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On my mantelpiece rests an aging photograph of my mother that was taken as she was about to graduate from high school, a few short years before she chose to alter her life and become a mother. She was beautiful then, with hair that fell upon her shoulders, big eyes that reassured, and a smile that warmed. I am told she was energetic, vivacious, and popular back then, when she was young and had only herself to be concerned about. This photograph is my favorite picture of my mother, and although it has yellowed and faded, it has been lovingly displayed wherever I have lived and serves to remind me of the nest from which I flew,
the home my mother kept for my four siblings and me, and the bosom to which I always return-
one of unconditional love and acceptance.
My memories of childhood include the many things my mother did to make sure my siblings and I were well cared for and happy. Every day began with a hot breakfast, often including biscuits made from scratch, lunch boxes were filled with what we each liked to eat, and dinner always included someone's favorite food. With a family so large, cooking consumed much of her time. My passion for cooking and belief that it is a sincere gesture of love can be traced back to my mother and the way she never failed to bake a birthday cake of choice, bring soup to the child sick in bed, alter recipes to suit our tastes, and make the house smell like the approaching season or holiday. But my mother did far more than cook for us to let us know she loved us.
She made clothes for us, tended to our scrapes and cuts, drove us to our respective afterschool activities and cheered us on, sought out obscure but coveted gifts for Christmas, helped with difficult homework assignments, wiped tears away and endured tantrums, all the while making sure not a child was overlooked, doing or giving whatever each needed, as though she had nothing more important to do. My mother helped me negotiate my conflicts with my dad, taught me to ride a bicycle, balance a checkbook, sew on a button, check a turkey for doneness, change a diaper, treat a cold, and, years later, how to determine what my own infant needed when she cried. My mother did many other things for me that taken one at a time may seem inconsequential, but when taken all together, made me who I am. She also did things for me that others are unaware of, and knowing her, I am confident I am not alone in that privilege. But still, my mother did far more than these kinds of everyday maternal tasks to let us know she loved us.
Each son eventually presented our parents with a unique set of challenges, and my mother was unfailing in her ability to deal with what came. If she was ever disappointed in us, any sign of it was overshadowed by her actions. One son got into trouble, and my mother was there to help him find a different path. One fell on hard times, and my mother was there to help ease the burden until times got better. Another could not see beyond a broken heart, and my mother was there to offer comfort and bring hope. One child became sick, and my mother was there to provide care. Our mother has loved us collectively, but also individually in a way that expresses to each of us, in the way that only a mother can express, that she is, and shall remain,
there for us, no matter what. Gone from her nest but never from her heart, fully grown but always her beloved son or little girl, each can call upon her still, and she will come. It is this,
her unwavering devotion, her tireless effort to help, her unshakable faith in our goodness, her absolute belief in our worth, that let us know then and lets us know now, that we are loved.
I am the first of five children, and over the forty-plus years since my birth I have seen much about my mother change, and I have seen much remain the same. Although now much older than the young woman pictured in the photograph I treasure, her eyes still offer reassurance to whomever she gazes upon, as does the gentle touch she gives while listening intently to whatever one shares with her. Her smile still warms, as does her laughter and the heartfelt embrace all have come to expect when coming upon her. I still receive birthday cards, enjoy a favorite meal when I go home, and hear from her the applause and affirmations that tell me she is proud of my accomplishments. Now walking more slowly, her hands less able than they once were, her health requiring more and more concessions from her, she struggles at times to keep up her former pace. Yet, in spite of these changes, she always manages to be there when needed.
I do not know what my mother's dreams were, what plans she had in mind for herself as she grew up, where she wanted to visit or what she might have become if she had chosen to live her life differently. I am ashamed that I do not know these things because I have never thought to ask, but I also do not know because my mother has never uttered a word of disappointment about the life she has lived. I do not know of her regrets for she does not share them, if they exist, nor does she lament about what her life used to be like or otherwise give off signs of disappointment about what age has taken from her. Perhaps she has just accepted her life for what it is, thinking it is too late to change it. Or, perhaps she is happy with her life for what it has been. It is the latter, I like to think, because I know my mother has enjoyed being a mother, and a grandmother, and a surrogate mother or grandmother to those in need who have been fortunate enough to enter her life. I know this because she never fails to seize the opportunity to act like a mom, to be there for someone.
I love my mother dearly, and I have a long list of things I want to do for her one day,
but most of all I want to tell her "thank you." I believe that a child, especially a son, can never express enough gratitude for what a mother has done. I know that I cannot, but I know what
I will do to try. I will do what my mother did for me. I will be there when she needs me, no matter what. I love you, Mom.