, she would put pen to paper and scribble out a scathing dissertation that would make the pope himself issue a bumbling apology. I may not write letters to the extent that my mother did, but I am a firm believer in the potency of the written word. And I have her to credit for that.

It is important to know your own limits. When I turned sixteen and excitedly got my learner's permit, my mother refused to teach me to drive a car. Wisely, she somehow knew that the two of us trapped in a car together with me behind the wheel would end catastrophically. She understood that she has limits, and teaching her obnoxiously headstrong daughter to drive was one such limit. So she implored our parish priest to teach me. I had a priest teach me how to drive and nuns teach me sex-ed. This may explain a lot.

An inner filter is an invaluable commodity. This is one of those life lessons my mother taught me by omission. My mother completely lacks an inner filter. I can't even fathom how many times I have watched my mom stick her foot in her mouth before my very eyes. It's impossible to assign a number to the times I have watched her try to wrangle her way out a prickly situation she caused by opening her mouth without thinking. It is common knowledge that my mother is the Mouth of the South—despite not living in the South anymore. She in incapable of keeping a secret. If you want the entire family to know your business, let it leak to my mother. Within the hour, your private business will splashed across billboards for the world to see. She is not malicious in her need to share. She honestly thinks she is helping. Every time she opens her mouth to spill a secret or point out a painful (but unnecessary) truth, she does so with the best intentions. It her enthusiastic generosity and charity of spirit that gets her into trouble. Her mouth doesn't help, either.

Generosity brings unimaginable richness to life. My mother is generous to a fault. She will give you the very last dollar she has in her pocket if she thinks you need it. She spends money she doesn't have on elaborate Easter baskets for all of her grandchildren. She stops and picks up lunch for me when she comes to visit. She is generous with her money, but she is even more giving of her time. She will happily babysit my children at the drop of a hat, whenever and wherever I need her. She will slave over the stove to give her grown children a taste of home with her fried chicken and biscuits. Despite anything that is going on in her own life, she is always available to do and say and be anything I need her to do, say, or be. In a world full of takers, my mother is a monumental giver. Her selflessness is both rare and exquisite. It is her most distinguishing characteristic.

I could go on about my mom. I could write a list a mile long about the ways in which my mother has shaped my values and my character and my very being. But I will refrain from gushing. I will end this, simply, by saying that my mother is everything I aspire to be. She is the woman I hope to become one day. The woman I admire the most in this world.

Happy Mother's Day, mom!
I love you.


Anonymous said...

You are indeed lucky. Great story and I, too, love to make lists.

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