How to Say I Love You: Lessons from My Mom

There are a lot of adjectives that I could choose to describe my mom. Generous. Goofy. Unassuming. A little scatter-brained – three daughters might have had something to do with that. Loyal. Dependable. Social (my middle-school self would have said embarrassingly so).

When it comes to her parenting style, though, one word stands high above the rest: loving. I honestly can’t remember even one time in my life when I thought to myself, “My mom doesn’t love me.” She showed me, and still does, in a million little ways. Here are just a few:
Note: Although I put these in the past tense, they all still hold true today. (My mom would probably like even more opportunities to do them!)

1) She fed me. I have such fond memories of my mom’s apple pie, her chicken parmesan, of sheets and sheets of fresh-baked cookies. I think of her busy in the kitchen, watching episodes of All My Children on a tiny black-and-white TV with her hands coated in flour or wrist-deep in ground beef, making meatballs. Even now, when her children and grandchildren come to visit, breakfast is cooked to order and meals are planned well in advance, after much forethought about who likes what and what leftovers can be sent home with who. For my mom, preparing food is a way to provide physical nourishment and enjoyment to those she holds dear. 
2) She worried about me. I remember the annoyance I felt as a teenager each time I tried to sneak in past curfew and there was my mom in pajamas and robe at the living room window, waiting to express her displeasure. Even when I did come in at an acceptable time she would often get out of bed and come down to ask me about my night. Sometimes we would make a snack of cinnamon toast and sit at the kitchen table together until we were ready to retire (or re-retire) for the night. She is also notorious for travel-stalking my sisters and I (just ask my sister Meghan about a certain incident during a trip to Guatemala). Each time we fly anywhere, there is a voicemail from my mom waiting when we land. “Did you land yet? Are you there? Let me know when you get there!” It’s become somewhat of a running joke, but at the end of the day I would rather have a mom who wants to know if I arrived safely than one who doesn’t bother to check. 
My mom in all her grandma glory with Ceci, January 2014

3) She was there. I still have a hard time figuring out how she and my dad managed to be at every important event: track and swim meets, band concerts, awards ceremonies. She took the opportunity to be the substitute nurse for my school on occasion. She volunteered as room mom. She was my Girl Scout troop leader. This, on top of working and all of the other responsibilities that come with being a mom of three. Even now, anytime she can get away and travel the 864 miles to come help me with the kids, she will do so in a heartbeat.

4) She told me. At night, when she tucked me in. Every time we said goodbye on the phone. In the notes she would leave us to read when we got home from school each day. All the time. I try to do the same for my own children. 
5) She didn’t judge me. I don’t recall a time when my mom ever tried to steer me toward a particular interest or activity just because it was something she wanted me to be involved in. She was always wholly supportive of my hobbies, whether I was collecting Troll dolls, asking her to let me attend a modeling conference in the hopes of being “discovered” (alas, I was not), or blogging about details of her personal life. My absolute favorite story about my mom, the one that proves she loves me no matter what, occurred when I was a freshman in college. I had a roommate named Liz, but I had recently started dating a boy down the hall by the name of Louis. When I called my mom to tell her about my new boyfriend, she misunderstood me and thought I had said, “I’m dating Liz.” Her reaction: “Umm, won’t that be a little awkward? You know, since you’re living together?” After I asked her to repeat what she heard me say, we shared a laugh, but I continue to be so impressed by her reaction at what she thought was the big moment of my coming out. While I felt bad about the misunderstanding, I am also so glad that it happened, because I know without a shadow of a doubt that my mom loves me for me.

6) She let me go. My mom likes to tell a story about bringing us to the pediatrician as small children and receiving this piece of advice from him: “Bernie, your job as a parent, as soon as your children learn how to walk, is to teach them how to leave you.” I think it probably hurt her at every step, but my mom did not place limits to keep her daughters close to her. First it was off to summer camp for a week, then two. When it came time for us to go away to college, my sisters attended Boston College about four hours away, and I was only slightly closer. Two of us studied for a semester abroad in Europe. After graduation, she helped me move to St. Louis, then to South Carolina after that. I know she wants me closer, but she would never ask that of me. What better way to prove a mother’s love than that?

On this Mother’s Day, I wanted to do more for my mom than send a card or buy her a new pair of yoga pants- the “slippery kind”, as she always requests. I wanted her to know that I know what she has done and continues to do for me. It has not gone unnoticed. In fact, I am taking notes, because I hope to be even half the mom that she has been to me. 

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