To My Dear Sweet Mother:
Years ago, on a fresh spring day now tucked into the dusty attic of my memory, I debated about the perfect gift to buy for you. Would you like flowers? Dinner? Jewelry? It needed to be just right, of course, because the best gifts are meaningful ones, and it was Mother’s Day, after all, and so, in desperation, I asked you, “Mom, what gift would you enjoy the most?”
You said, without hesitation, “Just write me a letter.”
And I, well, I didn’t do it.
I thought about it, Mom, I really did. But I was busy, very busy. Busy with things that were so important that I don’t even remember them now.
I’m sure I bought you SOMETHING that Mother’s Day, something that I carefully selected just for you, something very special. Something that was so special that I don’t even remember it now. I am sure that you graciously accepted it, just as you doted on the lopsided clay pots that I shaped for you with little hands when I was a child. As I recall, every gift I ever gave you was the best gift you had ever received.
I told myself that my neglect of your request was no big deal because it was just a letter, anyway, and it was probably a trick because “I-don’t-need-anything-please-don’t-spend-money-on-your-dad-and-me” and you never mentioned it again, so why keep worrying about it? But I should have written it because I knew you wanted it, because you asked me to, so here it is, so many years late.
It strikes me that a letter written then would have been quite different, Mom, because then there was so much about your life that I didn’t know. I didn’t know the emotion of embracing a new baby, a precious, tiny likeness of yourself, and understanding that your priorities will never EVER be the same. I didn’t know the intense, undefiled joy of motherhood, or the constant worry, the nagging fears, the poignant hope. I didn’t know the weight of the responsibility that smacked you in the face the instant I arrived, screaming, seeking your comfort already, selfishly, before you even had a chance to catch your breath.
But now I know.
Now I know the emotional journey that I, as your daughter, subjected you to, and I stand in awe of your resilience. I am sorry, and I am inspired, and I am forever grateful for the excellent mentor you have been. You taught me how to be a wife, a friend, a sister, and a mother, more lessons than one letter will allow. But there is one lesson that I appreciate the most, one lesson that informs my parenting every day, one lesson that you never spoke but that I learned by watching you, oh-so-closely, for oh-so-many years: You teach your children the most when you don’t realize you are teaching them at all.
When you struggled with guilt and doubt but sacrificed the rewards of a career anyway to raise your son and daughter, you taught me to prioritize our family and our faith.
When you read me the same books over and over and over again and volunteered at school and befriended my teachers, you taught me the immeasurable value of my education.
When you were diligently calculating as groceries filled the cart, when you refused to buy strawberries in January or Cookie Crisp, well, EVER, you taught me to make wise choices and to live within my means.
When you embraced change as my baby face thinned and my vocabulary grew, you taught me to write new chapters in the book of life, to adapt despite the sense of loss.
When you helped me scrub (and scrub and scrub) my first car, the one that we actually bought at the junkyard, you taught me to take pride in what I have, no matter how it compares.
When you were the “meanest mom” and expected me to help around the house and work part-time and maintain high grades, you taught me to be industrious.
When you were exhausted but would not rest because the family needed clean underwear and there was soccer practice at five, you taught me to persevere and to embrace that this, too, shall pass.
When you baked bread for the neighbor even though your plate was already too full, you taught me to serve, to make time, to find a need and fill it.
When you fluffed my pillows and told me to follow my dreams on my first day at college, knowing that you would secretly sob all the way home, you taught me to be brave.
When I grew up and asked for your advice, and, with great restraint, you encouraged me to make my own decisions, you taught me to trust myself.
Sometimes, as I glance in the mirror, Mom, I catch a glimpse of you. Yes, I resemble you, but that’s not what I see. It’s your heart I see reflected, your values, your traditions. It’s all the things I learned from you when you didn’t know that I was watching.
Someday, when my boys are older and ask what I would like to have for Mother’s Day, I will say, “Just write me a letter.” It’s a great idea, but not original. It’s just another thing my mother taught me when she didn’t realize she was teaching anything at all.
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