I’ve always found words to be pliable. We can bend them one of two ways: to cling to what we know, or to change what we know. The difference is in the bend.
My mother watched Rod Stewart videos in the kitchen. She’d blare VH1 from the TV in the corner, sometimes so loud I’d wonder if the fruit bowl sitting atop the TV stand would topple over. As she graded 4th grade essays on tomahawks and Davy Crockett with her little red Papermate, I’d watch the apples vibrate to The Motown Song, Broken Arrow, Forever Young.
It wasn’t until I met other mothers that I formed any sort of opinion about my childhood. My sisters and I made a houseful of girldom, spending our days tearing off the heads of each other’s paper dolls between piano lessons and bike-riding to the neighbors. It was loud. It was dramatic.
(It was glorious.)
Most of my friends’ mothers stayed home. Their Rice Krispies treats didn’t come from the shiny blue wrapper; they came from the oven. And I sometimes got the sense that I was supposed to prefer the oven kind, the kind baked from a mother in a neatly-pressed apron with a neatly-pressed smile, neatly-pressed curls? But man, have you ever tasted the grocery version?
(It is glorious.)
Someone once asked me if I’m a working mother because my mother was a working mother. And you know, I’d never given much thought to that. (The answer is no.) I’d never known my mother as a working mother; I’d simply known her as my mother who happened to also be a teacher, who happened to make Colston Baker stay inside from recess and recite the dictionary for misbehaving, of which I was teased mercilessly about for years to come.
Your mother doesn’t mess around, her students said. She’s tough, yeah?
She was tough, yeah.
Her rules were rooted in wisdom, in fostering responsibility. One summer, my sisters and I had each fallen into some level of gainful employment (Dog-walking for $.05, who’s in?!) and we were promptly taught the glories of budgeting. On an unnamed afternoon, we’d been caught complaining about the V05 shampoo that graced our shower and my mother took action. Slinging her purse over her shoulder, she announces: Girls. We’re going to the drugstore. Grab your piggy banks, meet me in the car.
From then on, 50% of my childhood “paychecks” were spent on my share of Herbal Essences conditioner and various Bonne Bell chapsticks. Humannnnnity!
Your mother doesn’t mess around, my fellow 8-year-old friends said. She’s tough, yeah?
My mother had the highest standards. Be kind. Be respectful. Be grateful. Be polite. Be courteous. Behaaaaaaave.
But no, tough isn’t the right word for her.
Now, I am the mother.
Bee and I walk through a gift shop when she spots a frog she loves, a frog she must have, a frog she just cannot absolutely survive a single day longer without.
Mom! she squeals. Can we take it home?
We’ll have to save your pennies, I say.
Tough mom, the clerk says with a smile with a wink.
Bee nods in a sort of silent understanding.
I don’t know if Bee will call me tough. I don’t know if she’ll call me strong.
I don’t know how she’ll bend her words to describe me.
I don’t know if she’ll call me a hard mother or a wise mother or a gentle mother or a kind mother or a helicopter mother or a tiger mother or a Montessori mother or a working mother or a crazed, maniacal control-freak mother.
But mostly, I hope she’ll just call me her mother.
As I call my mother mine.
This essay was written for Hallmark Signature, the family-owned creator of greeting cards to make every special occasion extra special. Because there is no such thing as an ordinary mom, give her #NoOrdinaryCard. Happy Mother’s Day to you and yours!