Are we all destined to become our mothers? Readers, I should be so lucky.
My mother turns sixty today and since lists are a little tradition of mine around here; here are five things that make my mom the best woman I know.
My mom is stunning. Regularly admired by my girlfriends (and hers) for her amazing skin and long legs, she's something of a dead ringer for Jamie Lee Curtis. I'm proud of the fact that my mom has stayed so fit all her life and though I'm not one to judge anyone for indulging in a little plastic surgery, that she's aged naturally and beautifully. But what I admire more than her looks themselves and what has benefited me more directly as her daughter, is her attitude about beauty. She's one of the most elegant dressers I know but has never put an undue importance on clothes; she appreciates the fact that looking good can be important to one's confidence but she always made it clear to my sister and me growing up that other things like being smart and kind, were much more important. I never once heard her complain about her looks or call herself fat and so I have always been appalled at that ugly habit some women have of talking smack with each other about their bodies. She's never once criticized my looks either (some outrageously inappropriate preteen fashion choices notwithstanding), understanding that the world is hard enough on a girl about that stuff without her mother adding to the chorus.
One of the traits I share with my mother is that neither of us are capable of doing anything halfway. If we're going to bother to do something, we're going to want to be good at it. My mother and I don't really do hobbies in the lighthearted way that others do. From her tennis game to her cooking to her dogs (she does agility and nose work trials with their two German Shepherds), she goes full force at everything she does. I can always tell when my mom has set her eye on a goal and I always know she'll get it.
My mom has excellent manners. Not the white glove kind that make everyone else feel a little guilty about their lack of manners but the authentic kind that put everyone around her at ease. I don't know that I've ever seen her be genuinely rude to someone and she's always made the innumerable friends, boyfriends and stray acquaintances my sister and I brought around feel welcome (no matter how dubious those choices). She's an engaged listener and thoughtful conversationalist. You know how some people listen only insofar as their planning their rebuttal? My mom never does that.
Her Strength and Compassion
I group these last two together because after a very difficult year, I have come to understand that the one ultimately means nothing without the other; and my mother has more of both than anyone I know. It's only in the last few years that I've really come to see this clearly. In watching her support her father through his last painful year of life and support her sister and the rest of our family through his death, I saw not a new side to my mother (in my heart I suppose I always knew it was there) but a perhaps under-appreciated side of her. My mother with her calm nature is a wonderful balance to my father and I, but beneath her gentleness she's made of steel. My mother, like her affable but formidable father, has a strength that is quiet but runs deep. She has the strength to do what's right, even if it will cost her dearly. My family has been dealt some serious blows in this past year and sometimes I worry that my mother bears the brunt of it, shoring up the rest of us the way she does. It is a lucky thing to admire the character of one's parents the way I do. And when I think of what it means to be a mother, to be at the very center of a family with all of the courage and inevitable sacrifice that that entails, I can't think of anyone who could do it better.
I could go on but I'll end here by saying that if I can only hope to turn out like my mom. If everyone had a mom like mine, surely it wouldn't cure all the world's ills but I'm pretty sure it would cut them in half at least. I'll end with a poem that both my mom and her father loved and one that speaks to the rare kind of strength so present in them both.
Abou Ben Adhem
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said
"What writest thou?"—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still, and said "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men."
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.