A Mother’s Day Letter to My Mom (Because I Get it Now)

Dear Mom,

The running joke is always that no one wants to “turn into her mother,” and I remember as a kid and even more so as a teen thinking, “I’ll never be like her.” But sure enough with only a toddler in tow, I’m already turning into you. And I have to admit, I’m pretty thankful for it. Even the things that drove me crazy as a kid — like your emphasis on vegetables and limiting our screen time — are so important to me now as a mom. The slob of a daughter you spent all those years trying to convince to tidy-up is now sure to walk from room to room each night gathering dirty laundry and empty glasses and “tucking-in” the house as you always did. There’s something else I learned from you, too.

I always used to tell you that I loved you more, and you would reply that it was a sweet sentiment, but I was wrong, and that I wouldn’t understand until I had one of my own. Well, now that I do have one of my own, I get it. I am very certain that I do and always will love my daughter more than she’s capable of loving me. I knew it the instant I saw her, screaming and blotchy and fresh from inside. The days are long and busy, and we talk a lot but I don’t always get the chance to put into words how much I really, really get it now. But before I celebrate my second Mother’s Day as a mom, I had to put this down in writing. Had to let you know that I appreciate so much more than the things I saw before — the rambling conversations, the seasonal wardrobe upgrades, the home-baked cookies. And how much I appreciate everything. 

Related: What Moms Really Want for Mother’s Day (Seriously)

From the time I was pregnant, I started to feel a new appreciation for you that I had never known before. Growing up, I was grateful that you made my bed and dried my tears and tried to reason with a teacher who’d given me a bad grade on good work. You were the one who organized, stamped, and dropped off my college applications; taught me how to use public transportation; and helped me pick out my wedding dress. But once I had a child growing inside of me, I suddenly understood something new. You had nurtured me — you had grown me from scratch. Every time I thought or worried or dreamed about the little life budding inside of me, I was made aware of how many countless times you had done the same. And I’ve been around a while — that’s an awful lot of love.

In labor and then at home with my newborn, it was all so scary, exhilarating, and surreal. What was going on here? I was a MOM? You’d always been the mom — how was I going to have all the answers, like you did? How would I know what to do and what to say to her as she grew, like you did? In times that were difficult or scary, I would close my eyes and think about what you would do. It always helped: Mom is reasonable, she’s calm. Mom sang silly songs to us during a snowstorm when we were stuck in an old car with one busted door that she was pulling with all her might to keep closed. Channeling you would give me the strength I needed to get through a clogged milk duct or a screaming baby or an altercation with a neighbor who was making a nasty remark about the noise. 

Thank you for waking up multiple times in the night, many nights, for several years straight, and not being completely mean-spirited in the morning. And for preparing dinner and teaching us to help. I enjoyed my job of setting the table creatively and I appreciate the fact that you never pushed me to cook just because I was a girl. Thank you for raising us in a clean, orderly home where we always felt secure, but also for showing us that a functional family is a team effort, and not just women’s work.

I now understand, too, how much restraint it must have taken for you to be nice to some of the idiots I brought home over the years. You wanted us to know that you respected us enough to let us choose our own friends and later, romantic partners. Today, I joke about how I’ll throttle anyone who ever hurts my own daughter, and I think back to the mean-girl antics of seventh grade and wonder how you managed not to kill any of those girls who tormented me on the bus and sent me home in a ball of tears. Looking back, I’m almost grateful for the social hell I went through as a tween, because it taught me so much empathy in the real world. But I have a feeling that with you as a mom, I would have learned it anyway.

I’m sure that teaching us to tie our shoes, brush our teeth, and wipe our butts was no easy task. I’m sure also that you had more exciting things to do than cover for me at my neighborhood babysitting job that time I managed to score a last-minute invite to a “popular” party and bawled on the kitchen floor because I was sure if I didn’t go, it would be social suicide. I get why you did it now, and it wasn’t merely a matter of helping me make it to the stupid party. It only took that one crappy night, shivering in a miniskirt on the back porch of a kid I didn’t even know, for me to realize that passing up 80 bucks in favor of hanging out with people who weren’t my real friends, just sucked. It wasn’t my last “popular” party of high school, of course, but it was the last time I ever guilted you into doing my job for me. 

Related: Confessions of a Sentimental, Sappy Mom

I’d also like to thank you for doing something that most people only say, something I know for sure I’ll be able to do for my own daughter, which is to encourage her to go for her dreams. Lots of kids are told that they can grow up and be and do whatever they want, but you actually believed it. You’ve always fostered my dreams and helped me put together the tools I would need to achieve them. But you haven’t pressured me, and I’m so glad I learned that from you. When I stopped writing for a year, you told me I needed the break. When I took it up again, you agreed that it was time. When my then-fiancee and I announced we were moving halfway across the country to Texas six weeks after getting engaged, you told us you were excited for our adventure. Inside, you were probably wilted, uneasy, and sad. We’d never lived far enough apart that an airplane was required for visits, but like always, you put me first, put us first. Because that’s what moms do. And I get it now.

Mom life is not the easy road and there’s so much more involved than I ever could have anticipated. When I stood, pregnant, in the aisle of a baby store scanning items onto a registry, I have to admit it all seemed fun. Cute clothes! Gadgets! An excuse to buy a rocking chair! But life as a mom, not even two years in, is a constant, daily battle. Questions, challenges, decisions. Is it okay for a 16-month-old to watch more than 30 minutes of TV? What if she only eats peas and rice for three days straight? Do we have enough money to swing music classes next month and which of the 112 pediatricians in a 20-minute radius of our home is the absolute best one? How are her language skills developing? Is she getting enough calcium? What is that red bump on the back of her hand? 

I have no idea how you made it all look so easy but I’m always trying to pull it off like you did. I know for sure that you cried when we weren’t around. How could you not have? I bet you sat at lunch with your girlfriends and asked a whole other, late-80s list of ridiculous questions just as my friends and I do now, over text. Heck, you probably breathed a sigh of relief when you finally got the three of us off to bed, just like I do now, with my one. But you never let us see it. Thank you for not letting us see that it was hard, but rather for focusing on enjoying us. For putting down the laundry and reading me a book when I asked you to, even though you had to stay up later to finish the chores that way. For making me a priority even though you had a job and a social life, too. For showing me that being a mom is a big thing, but it isn’t the only thing. For helping me remember that now, when I call you in tears of my own. 

Thanks for teaching me by showing me how to raise a daughter in this cruel world. It wouldn’t surprise me if you said that was the hardest thing you ever had the challenge and honor of doing. But you won’t tell me even if I ask, because for me, you’re always Mom, and that’s the most natural thing there is. And like I said, now I get it.


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