A Letter to My Son on His 13th Birthday

baby G

Dear Gavin,

Thirteen years ago today, you entered the world just a little sooner and a little more quickly than expected.  It seems like yesterday, and it seems like so many years ago, and the details are vivid and blurry at the same time.  I remember how you snuggled into a warm ball of folded limbs in my arms, how I studied every inch of you, from your fuzzy blonde hair to your teeny fingers and tiny toes.  I remember how you turned toward your daddy’s voice in those first moments, how we knew that you had been listening from the cozy cocoon where you had grown.  I remember how my anxieties melted away when I first held you, how I realized that mothering is both innate and mysterious, a bit frightening but surprisingly comfortable at the same time.   When you were born, my life, my purpose, my legacy – everything – it all changed.  I became a mother.

Before you were born, no one had ever depended on your dad and me for survival, so parenting was both exciting and intense.  The early days were messy and stinky and busy, exhausting and sometimes very long, yet the years have passed so quickly, like sparkling comets shooting through the sky.  I am in awe today as I look at you, a boy who is closer to being a man I have not met than to being the baby with corn silk hair who wrinkled his nose and squinted his eyes to make us laugh.  It is impossible to record all of those memories, all of the milestones and parties and vacations, the field trips and sporting events and spontaneous funny things that you have said.  But you should know that those memories are like jewels to me.  They are gems stored away in the treasure chest of my mind, riches that will not be broken or taken, buried or lost.

Gavin, things are changing between us, just as they are supposed to change, because you are growing up.  It is the sweetest and most difficult transition for a mom.  But you should know that your dad and I are incredibly proud of the young man you have become.  You are smart.  You are ambitious.  You are confident but humble, a leader but a team player, too.  You are a good friend, a caring grandson, a hard worker, and a young man of faith.  You aren’t afraid to stand up for what you believe.  You are funny and compassionate, sincere and loving and kind.  I don’t know exactly what you will do or who you will be five years from now, but I know that the path you are charting is GOOD.  I know that you will be a blessing to the world around you, and I know that you will reap many rewards in return.

I believe in you, Gavin.

But I am afraid for you, too.

It’s not that I don’t trust you or that I expect you to stumble at a fork in the road.  It’s just that I want to protect you, but I can’t always save you in the ways that I once could.  When you were younger, I could stop you before you ran into the street or grab your hand before you touched something hot.  I could redirect you before you risked just a little too much.  I could steer you toward the people whom I trusted to keep you safe.

But now you are in middle school, and you are meeting new people, people I don’t know, and your world is expanding beyond the fences I created.  You are facing problems that aren’t always visible to me, decisions that can change the trajectory of your life.  You are maturing, managing your own self, becoming your own amazing person, and it is heart-wrenching and incredible and agonizing and glorious all at the same time.

There are so many lessons that I want to share with you as you become a teenager, Gavin, lessons to tuck deep inside your soul so that they are not just things you know but things that are as much a part of who you are as your lungs and your freckles and your bones.  I want to talk to you about how “greatness” is so much more than what this world suggests.  About how failure is a part of living a full and meaningful life.  About how the people you spend time with will influence you, just as one cinnamon candy will flavor all the other candies in the dish.  About how you will always find what you are looking for, so look for the good, and about how happiness is a choice that you can make each and every day, whatever your circumstances.  About how the problems on the surface are rarely the problems that need fixed, so invest in scalpels rather than band-aids if you want to find your peace.

Maybe these are lessons for fourteen or fifteen or sixteen.  I’m not sure, Gavin, but let me teach you this.

I once believed that the moths that flutter around our porch lights were attracted by the glow, but scientists say this is not true.  They believe that moths navigate their course in the darkness of night by calibrating their flight against the position of the moon.  The moonlight is the moth’s touchstone, the constant that allows it to orient itself and fly in a straight line.  This is effective as long as the moth is not distracted from the moonlight, but the moth’s best instincts have been sabotaged by the glitter and gleam of artificial lights.  A moth that flies too close to a lightbulb or a flame becomes disoriented and loses track of the moon.  Its straight path deteriorates into a never-ending circle as it expends all of its energy, unable to get back on track.  Eventually, the lost moth becomes exhausted, often landing on and dying with its artificial moon.

When a moth loses sight of what will safely and steadily guide it, when it is distracted by something that is closer and brighter at that moment, it inadvertently creates its own demise.

Whatever you do, Gavin, do not lose sight of your touchstones.  They will guide you safely through the darkness until the sun rises once again.  Don’t exhaust yourself or lose your way by following something that shines just a little bit brighter than what you know to be true.

I try not to worry, Gavin, but it’s just a part of my job as a mom.  I fret about the test you have today and the track meet you have tomorrow, the college and career you will choose six years from now and the wife you will marry in a decade or more.  But I am confident that you will be ready for all of those things when they come.

I worry more that you will become distracted, that you will forget that this home, that our love for you, will always be a place where you can be safe and real in a world that will test you with its artificial glow.  This will always be the place where your truth can be rediscovered, where your bucket can be refilled, and where your spirit can find rest, even when you are all grown up.  This will always, always, always be your moon.

You are someone special, Gavin, and your dad and I are so lucky to have the privilege to walk the journey of your life with you.  I cannot wait to see the man, the husband, and the father that you will become.

But if you can slow down just a little, I will be fine with that, too.

Happy 13th.

Love Always,


mom and G crop

The Year of New

2016 the year of new

On the very last day of 2015, I squeezed in this new year’s post and shared this resolution worksheet with all of you.  It was a small token of my appreciation for all of the kindness that you had shown to my little blog in 2015.  Frankly, I am still surprised, humbled, and incredibly thankful that you have come along for the ride so far!

When I posted this worksheet for you, I hadn’t yet tried it myself.  It was still a theory, as in, “I just know this is going to be fantastic!  This is good, right?  Maybe?  Fingers crossed!”  But I am also a pro at embracing theories that fail miserably.  Like my theory that our boys needed a really cute, rather expensive playhouse in the backyard that turned out to be invisible to them except when it interfered with their soccer game.  (Not really my problem.  My kids don’t know something amazing when they see it.)  Or my theory that getting each boy his own hamster would prevent headaches for me in the long run.  (Did you know that a female hamster can get pregnant immediately after delivering the first unexpected litter of baby hamsters?  No?  Yeah.  Me neither.)  Or my theory that roller skating  with  my kiddos would allow me to feel young and free of responsibility for a while.  (You know I’m still paying the medical bills for that one.)

Fortunately, this time my theory proved to be correct, but not right off the bat.

First, let me remind you that I live with three human beings who are all fighting for survival in one stage of manhood or another.  At my house, this means that words like “feelings” or “reflection” or “mom has a great idea” are usually met with some combination of grunts and moans and groans.  Generally, any suggestion that doesn’t involve sports or inappropriate jokes or video games has to marinate with them for a while.  As one of my smaller men said while pretending to cry (to get a laugh from the other men, I’m sure), “Sometimes it really stinks to have a mom who’s a teacher!”

Plus, they always know that I’m outnumbered.  It’s so unfair.

So when I first mentioned at the dinner table that we would be doing this little project, they scoffed and made a few jokes and grunted and acknowledged their masculinity.  Once we got that out of the way, everything went just as I had planned.  Lesson to be learned, ladies: If you have a tough audience, don’t give up too quickly.  That tough stuff is all on the exterior, I promise.  Unless you actually know my husband, in which case I swear that he really IS a tough guy, inside and out.  Seriously.  No, really, he is.  Don’t get me into trouble.

I may have planted the seed during a family dinner, but my secret to learning the joys and the hurts and the longings of my boys’ hearts is to corner them when no one else is home.  Those quiet times, times when we can talk without distractions, when the testosterone level in the house is not at a critically high level, are some of my favorite moments.  And no matter how much they scoff at my crazy ideas together at the dinner table, they are surprisingly receptive to them when we get to spend some quality mom-and-son time with one another.  Honestly, we had a lot of fun filling out these worksheets together, just the two of us, reflecting on the year that was and the year that is still to come.

Sometimes we take for granted that we know our kids, that we know what is important to them, what matters to them most.  But sometimes we are wrong, and that’s a shame, because they will often tell us if we just take the time to ask some questions and then to listen to what they have to say.  I wasn’t surprised that both of my sons remembered 2015 as a year of sadness.  It was a tough one for all of us.  Our fall was a fog of farewells and funerals.


But the second part, the part about Lola, was something that I didn’t even remember at first.  I expected my son to talk about a sports achievement or a report card for this one, but his proudest achievement from the entire year was the time he saved our puppy from harm.  He had been carrying her on a snowy winter day when he slipped on the ice on the patio and crash landed; she was just a tiny pup, and he was responsible for her, so he cradled her in his arms even as his head hit the cold, hard concrete.  I had forgotten about how worried I was that he might have had a concussion.  I had forgotten about how proud he had been.  I had forgotten what a warm, loving heart that boy has when he’s not telling fart jokes.

And then there were conversations like this one, with my sarcastic pre-teenager.


Yes, that actually says that in 2015 he learned that “a date is also a fruit that makes you poop.”  I guess this is a quotation from his favorite cartoon, Gumball.  This kid loves an audience, but he is also happy just to crack himself up.  And he really is funny.  He is witty and smart, and it was nice to take a break from questioning his filtering mechanism just to laugh with him for a while.  He can be serious when he wants to be, too.

year of less

I’m pretty sure that we haven’t cut back on screen time just yet, but he is doing well so far with the others.  He also decided to spend more time on art this year because I think he had actually forgotten what a talented artist he is.  He made this Star Wars card for his friend’s birthday recently, and I am pretty sure that if that kid weren’t one of his best buddies, he wouldn’t have given this away.

star wars

My favorite part of the one-on-one sessions was helping each boy choose a quotation to guide 2016.  My younger son scoured the Internet for quotations from athletes he admires.  We talked about several of the quotations that he found – some examples of good character and others, not so much – and he settled on this one from Lebron James:

“Don’t be afraid of failure.  This is the way to succeed.”

Nice choice, right?  My older son immediately ran to his room to find this quotation from NBA basketball player Muggsy Bogues:

“If you can play the game, size doesn’t matter.”

So many of the things that we worry about don’t really matter if we are willing to work hard and stop making excuses, right?  This boy is passionate about basketball, but he is small, so this quotation motivates him to stay in the game just like Muggsy did at 5′ 3″.  Another good choice!

I shared my quotation for 2016 with the boys, too.  It doesn’t need an explanation:

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:26

Next, we needed to work together to create a family motto, so it was back to the dinner table one evening.  Our goal was to complete the statement, “2016 will be the year of ___.”  I was thinking of something like “kindness” or “teamwork.”  You know, something that would promote good character at home.  But that was just me.

One of my men suggested, “2016, the year of the chicken.”

Don’t ask.  I have no idea what that means.

Another suggested, “2016, the year of awesome.”  Now this seemed, well, AWESOME, at first, but we quickly realized that it would be impossible to measure.  I imagined a year of conversations like this:

           “Wow!  Those roasted Brussel sprouts were awesome.” (Me)

          “No way!  Yuck! That was awful!  You know what was awesome?  That football game
we watched last night!  Remember when that one guy did that one thing and they
replayed it twenty times?  That was awesome!” (A son)

          “Yeah, right, that was great . . .  I loved every minute . . . *Sigh*”  (Me)

Then my husband suggested, “2016, the year of NEW!”  And on the outside I was smiling and nodding, but on the inside I was thinking, What are you doing???  Work with me here, dude!  New?  What does this even mean!  I knew we should have talked about this . . .   However, as the idea started to take shape, I realized that this was a fun and challenging resolution.  New doesn’t mean that we have to BUY new things every week.  It means that we have to TRY new things every week.  And they don’t have to be BIG things; they just have to be NEW (to us) things.  And NEW is easy to measure.  You have either tried it before or you haven’t.  No debate!   So here is what it looks like so far:

Week 1: New Recipe
(It was okay . . . Not wonderful . . . But it was new!)


Week 2: New (Old) TV Show With the Kids
(Parental warning: This has been fun, but there is more innuendo than I remembered!)

image1 (1)

Week 3: Ice Cream Taste Testing
(Sorry, Jimmy.  Colbert wins by a landslide.)

ice cream vote

Week 4: Lunchbox Quotes of the Day
(More about this to come in another post!)

quote of the day

January is almost over, but it’s not too late to start a new 2016 tradition with your family, too.  So far, the “year of new” has prompted some interesting conversations about what we have learned or tried each week, and we already have some fun ideas in store!  It is also relatively easy; you can always try a new food, read a new book, see a new movie, or play a new game without investing too much money in the experience.  From our house to yours, we hope that your 2016 is off to a great start!

Be adventurous!  Try something new!

~Mary Ann

Lessons From Loss: Choose Joy


**It’s so good to be back, friends!  My head is still spinning from the start of a hectic school year combined with a tough few weeks for my family, but writing is doing what it always does for me – bringing me peace.  You can start reading my latest post here and then finish it over at The Today Show Parenting Blog, where I would REALLY appreciate your vote of approval!  Thanks!  And, please, start choosing JOY.** 

Like a shadowy veil, a dark cloud recently settled over my family, and the air was still, and so it sat there, making itself comfortable despite our cries that it was an unwelcome guest. On one of the darkest days of its visit, we lost a courageous aunt to a short battle with lung cancer, and a few days later, with that cloud still hovering above, we rushed to our beloved grandmother’s bed to hug her one last time, to say farewell. So much sadness. So much loss. So much pain in my heart for my children and my husband and his grieving family.

Now the gloom is lifting, the sky changing from a heavy charcoal to a dusty gray, but the shadow still looms. It hardly seems appropriate to write an essay about happiness. Not now. It just isn’t right.

Or maybe it’s perfect.

Grief is far from easy. It is the opposite of easy, actually, far worse than hard. It drills down deep, to the very core of our humanity, and leaves us with gaping hollow spaces that we cannot fill. It is real and it is heavy and it is slow. But this essay is not about healing after loss because those answers are not mine to give. I wish that I could write that essay, I wish that I could throw that lifeline, but I can’t. I don’t have enough experience. Not yet, and hopefully not for a long while.

So this essay isn’t about dying. And it’s not about healing.

It’s about living.

It’s about how experiencing loss can remind us to reacquaint ourselves with joy. It’s about how loss knocks down walls and puts everything into a new perspective. It’s about how, in an instant, my schedule and my task lists and my obligations, the homework and the sports games and the housekeeping, my urgent emails and my important messages and my top priorities – my entire life – all of it – can immediately screech to a halt with just one desperate phone call. It’s about how loss reminded me of some things that I knew once but forgot, like:

*Life is short. I want mine to be a happy one.

*I allow a lot of things to steal my happiness, and most of them aren’t really that important.

*In the big picture, most things, in general, aren’t really that important.

*We make happiness seem much harder to attain than it probably is.

*The greatest happiness comes from appreciating the simplest joys.

I’ve drawn a few more conclusions from these dark days, too. I want to live a life that overflows with joy because I focus on what matters most. I want to create a home that attracts happiness to our front porch and then invites it in to eat dinner and sit at the table with us. I want to instill an appreciation of the simple things in my children so that they experience peace, even when the air outside is still and dark clouds hang like a heavy curtain at their door.

So here is our starting point, some simple ideas to invite more happiness inside our home, and maybe yours . . .

**I know, I know . . .  Stopping in the middle is just mean!  But you don’t have to wait.  Just click here to finish reading this post on The Today Show Parenting Blog. If you enjoy it, I would be very grateful for your vote!  Thank you so, so much!**

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/9198432@N02/6101296095″>smiley face stress ball</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

What My Father Taught Me By Fighting For His Life

dad baby

When my dad was born, the doctor told my grandmother that he was going to die. He had a rare congenital birth defect affecting his lower abdomen, and there was little chance that it could be surgically corrected. My grandma was advised to enjoy the brief time that she would have with her blonde-haired bundle of joy. The doctor didn’t even file a birth certificate. There was no hope. And that was that.

That may sound cold and heartless, but the doctor’s prognosis was probably reasonable for a baby born with such a rare and serious condition to a blue-collar family living along a remote gravel road in The Middle of Nowhere, Ohio, in 1950. But the doctor didn’t know that my grandma, who was already raising my dad’s four siblings and who had kept the home fires burning while my grandfather served abroad in World War 2, did not take “no” for an answer. Ever. Her tenacity in caring for that baby and her unwavering faith in God are now preserved in family legends. She refused to surrender without a fight, ultimately seeking treatment at the best children’s hospital in the state despite having little means to do so, and the fact that I exist to write this is evidence that her persistence paid off.

But this essay isn’t about my grandmother. It’s about the baby, my dad, who was immersed in a battle long before he knew what fighting for your life actually meant. First, he survived infancy, which was an impressive feat in itself.   Then, after many childhood surgeries, excruciating recoveries, and months of hospitalizations far from home, he was still thriving at the age of thirteen – another milestone that doctors did not believe he would reach. (This earned him a bit of spoiling from his older siblings, one of whom actually bought him a pony. No joke.)

dad lady

As soon as he was old enough, he began working full-time, insisting on exerting his independence and keeping up with – or surpassing – his peers. A few years later he was married, something he probably never imagined given his gloomy prognosis as a child. He and my mother were reminded that he would never father children, but the young couple figured there was no harm in trying, and, voila, the family grew by one girl and one boy.


Even after beating so many odds, my dad didn’t waste time contemplating old age. Why would he? He had already challenged fate so many times that expecting to qualify for the senior discount at McDonalds seemed a bit presumptuous, even to him. But last year he retired from a long and respected career as a butcher, and today his biggest smiles can be attributed to his four grandsons. I bet his younger self never, ever saw that coming.

dad grandpa

My dad doesn’t talk much about his medical history, and he probably won’t appreciate that I am writing about it either. In fact, most of what I know has been collected in bits and pieces from my grandma, my mom, and my aunts and uncles, and only because I won’t stop asking. Maybe the stories churn up too many painful memories. Or maybe, like an old sweater, the memories have lost their shape and just don’t fit right anymore. Regardless, I know that my dad’s experiences shaped him, and, in turn, shaped me. Here’s just a sampling of the wisdom he has shared by being the man who would never give up.

  1. Your challenges may shape you, but they don’t have to define you. Every experience has the power to shape you, to mold your spirit into something just a little different than it was before, and my dad’s childhood included some pretty traumatic experiences that certainly impacted the man he became. However, my dad’s life has never been about suffering or limitations. Over the years, he had every right to complain and to seek sympathy and to worry and to find shortcuts, but he chose not to do those things, even when he probably should have. He taught me to accept what life throws at you, grow from those experiences, and move forward. Progress doesn’t result from sitting still.
  2. Take a lesson from man’s best friends. My dad loves animals, particularly dogs and horses. Both dogs and horses are known to be extremely loyal companions, and it is no surprise that loyalty is a quality that my dad holds in high regard. There were many times when my brother and I questioned his loyalty to people who did not reciprocate, but my dad’s values did not change depending upon who was the recipient of his kindness. I like to imagine that his independence and strong sense of right and wrong sprouted from the challenges that he faced as a kid. Whether they did or they didn’t, his example taught us to be respectful and loyal to our friends, neighbors, family, and employers, no matter what. Your own integrity is what matters; if others abuse your devotion, move forward knowing that you can rest comfortably at night while they tiptoe around the minefield that is their conscience.
  3. You have no idea what someone else has experienced just by looking at him. My dad’s high school graduation photos reveal that he was quite a handsome catch back in the day. Today, his hair is just a little (okay, a lot) thinner, he’s added glasses to his ensemble, and he could easily blend into any grandparent scene. Unless you are a doctor who happens to examine his x-rays, you would have no idea that what is on the inside of him is not the same as what is on the inside of you. And if you ARE a doctor who happens to examine his x-rays, you will most likely make a bee line to his hospital room to ask him lots and lots of questions. It’s okay. He’s used to that.

    The point is that when we see people and we think that they look okay, then we assume that they feel okay, too. And when people who look okay say that they don’t feel well, especially if the problem is chronic, we, as a culture, tend to dismiss them as whiners. If they were really THAT sick, then surely we would be able to SEE that. Maybe this is why my dad never complained, even when it was warranted, or why he dragged himself to work at times when anyone else would have stayed home. He made a habit of reminding us to be compassionate and to recognize that people face invisible battles every day. When people say they are in pain, believe them, and realize that it is probably worse than they are even sharing – because they are afraid that you will think that it is all in their head.

  4. There are no “issues.” There are people. Politics is a common topic of conversation in our family, and that is mainly because my dad is an avid reader and watcher of political news. His politics are not based on alliance with a particular political party or a family tradition or a single point of interest. He is interested in how leaders make decisions and how they talk about people – because every political “issue” that is discussed as a big, abstract idea is really about people at the end of the day. When government assistance has helped to save your life, you understand the human side of political decisions. When you have lived in fear of losing your health insurance and bankrupting your family, you are keenly aware that “issues” are “people,” and your children understand that, too.
  5. Don’t let anyone put you into a box. Build your own box. My dad, at a very young age, refused to climb into the box that his doctors designed for him. In his case, that box, literally, would have been buried six feet under far too soon. Instead, in a figurative way, he decided to build his own box. And when he outgrew that one, he built himself another. And then another. And then another. He made a habit of defying expectations, and he encouraged us to defy them, too. If you have to chop off a limb to fit into the box someone else has built for you, it’s time to build yourself a new box, with room to grow.
  6. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. If that doesn’t make you nicer, try running a marathon in them. “Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” sounds nice and has certainly become a common refrain in character education. My dad reiterated that we all benefit when we are more empathetic toward others and when we recognize that any one of us could unexpectedly face the greatest obstacle of our lives at any time. But a mile isn’t a very long walk, really. People who live with chronic illness live with it for the long haul. Make sure that your empathy is the kind that lasts. Try not to be the friend who jumps in to fill the immediate need but forgets that the struggle doesn’t end – ever.
  7. When you are struggling, help someone else. My dad never had a high profile job that paid a lot of money, but he was always able to provide for us and would have worked five jobs if it had been necessary to make ends meet. But no matter how much or how little we had at any given time during my childhood, he was willing to share it with someone in need. A neighbor needed help in the middle of the night? He would be there. A friend’s car broke down on the side of the road? Give him ten minutes. His co-worker needed to borrow money for gas? He had only a few dollars left until payday, but here you go. I don’t recall my dad asking for anything, but I vividly remember him giving. A lot. Even when he didn’t have much to give. Even when he could hardly stand up. Even when the person didn’t deserve it. He has helped a lot of people, but he taught us this secret truth: Helping others is a great way to help yourself.
  8. There are lots of ways to be smart. When I was younger, I was a bit of an academic snob. My parents encouraged us to excel in school, and I enjoy learning about almost anything. (Except chemistry. I really hated chemistry.) I applied my dad’s work ethic to my studies and graduated from high school as valedictorian. Grades mattered to me, and academic knowledge seemed like a good way to compare people at the time, and I thought I was smart.

    I don’t actually know much about my dad’s school years other than that his attendance wasn’t always the best. When you are in the hospital, it is hard to go to school. I imagine that his grades suffered. He did not go to college, but he learned a trade and garnered great respect for his skill. I remember a time when he was laid off from his job, and before he could even look for a new position, he received phone calls from employers who wanted his help. He was not valedictorian, but he is a smart guy. It turns out that there are lots of ways to be smart.
    Now, I teach students who are considered at-risk for a variety of reasons; their grades aren’t always the best, but many of them are exceptionally smart in ways that are not measured at school. It turns out that life is full of educational experiences, and while I was smart on paper when I graduated, I wasn’t nearly as smart as I thought I was. Academics are important, but true wisdom is never assessed on a report card. My dad taught me this because, well, he’s really smart.

  9. Work hard. Really hard. I have already mentioned that my dad is a hard worker, but this is such a central part of who he is that it demands its own spot on the list. My dad has always given more than 100%. Always. In fact, this part of his character is so intense that it is both a blessing and a curse. He missed some things because of his work ethic, and that was disappointing at times. However, I am extremely grateful that my dad taught us the pleasure of a job well done – no matter how hard the job is or how little the material reward. I am baffled by indifference and indolence. My dad taught me better.
  10. If someone says that you can’t, just smile. But in your head say, “Just watch me.” My dad is not confrontational, but he is competitive. If he wants to figure something out, he will figure it out. If he wants to get something done, he will get it done. If he thinks that you don’t think he can do something, he will do it. He won’t argue with you. He won’t fight about it. But come back and visit in a week or two and whatever you said couldn’t be done will be finished. He just wasn’t going to tell you about it. He didn’t need to. The satisfaction was in proving that he could do it – to himself.

This is just a sampling of the lessons that I learned from my dad, a man who has always refused to give in or give up. On this Father’s Day, I am so grateful for his unfailing perseverance; it is, after all, the reason I am even here. I am also grateful that his grandchildren are still learning from him today, so many years after he was given a death sentence while swaddled in my grandmother’s arms. Thanks, Dad, for fighting the good fight and beating the odds. I will always root for the underdog because of you; those unexpected victories are so much more rewarding.

dad wedding

To My Dear Sweet Mother

image (2)

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.

With love,

Your Daughter

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