It’s always hard to pick out a Mother’s Day card for my mom, because they all talk about chocolate chip cookies, soft shoulders to cry on, and similarly saccharine things. The closest portrayal I ever found of my mom was in a comic I tore out of a magazine when I was a teenager. It was a picture of a kid with a gash on his arm and his mom, who is pointing out the door. The caption says, “Johnny, please don’t bleed in the house, I just mopped the floor.”
They don’t make Mother’s Day cards with captions like that.
But Mother’s Day just keeps coming along every year anyway, and right before that is Mom’s birthday, which happens to be today. And since I can’t find a Hallmark sentiment that expresses how I feel about her, I decided to kick off pre-Mother’s Day festivities with a challenge: Does Your Mom Kick Butt More Than My Mom?
If you still think so after reading everything below, send me a line and I’ll post a special piece here on Mother’s Day to honor all the kick-butt moms in our lives, including yours. Send your mom the link as a special surprise (“Mom, you’re on the Internet today! For Kicking Butt!”).
About My Mom:
She never had flour on her apron (what apron?) and the kitchen never smelled like garlic and basil. She did make the best lasagna I’ve ever had, though I can’t imagine how she managed it within her one-pot-and-under-five-minutes-in-the-kitchen cooking rule. Baker and chef were just never accurate titles for my mom, and she didn’t try to be what she wasn’t.
For instance, she was not exceptionally good at Christmas. She wasn’t completely terrible either: One year we hiked miles through a field of fir trees looking for the perfect one to hack down and drag home. But other moms arranged for Wonders. Like gingerbread houses, lights on the front porch, fresh baked goods, and—just to make me jealous—an advent calendar with chocolates behind every door.
Christmas was not really her thing. No. My mom was good at Halloween. Every year, she’d dress up in a tall black hat, with a long green nose, a flowing black gown, and a cackle to scare the baby down hairs off her little girl’s arms.
We’d convert our barn (or, the year we lived in an ancient manor in England, the dilapidated servant’s quarters) into a haunted house. A fishing-line and bed-sheet ghost would swoop down upon guests as they arrived, a vampire (Dad) would thrill the party when he emerged from his coffin, and Mom would serve dry-ice-chilled blood punch alongside her signature cackle. There would be brains served up in a bowl for tactile delight, giant toadstools converted into gaping jack-o-lanterns, and recruits from the youth group lurking around corners in homemade costumes to give visitors a good fright.
And it didn’t end with October. That cackle packed a powerful motivating punch at any time of the year. What if she really was a wicked witch who would eat me alive if the room was still dirty when she came back?
But of course she wasn’t really a witch. How could she be, when she gave up so much for me: Driving to activities, inviting my friends over to mess up her house, sacrificing afternoons (and moolah) so I could have horseback riding lessons. Choosing home over career so I could always have someone to brush off my scrapes (“Bleed in the bathroom, please”), stay home with me when I was sick (“Your temperature hasn’t hit 100 yet, go to school”), and take me to the hospital as necessary (provided I could first prove the validity of my concussion through spookily uncharacteristic behavior sustained over a long period and confirmed by cheerful willingness to accept any and all injections).
It would never be necessary, growing up in our house, to pretend to love housework or cooking, or to decorate for Christmas when we were still tired from disassembling the haunted house. But it would often be necessary to fit one more thing into our busy lives in order to help someone else:
As far back as I can remember, Mom was always buying a bag of groceries for the homeless man who had started coming to church, inviting someone else’s troubled teen into our home for help, or taking her pet llama (my mom is also a little weird) to the nursing home to brighten the inmates’ days. Although our house wasn’t always decorated for Christmas, Thanksgiving often found it full of soldiers who were stationed away from home and needed a reason to celebrate.
She encouraged me to reach out and help others too. When my new rescue club needed a Very Official Name, Mom provided it: The Anglo-American Animal Protection League. She also volunteered our basement as a meeting space and tolerated numerous new non-human residents including a snail with a broken shell, a starling stunned by sudden unexpected head-contact with our window, and an unidentified egg (probably golden eagle) I found in a drainage ditch and set on top of my radiator wrapped in a towel for two months until it began to stink.
When I was a teenager, this same woman became a foster mom to human babies whose mothers had abandoned them in the hospital. At one point, this meant that Mom was up every night with two unrelated newborns. One of the darlings, who was suffering from crack withdrawal, spent most of her waking hours in a jaundiced nightmare that she shared with us, on a generously non-stop basis, through high-pitched screeches similar to but much louder than fingernails on a chalkboard. Although occasionally Mom had to set the miserable creature into her crib, shut the door, and walk away, she managed never to shake it to death.
No wonder she didn’t have time for us to bleed on the sofa. A Hallmark mom might have dabbed a wound with ointment, covered it with a bandage, and wrapped the child’s weeping form in her soft embrace. But then the Hallmark mom doesn’t have llamas to train, barns to raise, homeless people to transport. And the Hallmark child will never learn what my mom taught me:
You can be a terrific homemaker (baked goods optional) and a super mom (bony shoulders acceptable), and still have an authentic, successful, compassionate life full of hugs and, especially, adventures. And that, in a nutshell, is why my mom kicks more butt than yours.
Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you.
(Still think your Mom kicks more butt than mine? Tell me about it & I’ll feature her here on Mother’s Day)