Friday, September 17, 2010

The Gift My Mother Gave Me

Today is my mom's birthday. I have so many good Mom Stories, I'm going to have to narrow them down to a few. But first you'll need a little background.

Way back when, my mom was an A student, president of her high school class, then president of her college sorority. She graduated with honors with a degree in pharmacy.

I proudly ran to claim her whenever she picked me up from school; she was the prettiest mom, the smartest mom, the mom who had a real career with the men in the 1960s and still came home and finger-painted with the kids.

The woman had it all going on.

But in the mid-1970s, a cross-country move away from a job she loved, the deaths of her parents, her disintegrating marriage, and a family history of alcoholism all got together and sucker punched her. Hard. We lost her for a few years and we almost lost her for good. But in the last round, she got up and she fought back, and she came out of it stronger and more fully alive than she'd ever been.

I could leave that part out but I won't, because out of all the gifts she's given my sister and me over the years, we both agree that the most significant has been the gift of her sobriety. The bravery of her sobriety. It shaped both our lives and directed many of the choices we've made.

Now don't get me wrong. My mom still gets high. I don't want to sound cliché and say she gets high on life, so I'll put it this way: She gets high on cilantro.

This is how it goes: We're seated at a Mexican restaurant when she starts moaning, as if she might be starting in on an impression of the famous When Harry Met Sally scene of Sally in the diner. But my mother isn't faking anything. She's genuinely excited about how fresh the cilantro tastes.

"Honey, isn't this the best cilantro you've ever tasted?" She opens her eyes and waits for my answer.

"You said that the last time we had Mexican."

"I did? I did?" She knits her eyebrows together then shrugs. "Well. That was really wonderful, too. But this is even better, don't you think?" She looks at me expectantly.

I've learned to say, "Yes. Absolutely." But my sister and I roll our eyes whenever she goes into her spiels about the best cilantro, the best eggplant, the best mocha almond fudge ice cream, the best friggin' french fries she's ever had in her entire life. 

The best. Ever.

Then there was the time when we were in another restaurant, waiting to be seated. My mom sat down at a Pac Man game. Remember Pac Man?

"Ohhh. I've been wanting to try this!" she said. She started playing, whooping and hollering, slapping her knee, stomping her feet, having a grand old time of it. "What a hoot!" she said, beaming.

That's when my brother-in-law pulled a quarter out of his pocket, handed it to her, and said, "You'll need this to start the game."

She looked up at him, then down at the moving pac men on the screen. And she started laughing. My mother always laughs harder at herself than any of us do, and we all laugh pretty hard at her, with her. She laughs until tears roll down her cheeks. She eventually catches her breath, calms herself. Then the laughing starts back up again.

She approaches her life with the deepest sense of enthusiasm and appreciation. She lives with her kind and gentle husband, Bill, on acreage along the Western Slope in Colorado with a break-your-heart-open view of the mountains.

This is a woman who has had three hip replacements over the years along with a badly broken leg and wrist. But, the hell with it, she set down her knitting needles at 70 and took up kayaking anyway. She dons overalls and a big straw hat and grows a thriving organic garden from seeds. At Christmas, she sends us braids of five different kinds of her garlic. And homemade potica, which is a delicious walnut and cinnamon bread from a recipe her grandmother brought over from Yugoslavia. She paints gorgeous landscapes and wins blue ribbons. She used to have chickens and llamas. Now she has cats. And Yaks.

Yep. Yaks.

So today she is 72.

I hope I'm like her when I grow up.

I love you, Mom.

Happy Birthday, pretty lady.


  1. Beautiful! I can never find the words to tell Mom how much I love her and how she inspires me. You did it perfectly.
    Sere' I admire your brain.
    Happy Birthday Mommy!

  2. Oh my - -what a birthday card! Now that the tears have stopped (almost) I can figure out how to post a comment.
    How I do love you xoxoxoxoxoxXOXOXOX!
    (but I can't figure out how to draw a mouse)

  3. Sere' what a birthday tribute this is!!!!! I know that Suzanne does admire both you and your Mother. She shares how you've both inspired her as she is trying to make a point and help me.

  4. Great job, Aunt Jan...your kids are awesome!--Ken

  5. I love your mom too and haven't even met her. But I know one of her kids and she's just as great.

  6. What an inspiration. Not just the energy. People who can laugh at themselves so hard are a fortress in their skin.

    Thanks for sharing her.

  7. I loved every word of your homage to your mom on her 72nd birthday. She was a beauty when she was young and she looks and sounds like a beauty now. I can relate so much to her - having a career in the 60's, disintegrating marriage and overcoming alcoholism, and becoming more active after a hip replacement - in her case, three! I think the sucker punches in her life only made her stronger, and gave her a good sense of humor to boot.

  8. Awww.This was a fitting and lovely tribute. And it has yaks! Perfect.

    I am Fickle Cattle.

  9. @Suzanne: Me, 7 years old: "Daddy, Suzannie keeps copying me!" You, 4 years old: "I can't help it. I admire her brain." Who's really the smart one in this scenario?

    @Mom: I'm so glad I could share all your inspiration with others. Love. Hugs.

    @Thank you, Patty. NIce to "meet" you!

    @Hey, Ken! Thanks for stopping by.

    @Chelo: You and my mom would definitely hit it off. Makes me smile just to think of it.

    @Jason: That is so true. Thanks.

    @Penelope: From reading your blog, I can tell your own sucker punches have strengthened you, too. Brava!

    @Fickle: Gotta love those yaks.

  10. And now? I have a crush on your mom.

  11. @ Lisa: Thank you. She would get such a kick out of Bob. She doesn't spend much time on the computer, but I'm definitely going to tell her about your wonderful blog.

  12. Sere, I love your mom! I think she and my mother would have gotten along famously. My mother had boundless energy and a zest for life.
    What a beautiful tribute.

  13. Sere - It's Jeannie from All Squared Away. How can I get in touch with you? I'll try your email - mine is