My mother did not teach me how to bake cookies. Not ever. I still don't think that I know how to grease a pan properly, and the concept of pre-heating is fairly new. My mother has a meatloaf recipe, but I do not know what it is and the chances of it just being a general mash of hamburger and ketchup are high. For the most part, her recipes came from a frozen box and not from a soft, crumbling book of beautiful handwritten notes. She never showed me how to fill a mop bucket. She never showed me how to vacuum stairs. I still throw the occasional red sock in with my white clothes assuming that everything will be ok. I learned how to fold a fitted sheet when I entered, as a grown adult, the world of housekeeping. Not before. No one has ever referred to Candy Kelly Vandenberg as Suzie Homemaker, and no one will confuse her oldest daughter with a girl who has been raised by someone with such a title. She regrets at least some of this, I know. I know because when I finally moved into my own big girl apartment, I Facebooked a tsunami of domestic ineptness, allowing my own typing fingers to be the keyhole through which nearly everyone I know has been able to spy and snicker at my tendency to explode things in the microwave and my embarrassing inability to predict that one might need shower hooks to accompany a shower curtain. Or a hammer to assemble Ikea labyrinths. Or, you know, forks. And my mother, sometimes getting stuck in that keyhole, apologized.
So, here's the thing. It is almost Mother's Day. My sister and I do the cards every year. We do the flowers, the mix CDs, the spa day gift certificates. These things mean less to her than the fact that we both moved the 3,000 miles it was going to take to actually hug her on Mother's Day, but we do the little things when we can. This year has been eye opening for her, I think. Watching her two girls live as real life humans. Getting the phone calls when we don't know how to boil an egg at altitude or when we don't know how much a vacuum cleaner is really supposed to cost. Walking through Ikea or Target or Walmart for what has surely culminated to more than a day's worth of minutes trying to explain that, yes, you need a cutting board and no, you probably don't need a fancy serving bowl because who is it that you think you'll be serving, anyway, when your dining room table is an ironing board? She is looking at us, these two dizzy creatures, trying to make our way based on what she either has or has not taught us about living. I have decided to use her favorite keyhole to show her that I might not know how to bake cookies, but the traits I am most proud of came directly from her.
My mother taught me how to play foosball. My dad and I were playing one night on the table they had just bought. He was hyped up about it, and I was terrible. 14 and awkward on every level and I'm pretty sure I spun those little men a more than a few times before I knew that an actual foosball player would rather die than play someone who spins. Daddy and I played for hours and hours getting slightly more skilled and slightly more rambunctious and I pretty much figured out that I might end up being better at something than him, which I still don't completely believe is possible. We were on top of the world for a while with that table. We thought we were better than everyone. And then, in a floating ball of sunshine, which is her preferred method of travel, my mother walked down the stairs and into the foosball cave. She smiled at my dad, smiled sweetly at me and asked if we thought she might be able to play a game or two. It is entirely likely that I rolled my eyes. And then she kicked my ass.
My mother taught me how to shake hands. At the end of my driver's ed class, which was a bajillion dollar course complete with reverse slaloms, skid pads and lunch breaks, all the newly minted road masters shook hands with our twenty-something year old Mr. Miagis. It was kind of a graduation. As a sixteen year old girl, I'm not sure that I had ever really shaken hands with anyone at that point in my life. Why would I have? My mother, eyes open to being female in a venue dominated by men, leaned down and whispered in my ear, "When you shake their hands, you are to shake their hands. Do not let your hand go limp. Do not let them shake yours like you're a little princess. If they grip too firmly, grip too firmly back. Look them right in their eyes. And remember to say thank you."
There are a thousand more anecdotes just like these, beginning with me being fairly naive about who my mother is and ending with the realization that she is a spitfire dressed like a Care Bear.
What my mother taught me--the most important thing she has taught me--is that there is strength in kindness. That women don't need to play the "bitch" role in order to succeed. A woman can be intelligent and interesting and opinionated. She can be successful and independent and fierce and ambitious. She can kick a man's tail at bar games and shake hands as firmly as anyone. And, if she wants to, she can still wear a Broncos Santa hat at Christmastime, cry every time she watches The Notebook, and rescue any lost creature she sees wandering the cold streets of suburbia. My dad, who is one of the smartest people I know, will maintain to the ends of himself that my mother is smarter. He can also attest to her being among the kindest of kind people. She is both. She is a business woman and a family woman. A mother to latchkey kids who came home and threw a frozen dinner in the oven before she took off her high heels for the day. She is also a glittering example of the healing powers of a living room dance party and a bleeding heart who has owned at least four different pets that started out as strays.
And she travels inside a floating ball of sunshine.
Here is where I thank my mother. Thank you for sacrificing the cookies and the mopping in the name of firm hand shakes and bar games. Thank you for showing me how far a heart can really get someone. Thank you for being a truly inspirational woman, and a weirdly cheerful one at that. Your inability to frown and your drive to be happy is something everyone around you, especially your daughters, strives for. You are beautiful, funny, successful, intelligent, quirky, kind, and, honestly, the best role model anyone could ever even dream up. I love you. The whole world does.
Happy Mother's Day!