Friday, March 15, 2013
It’s my birthday. I’m 45. I’ve been thinking all week about that number. I haven’t fretted over the actual age, instead I’ve been thinking about how when you were turning 45 years old you had me following you around, a four year old child, your youngest of five children. My youngest is 13. I’ll be 50 when Paul graduates from high school. You were 59 when I graduated from Stearns High School. But you always said to other people that I kept you young. Those people were commenting on how they knew you’d had Linda, Bill, John, and Kevin long before giving birth to me, and you’d laugh and call me “A Happy Afterthought” in reference to the 10-16 year age difference. Oh, your laugh. It has always been one of my favorite things about you.
You’ve always laughed easily. I’ve been thinking of my own laughter lately. Eric said to me a few years ago that I laugh more heartily these days. I caught him looking at me and smiling all goofy one night as I was watching tv. “You laugh harder now”, he said. “I love that”. And it’s true. For years I was quite self-conscious about my laugh. I’d smile and shake my head, had smirking down to a science, but it took such a long time for me to really let go and laugh as easily as I do now. Although, like you, over the years I’ve had times when I have laughed so hard that I’ve lost control. You used to do that too. Something would strike you funny and all of a sudden, we’d notice you were laughing uncontrollably with tears running down your face and you couldn’t stop. We’d all start laughing with you, and we’d gasp, “Mom’s lost it again” and you’d laugh even harder. I think of you every time I hear my children say, “Mom’s losing it”, such as when I couldn’t place an order at the drive-thru at Arby’s one time. The fact that the guy inside the restaurant couldn’t understand my words made me laugh even harder and the kids and Eric were laughing too. “Pepsi” I finally spit out to the microphone, but it came out as just a squeak and then another wave of hysterical laughing came again.
The best memory of you and I laughing together however was in Stockholm, Sweden when we ordered and received, “The Big Salad”, a salad so huge that we took one look at it and then turned to one another with our big eyes. In astonishment, I don’t think we said a thing at that moment. We just started laughing and within seconds we were both out of control; we could hardly breathe. I got up to go to the bathroom to calm down, for I was growing embarrassed, and later you admonished me for leaving you there laughing by yourself. For years, this has been one of my favorite memories of not only our trip to Sweden, but of you in general. You are such a fun Mom.
You’ve always smiled and laughed with people in town, maybe it’s even been a bit of a nervous laugh, but people have always said what a beautiful woman you are and I know that the joy you exude through your smiles and your laughter is part of that beauty. But you’ve also been a serious Mom, a mom who could make her children and grandchildren behave with one stern look from across the room. I mastered that look myself when I became a mom. Even my kids at school know “the look”. Through your example I learned to command respect naturally and warmly by mixing fun with high, consistent expectations. Throughout my life, you’d been a Mom I could talk honestly with. You not only knew and understood me, you respected me and gave me room to learn and figure out this world and myself. Thank you for that.
You have always been someone I have wanted to please. But over the years I learned that no matter what I did, or what I said, or what I wanted in my own life, you were my biggest fan, my biggest supporter. You calmed me when I met with challenges that unnerved me. And you have always been such a good listener. You didn’t share your feelings with me as readily as I share mine with my children, but you taught me about life through your stories--of your past, of your relationships with your own parents and friends, teachers, employers, and community members. You were always generous with your time doing volunteer work too, but you always said, “Charity begins at home” and that is a mantra that has shaped my own life with my family.
Thank you for being a fun playmate when I was little, for making time to play dolls and Barbies with me. Thank you for being such a cool Mom in my preteen and teenage years when together we threw the best parties for my friends. Thank you for telling me during those peer pressure years that I could always blame you if I needed a way to duck out of an uncomfortable situation such as an undesired date or other invite. Thank you for standing up for me when someone hurt me with words that showed they didn’t know me as well as they thought, and for showing me how feisty a Mom can and should be when someone threatens her young. Thank you for believing in me when I talked to you about getting married at the young age of 20, for knowing that I was always trustworthy, for defending my choice to be a working Mom and for understanding my torn feelings about leaving each of my children at the end of my maternity leaves. Thank you for being such a loving and fun grandmother to Sydney, Emma, and Paul, and for listening to me vent about the hard days when I wasn’t sure I could continue being a teacher.
Thank you for teaching me how to cook, how to shop the specials, how to make a house a home, how to build comforting traditions, how to do my taxes, manage my money, and how to defend myself against others who think I ought to be doing more or doing less. People, at times, do too much comparing and not enough supporting. “It takes all types” you’d say when I needed reminding that people are unique individuals, and “No man is an island” when I forgot that asking for help is okay. You have taught me greatly about being patient with other people, yet you’ve given me the confidence and the wisdom to stand up and defend myself when it is time to do so. To this day I hear your voice in my head when I momentarily forget to do what is right. “What would Mom say?” I find myself thinking. And what is beautiful about that, is that I know exactly what you would say.
In my 45 years I have lived a full life. Although, I have many more dreams and plans, I have what I most wanted as a child. I wanted to be many things in those years when I dreamed without any limitation. I wanted to be an actress, a singer, a paleontologist, even a Catholic priest. But in all of those dreams of a future career, what I held onto the tightest was my dream of being married and becoming a mom. My dreams came true. No, I chose to become a high school English and Drama teacher instead of changing the rules of the Vatican, but I married a good man who loves me as much as Dad loves you and I have three children who I love most dearly. Raising them has been an honor. They are smart and fun and kind-hearted and I am so proud of each of them, just as you are proud of your five children. My life is so very rich.
Mom, I’ve really missed you these past several years. I get up to Millinocket to see you when I can manage to do so, around the children’s schedules, but it’s not as often as I would like. It’s harder for us to talk on the phone these days and you don’t get down to the computer often to email anymore. But I have been working really hard to treasure my time with you. Last November I came up to see you and Dad and I was single on this trip, without my family in tow. We went to Mass together and I remember taking your hand into mine, and you and I quietly compared our hands, our fingers, our rings. I made myself take a mental picture of us, sitting in the pew together that day. I ordered myself to, “Remember this moment!”, because too often I focus on our past together and not our present. And although you have taught me so much in my 45 years as your daughter--so many unforgettable lessons about the importance of being the woman I have always wanted to be, the woman I have worked to become, you have so much more to teach me now. I am paying attention. I am listening. I am watching. I continue to be guided by your example, your courage, your humor, your grace, your honesty, your love, by all that is YOU.
So today is my birthday. Mom, I didn’t know you when you were in your 20s, your 30s, but I’ve heard some great stories. Yet I have been around for 45 years and so I have witnessed the second half of your life. You are amazing in all that you have been and in all that you are, and I have such hope for my own second half. With you on my side forever and always, it’s going to be great.
I love you, Mom. Happy Birthday to me but thank you for my life.