To my mother on her 60th birthday

I am good at things. Well, not too many things, but a select few (like being mean to Husband, or loving my dogs or not brushing my hair). But somehow in thinking about my mother, in thinking of a way to celebrate her, I feel desperately lacking.  It’s not that she’s set an impossible standard, although I do remember once acing a test and my mother signing it with the note “can do better”. It’s not that she’s difficult to please, I know she still has many ill-conceived handmade cards replete with stick figure drawings and spelling so bad it would make your eyes burn to even cast a glance upon it. It’s not that she needs some extraordinary show of affection to be validated or that she enjoys the limelight, although she once did draw a significant amount of attention to herself by turning her hair orange (I have never heard my grandmother laugh that much in my entire life). It’s because she is my mother, the one who gave me life. The one who has always been at my side even when I didn’t want or deserve it. How do I properly celebrate a woman who gave me so much? And who gave up so much for me? Perhaps I shall try the only way I know how, with these rudimentary words, misshapen but sincere.

Is it proper to complain about my mother in this ode to her? Probably not, but I am not one to hang on to the norms of what is or is not proper so here is my most vicious complaint, my mother is one of the most indecisive people I know. In helping her plan her “Emoji” themed party-that-isn’t-a-party, we changed the menu no less than 300 times and that was just one phone call. Each time we seemed to settle on something she’d pull back the decision by reminding me that some person or the other liked something that we hadn’t yet catered for. I suspect that my dog had more success chasing his tail than we did with some of those conversations. I’d hang up the phone smiling but rolling my eyes and shaking my head. It wasn’t simply that my mother and I were at polar ends when it came to making decisions, it was something else that she did that I didn’t think too deeply about. She considered everyone else, before herself. It’s terribly cliché to say that my mother is selfless and when she at my house riffling through my grocery cupboard, claiming any Lindt chocolate she can find as her own, I doubt there’s anything very Mother Teresa about her, but it is true. The woman can be infuriatingly selfless. So selfless, that I can’t help but respect what she’s trying to do even while it frustrates me. I suspect it has something to do with one of my mother’s famous prescriptions for a good life, a well-worn favourite – treat others as you would like to be treated. It is quite possibly one of my favourite of my mother’s teachings and one she seems to get right far more often than I could. I may live to regret writing this, but I wish we could all be a bit more indecisive if it meant that we were considering others before ourselves.

That I’m getting on a plane this afternoon to spend the weekend with my mother and my family is something that also reminds me of a reason to celebrate my mother. Not just because she gave me the means to see the world as one of possibility and because she created in me the foundation to lead a successful life but because the one thing she really seemed to want for her birthday was for her family to be together. When I see myself planning dinners and inviting people over I am reminded of the glue that my mother seems to be for so many people and this no less true for our family. For my mother this part is simple – you show up for your family, no matter what, you show up. It may be, as it is in my mother’s case, that family is created through bonds of friendship rather than something you’re born into. My mother does have a sneaky habit of “adopting” grown humans and somehow making them feel welcome, relevant and special. I can bear those adoptees no grudges, my mother is a warmth that many gravitate to. I think it’s because of some of the difficult hands life has dealt her that she someone seeks to be a mother to more than just the two children she brought into this world. It is through her kindness that I can often admonish myself for not quite living up to the example she sets.

But she is so much more than kind or selfless or someone who believes in family. She is my mother, a woman who it would be impossible to celebrate through these words. She is my mother, a woman who faces everything in life with equal measures of madness, happiness and laughter. She is my mother, a woman who taught me to have no bounds and to claim my place unapologetically. She is my mother and she is 60 today, fitting that it is International Women’s Day. Fitting that on a day like today we should celebrate one of the best women ever born, she is my mother.

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