“Honey, I just want you to be HAPPY.” —My Mom, my WHOLE life
My Mom never taught me how to do my hair or put on make-up or how to style my clothes. In fact, the only time she ever encouraged me to wear make-up was this mother-daughter dress up party she planned for my fifth birthday.
Once, when I was 14 years old, a family friend came up to my Mom at a party and grabbed her arm and told her I was “so beautiful.” I could hear this conversation, but they didn’t know I was listening. To be honest, I cringed as I waited to hear my Mom’s response. In that few seconds, I thought about how my Mom never focused on anyone’s appearance (especially not mine). How her standard of beauty was different from most people I knew. The way someone looked just wasn’t important to her. So I wondered... and worried... how she would respond.
“Thank you,” she started. And I could hear that thing I knew well in my Mom’s voice. That thing daughters of strong mothers just know. That indignation rising up from her gut. I started to get nervous.
“She is very beautiful,” she went on. “But she is even more beautiful on the inside and that makes us so proud.”
That little sentence is the story of my Mom. Of what really mattered to her all those years ago— and what matters to her still.
Sherry isn’t trite. She isn’t incapable of being disingenuous. She wears her emotions right there on her face. She will never be fake, even when the situation might be more comfortable if she were. What you see is what you get.
When we were young, there was an unspoken lesson in everything.
She made sure we never missed a Mitzvah Day at our synagogue. She "adopted" children half a world away who needed the $25 she sent every month for shoes and school supplies-- and food. On Halloween, she encouraged us to trick-or-treat for UNICEF, instead of candy. We often visited nursing homes and assisted living centers. She ALWAYS gives money to the people begging at street lights. EVERY time there is a natural disaster in the world, she writes a check to a relief agency.
She taught us to celebrate diversity. To learn about different cultures and languages. She taught high school Spanish for most of my childhood and even wrote the curriculum for a Multicultural Studies course in her school district.
We couldn’t play with (or cash) anything until we wrote a thank-you note for it, because that’s just what you do. She encouraged us to always love a dog. She implored us to have a servant’s heart... to do all the good we can for as long as ever we can.
But my favorite thing about my Mom is her eagerness to listen. To really listen. To all perspectives. To different points of view. It is a gift and she is the best listener I know. She is genuinely interested in what you say. She asks questions and doesn’t offer advice unless you ask. She always understands.
That’s my Mom. She’s not perfect, but she is perfect for me.
I know Mother’s Day is hard for some people. Maybe they weren’t lucky enough to have a Mom like mine. Or maybe they were.... and they can’t be with her today. And I know there are people who desperately want to be a Mom... and it isn’t happening... and I am thinking about them today. And I am thinking today about all the Moms who have lost children. And I’m proud today of the women who knew motherhood wasn’t for them... and refused to allow society to make that most important decision for them.
There are many different kinds of mothers. In that vein, I love this quote from Stasi Eldredge.
She says, “We mother each other when we offer our concern, our care, our comfort. We mother each other when we see a need and rise to meet it, whether it is a sweater for a friend who is chilly, a meal for a struggling family, or a listening ear for a friend who is hurting.”
My Mom has started to forget things now. And repeat things. Her mind isn’t as sharp as it used to be. And it’s not fair. She struggles to find her words and her health is deteriorating. When I go home now, I feel the roles reversing ever more dramatically. It is heartbreaking. The hard reality of living and loving.
But my Mom always told me that "to whom much is given, much is required." She told me... but more importantly, she showed me. She gave us everything she had.
It’s our turn to give it back.
I love you, Mommy. You are the most beautiful woman I know.... on the outside, yes. But I am so proud of the person you are on the inside. Happy Mothers Day.
**I would love to hear your favorite stories about your Mom— or someone whose been like a Mom to you. Feel free to share in the comments.