You were a stay-at-home mom, who married in 1954 at age twenty-two, and by deliberate design gave birth to four children before you reached thirty. And I bet if I stopped right there and said nothing more, no one would have the slightest clue who you really were.
Because June Cleaver you were not.
You were more comfortable wielding a paint brush than a spatula. More at home behind a microphone than in front of a stove. A complicated recipe unnerved you much more than a television camera.
You were a free spirit, and you gave your children the gift of freedom.
You recognized that we were not extensions of you, but our own selves, and you encouraged us to explore all the possibilities of what that meant.
You were fun and funny. Playful and passionate. True, your temper could be a bit on the heated side, but your love was every bit as intense.
And we flourished in that love. All four of us. You instilled in us a confidence that didn’t bow to the crowd. You gave us the wide-angled view and by your own zeal for life, made us hunger to live it to the full. I can still see and hear you, rinsing dinner plates while belting jazz standards, and none of my friends understood why I could sing those songs (or any songs) without self-consciousness or fear.
I never thought about it. Joie de vivre was mine by birthright.
You never baked a cookie in your life. Never frosted a cake. But you lavished love after your own fashion. Hand-painted paper dolls with clothes that matched the ones in our own closets. And when we were sick? You danced into the room with a stack of brand new color books, let us select the one we wanted, and then sat for hours on the edge of the bed, coloring pictures with us.
You made those pages come to life, and with them our achy little bodies.
You were model gorgeous, and I always hoped I would look just like you. But your hair was dark brunette, and mine blond. Your eyes a dreamy green, and mine blue. You were taller by at least four inches, and your figure had curves mine never managed to attain.
But you never once made me feel less than beautiful.
And as the years passed, you shared all my milestones, delighting in my successes, cheering me up in my disappointments. You never tried to force me to be who I wasn’t, and when Jesus invaded my life at sixteen and — from where you sat — turned me into a fanatic, you asked questions and listened to my answers, and you let go and let me stretch these wings, test them on the winds of real life, and soar into a faith you couldn’t fully understand.
You gave me life. You gave me a safe place to grow and flourish. And you gave me the freedom to become who God created me to be. I’ve thanked you through poems, and I’ve thanked you through songs. I’ve sought for words to thank you again and again, but I could never, ever thank you enough.
And now we live across the street from each other. I see you almost every day, but in a lot of ways our roles have been switched. I make your lunch and I give you a hand up. I look for creative ways to bring a bit of joy into your day, and so we sit at the keyboard and sing the old jazz standards. But you tire quickly and often just want to go lie down.
This Mother’s Day I’ve been trying to think of something I could give you, and as I wrote this post I had an idea. Get ready, because some day soon I’m going to dance into the room with a surprise for you. A stack of brand new color books.
And I’ll need your help to bring them to life.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
I love you.