When I was 6, I asked my mom if I could sit in the car without a car seat. She said no. I asked her if I could get two scoops of ice cream. She said no. I asked her if I could stay up later to watch TV. She said no.
I remember her always saying no. I remember the anger and frustration I felt every time she did. I remember absolutely hating it when she would say, “I told you so.” And I still hate it.
I remember her telling me all the don’ts: “Don’t cross the road without looking both ways. Don’t talk with your mouthful. Don’t walk away from me when I’m talking to you.” Because Mom knows best, right?
Of course, when I was little, she was never right in my mind because I knew what I wanted and I didn’t want anything standing in the way. And she was always in my way. She was always holding me back. I know somewhere—somewhere deep down—I really and genuinely and happily accepted her advice and long lectures about anything I did. But on the surface, I rolled my eyes or gave her the “yeah, yeah ok mom.” But don’t get me wrong, JUST because I glared and groaned doesn’t mean that I didn’t like that my mom gave me advice. In fact, I wanted the advice. I actually appreciated it. I just never told her that.
And somehow it’s taken me this long to see that dealing with me is probably the hardest job anyone could have. But somehow she does it.
And for some reason I always tell her that I don’t need her help when, to be honest, her help is the only thing I need. Then I wonder, how does she do it? How is she always there, ready to help? The craziest part is that she never says, “I’m too tired,” even when I can tell she is. Mom’s don’t get days off. So how can we, as kids, pay our moms back for the lifelong sacrifices that they’ve made for us?
The sad truth is that we don’t. We forget to even say thank you. They sent us to sleep away camps, bought us new clothes, paid for our phone bills, but we don’t send any letters, we lose the clothes, and we never call them.
When is the last time any of us have even thought to ask our moms: “how are you doing?” I ask this because for so long it had never occurred to me that behind all of the smiles and all of the laughter, her happiness might not really be there. My mom? Unhappy? That sounded crazy. Of course, it didn’t seem so crazy once I actually heard the words come from her mouth.
My mom and I fought a lot over the past few years. Sometimes it was about little things like keeping my room clean or not dressing for the weather. But sometimes it was about bigger things. And there was this one week where it seemed like the only thing we ever did was fight.
My mom always seemed to be the strong one. But then she sat at the end of my bed and fiddled with her fingers. It was so unexpected when her voice started to get shaky, and she said: “I am not happy.” I could tell she had never admitted that before.
I didn’t understand at first. How couldn’t she be happy? She has a great life, went to a great college, has a great husband, and GREAT kids. But I guess under the surface, happiness means something more. And I’m not saying that my mom regrets all her life decisions. No, it just wasn’t what she had imagined and she wanted to feel like it was all worth it—giving everything up: her career, her time, her energy—for her family. I don’t even think she knew exactly what she meant in the heat of the moment because immediately, she tried to reassure me that it wasn’t anything I had done—and no, of course it wasn’t my fault she wasn’t happy. She was so proud of me, and she was so lucky to call me her daughter. But her words rang in my ears and made everything we had ever fought about seem so insignificant and selfish and god, why couldn’t I have just made my bed and packed a raincoat? Hearing her say that broke my heart because I never realized how much I owed her. And suddenly I found myself regretting the time I forgot to get her a birthday gift five years ago and all the times I’ve forgotten to appreciate everything she’s done for me.
It seems like I’ve forgotten all the yes’s. And there have been so many times I’ve forgotten to say thank you because it never even crossed my mind that maybe she needs to hear it sometimes—that maybe two words could mean the world to her.
So I’ll say it now: Thank you, Mom. Thank you for all the times you tucked me in at night and checked my closet for monsters or the times you stroked my hair and hugged me at 2am when I had a nightmare. Thank you for doubting me and for being disappointed in me because feeling doubted by you and disappointing you was the only way I learned from my mistakes. Thank you for always knowing what to say and when to say it. Sometimes it feels like you can read my mind. Thank you for loving me more than you love yourself. And thank you for being the mom that I hope I’ll become someday.