Whatever kind of mom you are—and whatever kind you had—we see you, and we’re celebrating. This is one of 11 essays in this series.
She was the mom with seven kids who wore heels every day, didn’t believe in sneakers or blue jeans and always had her lipstick. She never joined the PTA, became a room parent or a Girl Scout leader. She hung out routinely with her girlfriends like a teenager. And cocktail hour was like Christmas morning for her—every Saturday night. My best friends called her a one-er, because there was no one else like her.
By the grace of God, as she would say, she navigated the mundane and the chaos of our lives. but a part of her clearly refused to lose the woman she was to the mother she’d become. She chose to bring us into her world more than she joined in ours, a practice that had more of an effect on me than I realized at the time.
It’s taken years, and having my own three kids, to wrap myself around the impact of my mom’s unique influence—what she did and didn’t do—that came to mark so much inside me.
But when I reached about 15, my annoyance with her was at its peak. I was constantly frustrated by her dramatic enthusiasm, along with her inability to do the things other moms seemed to do so easily, like pick up their kids on time.
A few weeks into my sophomore year in high school, I was set to get my braces off—finally. I told my mom where to go, when to pick me up.
I hammered her, actually, worried she would get waylaid and forget. I put notes in her car, her purse and her bathroom: “Pick Liz up at school—2:00—to get BRACES off.” I was dismissed early that day and waited out in front of my high school. I knew she’d be late—she was always late—but that day she was really late. School had let out by the time she arrived; I hadn’t even needed to be dismissed early.
When she pulled up, she was singing along loudly with the radio, as usual.
I opened the car door, and if this had been an animated movie, my look would have killed her. She turned off the radio, and I proceeded to have my first out-of-body lose-it-completely-on-my-mother experience. I mean full-throttle ripping. As my thoughts spewed out of my mouth, I was no longer in charge of them. I told her everything I thought about her lack of promptness and crazy differences from other moms. I raged on about how important this appointment was that I had now missed. I vehemently shot that she wasn’t good at doing the things she was supposed to do. I actually suggested she go to parenting school. Positive I should be killed for saying it all, I still couldn’t stop, imagining the entire time my braces would remain on my teeth my whole life. My mother simply sat quietly. I waited for a defense so I could go on, but nothing. I kept telling her to drive us home, that I would remove my braces with a chainsaw.
We pulled up to the orthodontist’s office. She turned to me and said, “Go on in, honey. I called to let them know we’d be late; they’re waiting for you.” She called? She never called, ever! My heart pushed up into my throat, I tried to say something but she cut me off, shooed me out of the car and told me to go get the braces off, she’d be waiting there when I was finished.
My parents had gotten divorced fairly recently, and my mom was about to begin her very first job. I found out later that my mom had taken an important real estate broker’s test that day, one she’d been studying for over the past year. She left the test early to pick me up, refusing to postpone my appointment. My grandmother—my mom’s mom, who normally might take me to appointments since she lived so close by—was sick with what I thought was the flu but found out later was something much, much worse. That was my mom’s day, the day I got my braces off.
I went to her room that night and she listened as I stumbled through an apology, feeling so horrible and mean. She let me off the hook completely, as though she might have understood why and how I’d lost my mind on her. She told me she knew she wasn’t like the neighbors’ moms, and maybe it would have been easier on me if she were. She said she was never going to apologize for who she was to me or anyone, that being who we are is all we really have, but that I should know she was doing her best and hoped, really hoped, it was enough.
And then she told me that she didn’t need to go to parenting school. I cringed as the words came out of her mouth. She said no school could teach her what she knew was most important about her job as a mother: making sure her children felt loved by her completely. That, she said, was the one thing she hoped to get right. And she did.