“I could never live with my mother.”
That’s the response I usually get when someone learns of my unusual living arrangement. I moved back to my hometown a dozen years ago, not long after the unexpected death of my Dad. Unhappy in my job and hating the Big City (okay, it was St. Paul. But still.), I was happy to return to the nest. It meant starting my career over in an entirely new field (writing and editing for a food company after 15 years in college faculty development). But I was happy to be closer to mom, then in her 70s. And by closer, I mean “practically on top of,” since we co-habit the same modest, three-bedroom home, which I have purchased from her.
The idea that we wouldn’t get along never occurred to me, as I’ve always been close to my mother. I guess I never went through the pivotal “achieving independent adulthood by rebelling” phase. It would not be true to say my roomie and I never butt heads. We are in some ways very different (e.g., she is tidy by nature; I am Oscar Madison in female form. She is sensible and conservative; I squander my time and money on foolishness.)
It makes me sad to hear others say they couldn’t stand so much togetherness with their mothers. My life over the last decade-plus has been immeasurably enriched by spending quality time with my surviving parent. She has taught me, through example and occasionally a sharp word, how to be a better person. The gifts I’ve received add up to a priceless treasure. Thank you, mom, for sharing with me your …
Humor. Her sense of humor is less off-beat than mine, but my mom is very funny. Her often-ascerbic commentary on the world makes me laugh every day.
Strength. Like everyone, my mom has faced some dark moments in life. She has borne sorrows and worry with extraordinary grace and fortitude. She is a pillar and model for me in dealing with hard times. Her maxim: hold on to your faith and get through one day at a time.
Compassion. Not one to wear her heart on her sleeve, my Mom is nevertheless a great-hearted woman. She is kind to animals and children and would do anything in the world for her family. Seeing those she loves hurting is perhaps the hardest thing she has to bear.
Creativity. My mom is clever. She is known for writing cute little poems, writing skits and declam pieces, making quilts and embroidering towels and pillowcases and, most recently, little baptismal gowns for babies welcomed into our parish. Though her busy life has not given her time to fully indulge her creative impulse, I don’t know of anything she doesn’t do well.
Service. It’s a characteristic of the Greatest Generation that they give back to the community. Both my parents illustrated this principle in spades. Over the years, mom has been active in church work, the nursing home auxiliary, religious education, the VFW auxiliary, heritage society, Daughters of Isabella, Christian Mothers, the church council and many other organizations and causes. Hers is a generous spirit, and she gives without thought for acknowledgement or praise.
Faith. My mother’s Catholic faith is the core of her being. She actually goes to church several times a week – not out of obligation, like the rest of us (admit it), but because her faith and church community genuinely uplift and strengthen her. Whenever anyone in the family has a problem, the first recourse is, “Ask mom to pray about it.” We all know she carries a lot of weight with the Man upstairs.
Industry. It’s long been a family joke that we all wish we had our mother’s energy. One of her few complaints about growing older has been that she tires a bit more easily than she used to. But she’ll still rustle up an enormous holiday weekend extravaganza, preparing mountains of food, and be the life of the party to boot. Mom is what people call a good, hard worker. Whether it’s serving fish at the monthly VFW fish fry or laundering linens for the church or making baked goods for some fundraiser, she is always there. During her career as a bank teller, she was extraordinarily diligent and conscientious. I remember her getting my Dad to take her to work on the back of a snowmobile over six-foot snowdrifts during a raging blizzard one Friday evening; frankly, any fool who felt they had to cash a check in that kind of weather deserved to freeze. But mom was expected to work … and she made it.
Attitude. Mom loves life. She participates with gusto and is very rarely down. “You’re as happy as you make your mind up to be,” she has often said. She may fret and stew about some things, but her perspective is always forward. She lives life to the fullest, and makes others’ lives fuller by her presence in the world.
Wisdom. Mother knows best. She really, actually does. Over a long life she’s seen a lot of water run under the bridge, and learned the sometimes hard lessons. She has firm opinions of right and wrong, good and bad, what to do and what not to do, and she has been known to express those opinions once or twice. And you know what? On those few occasions when I have gone against her advice … I have regretted it. While her advice may not always be easy to hear, it is always given with love and with wanting what’s best for her family at the heart of it.
There are so many other things I could say about my mom, who turns 89-years-old today. Let me say only this one thing more: You are my hero, Mom, and my best friend. These past years we’ve had together have been the happiest and richest of my life, and I thank God every day for my adorable, feisty, funny and loving mother.
I love you.