I stood there glaring at myself in the fitting room mirror. I’m not sure how it’s possible to dislike a scared little 90 lb. girl so much, but I did. I saw a girl who no one would ever have a crush on or date or love. I saw a girl that no one could possibly want to be friends with because she was such a dork. I saw a girl who didn’t look good in anything, couldn’t do anything, and most certainly wouldn’t be anything.
My mom and I had been so excited when The Gap opened at our mall, and we were even more excited to see that they carried a size zero that might actually fit my tiny little eighth grade frame. But, there I stood, the pants hanging off of me, loathing myself. I wasn’t just a size zero. I was a zero.
I tiptoed out of the fitting room with tears in my eyes, hoping that my mom would see me quickly before anyone else could, so she could agree that these pants were horrible too, and we could just go home. Instead, she followed me back into the fitting room. I was startled mid-change and quickly scrambled into my jeans. She sat me down, looked me square in the eye, and said, “It’s not the pants, Jess. You won’t like any of the pants until you like the girl who wears them. We’re getting these.” Before I could fight back, she swooped up the pants and left to pay.
I had no idea what had just happened. She just doesn’t understand, I thought, fighting back sobs. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that she was right and had said something to me that would stick with me for the rest of my life. I wasn’t ready for it yet. I was wallowing in my teen angst and thinking about how unfair it was to be stuck in a body so frail and so small that people elbowed each other when they saw me and watched me like a hawk at meals, no matter how much I ate. Yet, my mom understood me to the core, bought me the dang pants despite myself, and shared with me one of the most important lessons that I would ever learn. I will always love her for that.
I learned at an early age that my mom does not just belong to me; I don’t just mean that she belongs to my sister too. I am not exaggerating when I say that I cannot go anywhere with my mom without running into one of her other “kids.” She has sons and daughters of every age and from every walk of life. They run up to her, eager to share their accomplishments or their own children or their troubles. Whether they tell her that they have just graduated from college or have just been released from jail (I have seen both), she greets each one of them with the same warm smile and open heart (and sometimes open arms and warm embrace, if they really go for it). They’re her kids too, and she loves them. I have made myself a turkey sandwich at a graduation open house at just about every home in the Western School District. I have celebrated weddings in just about every church in the greater Parma/Jackson area and have attended more plays, dances, sporting events, band concerts, and bridal/baby showers than I can count. If my mom does all this for her other “kids,” you can imagine what she has done for us. Ballet, gymnastics, piano, t-ball, track meets, cross country meets, gymnastics meets… swimming lessons, basketball camp, catechism class… rides here and there and everywhere… warm meals on the table every night. She is a full-time teacher, a full-time mom, and a full-time example of a strong, independent woman. We have laughed until we cried and cried until we laughed. Oh, and then there’s the love.
I have never doubted that I was a special kid to my mom, and I cherished the moments when I got her all to myself. I think of her every time I hear a song from The Bodyguard Soundtrack because we listened to that tape together so much that I’m surprised we didn’t wear it out. I think of my mom when I see little kids with bad haircuts or women with shoes that don’t match their dresses because she would NOT stand for that. It was always the best for her little girls, pretty haircuts and pretty shoes, even when she couldn’t have all those things for herself. I think of my mom in libraries. Boy, did she help me to develop my love of libraries. She’d take Manda and I to the Parma Library once a week all summer and stay until we had scoured the entire place for the perfect set of books to bring home (even though she knew we’d probably end up with Sweet Valley High anyway). I think of her when I see “black lip kids” (you know, rainbow hair, piercings, gothic clothing). She used to tell me that if I ever needed attention that badly, I should let her know, and she’d buy me an outfit. She even let me take her up on that. I think about my mom when I go swimming. I'm always looking over my shoulder for her at the pool/lake/beach, waiting to be chased with a bottle of detangler so that my hair isn't impossible at the end a day of swimming. I think about my mom every time I hear “Beautiful in My Eyes” by Joshua Kadison. She always tells me that this is our song, and I am her Mona Lisa. Yeah, I’ve never had any doubts that I am special to her. “And there are lines upon my face/ from a lifetime of smiles…”
I think of my mom constantly now, as I walk in her footsteps. She’s always been a little sad that my sister and I are little replicas of my dad and that all I got from her was my feet (although I must thank you for those feet, Mom… no offense Dad… ha ha). That’s where she’s wrong, though. I have been told my whole life that I remind people of my mom, if not in looks, then certainly in disposition and mannerisms. In fact, everyone assumed that I would be a teacher just like she is. I was not ready to make that decision for myself in college, and Mom still blames herself for “talking me out of it.” She didn’t. As I said, I was not ready. I was blissfully happy and foolish and messy and irresponsible and would have made a horrible teacher. I was as self-centered as college allowed me to be and was finally learning the lesson that Mom had tried to teach me in the dressing room for myself. I was testing myself and figuring out who I was. What my mom does not give herself credit for is talking me back into teaching. I left college confident and happy about who I was, but I still had no clue what I wanted to be. Mom suggested that I try substitute teaching while I figured it out, and I obliged because I was living back at home and didn’t have any better ideas. I fell in love for the second time (the first being with my husband, of course. Side note: Mom really taught me how to pick a winner too. After all, she gave me my dad as the most wonderful example of a man. Have I earned back those feet points yet, Dad?). I fell in love with teaching.
I have entered into the most rewarding career I can possibly imagine, and I am able to approach it with the maturity and passion that I was lacking in earlier years. I have always thought that the older I get, the more I can understand and appreciate my mom, and our shared profession only deepens this. We can now delight in experiences that few others can understand and roll our eyes together about kids that only we would meet. Our outsides may not totally look like a matched set, but our insides are perfectly in tune. We have always shared love, we have often shared friendship, and now we will share teaching. I am excited to add another item to the list of all the things Mom is to me. Colleague.
Mom, I’m sorry that I can’t be there with you today, but I know you understand. Instead, I will spend the day honoring everyone else’s moms. I will smile at them, load their mulch, listen warmly to their (sometimes inappropriate) stories, and make them feel special. You taught me how to do that.
I love you more than words or a silly little blog can say. Happy Mother’s Day!
Thank you, Mom, you made my day.