I wrote this open letter to my mom Mother's Day 2020. I never had the courage to show it to her; I wish I had. She died from her 5th cancer diagnosis after battling the diseases for 19 years, on November 3rd. 2021.
THE WAY YOU RAISED US
He said, “I’m really happy with the way you raised us.”
He went on to talk about enforced curfews, homework checks, no unsupervised parties, follow-through on consequences when the rules were broken. And, so much more. He spoke of friends and friends of the family with children – some grown, who had no direction in life, who were having children with no spouse and no job. Who were still living at home, not going to school, working at Burger King. Some were job hopping because they couldn’t keep one for longer than a few weeks or months because they had no discipline. They had no work ethic. They didn’t know what responsibility was. They didn’t know what those things looked like.
He did. He certainly did.
Several years ago, soon after Shane had been discharged from the Navy, he had his ACL repaired, and we were driving him back from the hospital in Portland. It was a 2-hour drive. And, he was high on painkillers. He sat in the back seat, sideways, with his leg propped up on the seat. Sometimes he was quiet and other times he was giggly. And, yet at other times he would be quite serious. One time in particular, he slept and then awoke abruptly with a profound statement. Scott and I laughed and yet I wanted to break down in tears at the same time because I realized that this 27-year-old young man got it. He really got it. And, my heart was filled with joy.
And, here he was in his drugged stupor, spilling his heart out to us. Saying, “Thank you!”
I squeezed Scott’s hand. We got it right in the end. We didn’t get it right every day. In fact, there were days that we got it very, very, wrong. We did the best we could however, with the tools we had. And, in the end, looking at the big picture, we got it right and he was willing to forgive our missteps, especially as he was the oldest and he is the one who made us parents. He’s the one who suffered the most through our frustrations and trials and tribulations. Although, we did have guidance from you and help from Cooky, ultimately, responsibility fell squarely on us. As it should.
YOU WERE THE DISCIPLINARIAN
Shane’s comment made me think of you and dad. And, this Mother’s Day, it especially makes me think of you.
Being your daughter wasn’t always easy. Just like Shane, I’m the oldest. I made you a mom at the young age of 15, even if you don’t like to admit it and although you did turn 16 the very next day.
You were the disciplinarian in the family. And, I thought you were too strict. I was always trying to please you. I often thought I didn’t deserve that lecture. I didn’t deserve that spanking. I didn’t deserve being talked to that way. I often believed you favored me less. I thought I was misunderstood. I didn't think you were fair. I now know that fair doesn't mean treating everyone the same. It means treating everyone equally – giving us each what we need when we need it.
Yet, I often cried about it. I took a lot of long, hot showers – crying in those showers so no one could hear me. I’d emerge red-faced and eyes swollen and blame it on the hot water.
If you ever realized it, I want you to know that it wasn’t your fault though. I believe I was dealing with depression even then, but I didn’t understand it. And, because of that, every negative thing that happened to me – at home, at school, among friends, was amplified and brought me to tears.
I now know that everything you did was out of love and perhaps sometimes out of frustrations, but that you did the absolute best you knew how to do given the tools you had. Just like I did. I know that I was your guinea pig, just like Shane was mine. The one that you tried to discipline first. Sometimes failing. Sometimes succeeding. You were so young. And, you didn’t have the best role models. Yet, you persevered. Again. And. Again.
YOU MADE ME WHO I AM TODAY
You taught me the basics as I grew up – how to cook and clean, change a diaper, make a bottle. You were really good at teaching me how to clean – I'm often told I clean left-handed, like you. And, even now, you don't let cancer stop you from doing the things you want to do unless you're having a bad day. You take advantage of all the good days.
You taught me so much more:
- You didn't allow me to wear makeup until I was 16. Teaching me that I was beautiful just the way I was.
- You didn't allow me to date until I was 16. Making sure I was mature and respected myself first so that I'd only date those who respected me.
- You didn't allow me to have or to attend unsupervised parties. Protecting me from drugs and alcohol while allowing me to have fun.
- You didn't allow me to have friends with me when I was babysitting – sometimes overnight. Teaching me responsibility.
And some of the things you taught me weren't so blatant:
- After I turned 18 and before I left for bootcamp I made an impromptu trip with a friend, out of town, and I didn't tell you about it. We got stuck with no way to get home. Dad rescued us, but you never said a word to me. You never scolded me. You didn't try to ground me. You gave me the silent treatment which was MUCH MUCH WORSE. You taught me I could learn from my mistakes without interference.
- When I started dating a married man and then got engaged to him – you couldn't give me the silent treatment. You knew I was making a huge mistake, but the more you voiced your opinion the more I pushed back. Eventually, I did learn. The hard way. And, you were there for me – teaching me that you loved me and would be supportive of me when I needed you the most.
- You often held more than one job. You taught me the importance of hard work and contributing to the family.
- You got your GED in your 50s. You taught me it's never too late.
- You and dad have been married for 54 years. Teaching me that marrying young can work when it's with the right person. The person you love. And, not to give up just because it's hard because you can do hard things and so can I.
- When I went to bootcamp you wrote to me every. single. day. And, you had all your friends from work writing to me. I got more mail than anyone else in the company. I got mail from people I didn't know. It kept me going. You taught me that you know what I need even when I don't know it and you taught me just how much a mother misses her child when they're separated.
- The first morning after I left for bootcamp, dad overslept for work and Pam and Henry overslept for school. You got home after working 3rd shift and found everyone fast asleep and a cold house. For years, I woke up early, loaded and stoked the woodstove and filled the kerosene heaters. I got my shower, and then one-by-one I woke up everyone else to get ready. I was no longer there and no one set an alarm clock. You taught me that I could be trusted at a young age to get the roaring fire going and that I could be responsible to do what you'd do if you were at home. Things that I dreaded and complained about doing, I realized were important. You also taught me that I played a valuable part in the family dynamic.
- We picked strawberries together, we wore matching pajamas, and learned the hustle. Teaching me that I can have fun with you.
- I never made a Christmas list, but you always knew what to buy. Teaching me that you took the time to choose each gift carefully out of love and that you knew what I'd want and needed.
- When I was going through a crisis, my friends from work collected pennies as a way to show their support. You sent me a card for Mother's Day with a penny taped in it, showing me you believe in me. I cried and wanted a hug from you.
- All children misbehave. You taught me that it's how the behavior is dealt with is what makes the difference.
YOU TAUGHT ME TO BE THE BEST MOM I COULD BE
When I became a parent you taught me how to be not just a good mom, but the best mom I could be. You taught me right from wrong. You taught me by example. And, you taught me that my job was to raise loving, compassionate, little people who would safely make it to adulthood and would make valuable contributions to society. My goal was not to be liked by my children. And, I was not my children’s friend. I learned it in a way so that the skills crossed over even when I was faced with things that you didn’t have to worry about – cell phones, internet predators, MySpace, and Facebook, just to name a few.
You passed on everything to me that you learned whether those lessons came from your successes or your failures.
You knew when to laughwith me, when to cry with me, and when to keep your calm when I called you in the middle of the night. And, you knew when to call me in the middle of the night.
YOU NEVER GAVE UP ON ME
You’re compassionate, tenacious, confident, optimistic, reliable, self-sufficient – but you know when to ask for help even if you don’t like it, consistent, a hard worker, responsible, not afraid to speak up or set boundaries, and ready for the unexpected. You take responsibility, welcome a challenge, embrace change, celebrate success, learn from your mistakes, and appreciate being around your family and friends, but also enjoy your private time with dad.
You're bull-headed. You beat cancer 4 times, and you're on the road to number 5.
I wish I could say I was all the things.
There were times even as an adult that we didn’t always agree. That I cried because I wanted your approval or your blessing. Now I realize that withholding your approval and your blessing was the best thing you could have done. I may not agree with your ‘hows,’ but I agree with your ‘whys.’
You never gave up on me.
AN AMAZING MOM
I can honestly say there isn’t a single day in my life that you and dad argued in front of me and I’d bet my life on it that Pam and Henry can say the same thing. I’m sure you’ve had your disagreements over the years, but even as young parents you knew that it wasn’t healthy to argue in front of us. I want you to know that it didn’t go unnoticed. And, I tell all my friends.
I look up to you. I aspire to be like you. If I can be half the wife and mother you are, I'm succeeding in this life.
Sometimes we don’t realize the impact our words make upon other people. Last year, when I dropped out of the LAVS race, but stayed behind to support Pam, I texted and called you often to update you because I know you were worried about her. I was disappointed in myself and thought you were disappointed in me, too. Then, one day, you sent me a text message that said, “You’re a good sister.”
You don't know it, but I cried.
PASSING IT ON
I'd say that I hope that what you taught me, I was able to pass on to Shane, Carianne, and Cassy, but Shane has already assured me that I have and Carianne has been able to show me that I have. They'll make great parents, as will Cassy, too. I have no doubt.
I want you to know, that you’re an amazing mom.
And, I'm proud of the way you raised us.