If you ever meet my mother you will likely walk away feeling as if you’ve met one of the sweetest and most sincere people you have ever met. She has a natural beauty and kindness and empathy that pulses around her and draws people in. She is not loud or showy in the way charismatic people often are; she is charismatic in a quiet and subtle way that takes you by surprise and puts you at ease.
If you ever meet my mother you’ll be surprised to learn that she is a recovered heroin addict who spent a significant part of her twenties in prison. You’ll be surprised by all the dark stories of her past. And you’ll be amazed at the person standing before you and how you never would have guessed any of those things about her unless you weren’t hearing them from her yourself.
When I first wanted to write a story about my mother I couldn’t think of what to say. I could tell her story for her, but that’s not the point. I want to tell my story of her. I want to tell about how I have experienced the love of a mother with a varied and complicated history, and how her history has rarely collided with my own story. I want to tell you about how strong and courageous my mother is. I want you to understand how difficult it is to come through the shit storm she’s been through in life and how she has kept as much of that away from me and my brother as possible. I want to tell you how she protected us from harm and how she loved us through service to our family.
Growing up, a day in the life of my mother went something like this: Wake up at 5:00am and enjoy a cup of coffee in bed while reading and praying for half an hour. Get up and make breakfast for the family, as well as prepare lunches for the day and get a homemade dinner prepped for that night. Go over her schedule for the day – which usually involved cleaning anywhere from 5 to 10 houses along with any laundry, grocery shopping, errands, or sports practices she needed to take us kids to. After a long day of work and household duties she would cook a wonderful meal – not asking for help or implying in any way that she was tired and unhappy with her day. Our evenings would vary – sometimes she would have to leave again to go clean a large office building or she would have to do the bookkeeping for her cleaning business or take inventory of her supplies, and sometimes we would all watch t.v. together while she folded laundry or buffed her nails. She was early to bed and then it would start all over again.
It wasn’t until I grew up and looked back on her silent and loving servitude to our family that I really appreciated how much she did so that my brother and I would be unburdened by life. She was an enormous buffer, a damn, holding back the raging waters of life as best she could so that we didn’t have to face the same struggles and pains that she had in her life. I grew up thinking that my mom was too busy and worked too much and all I really wanted was more time with her, and I still wish I had had more time with her. But I can see now that all of her work was a labor of love. All of her sacrifice was to make sure we were fed and clothed and didn’t live in poverty. All of her long days and late nights were to provide us with a better life, a better future. She was laboriously laying a foundation for us with her own sweat and tears. I remember that sometimes at night I would find her crying in her room and I never understood why. I would hug her and do the best a child can do at comforting a parent, but it wasn’t until I grew up that I started to understand what her tears were about. And despite the tears, she never put it on us to fix it. She never pointed a finger and blamed us for her burdens. She was a strongman, holding us up so we could climb higher.
When I think of my mom I think of this quote by Robert Brault:
“If you have a mom, there is nowhere you are likely to go where a prayer has not already been.”