Today, I’m remembering my mom on her birthday. To honor her this birthday, I’m thinking about the things that made my mom so special to me–the aspects of her that I carry with me daily and that bring me so much comfort as I navigate through this new(er) journey without my mom in physical form.
For starters, my mom had excellent foresight that guided me throughout my entire life and continues to guide me. She always knew exactly what I needed well before it was a blip on my radar. On the very first day of college, after my family helped me unpack my dorm room, my mom pulled me aside and said, “When you graduate, don’t forget about your student loans and health insurance.” I smiled and nodded, thinking that these issues would work themselves out by the time I graduated. Graduation seemed incredibly far away, and I would most certainly deal with those things later. Throughout college, my mom continued to offer me advice on various things like applying for internships, writing resumes and cover letters, the kinds of courses I should take, etc. I, wanting to assert my independence, always said I’d figure these things out myself. I would agonize and by the time I had “figured it out,” I ended up heeding whatever suggestions my mom had made. Therefore, by the time I reached my senior year, I saved myself the heartache by simply asking my mom what she thought and following her advice immediately. By the time graduation rolled around, I found myself armed with a diploma, a thick envelope with a bill for my student loans, and a pamphlet on how to get health insurance now that I’d be off my parents’ plan. Reality started to sink in especially since I was still without a job. Student loans and health insurance! My mom had known all along that these things would plague me forever if I didn’t consider them upon graduation. She had been so right.
My mom showed kindness and care in everything that she did. Whether it was cooking, gardening, teaching, traveling, or just being with family, she took great care in all of her endeavors and did it with kindness. After I had lived in Boston for a few years, I decided to move back to Wisconsin where my parents were living. My mom was gracious enough to allow me, a twenty-six year old who was more than capable of living on her own, to move into the apartment above our garage. I promised her it would only be for a month. Two and a half years later, I was still living there. Once, my good friend and neighbor told my mom that she should pull the rug out from under me, that it was the kick in the pants I needed. She laughed but of course would never force me out of the house. With my 30th birthday on the horizon, I decided it was probably time for me to fly the coop for once and for all. There was something about being a thirty year-old living in her parents’ garage that didn’t sound so appealing to me.
My mom’s love of food and hosting dinner parties has become part of the fabric of my being. I always observed my mom in the kitchen and because she was very good at delegating cooking tasks when preparing for a dinner party, she gave me plenty of opportunities to develop my cooking repertoire. When I was ten, she taught me how to make Julia Child’s tomatoes Provençale. By “taught,” I mean my mom was more like, here Sonja, here’s the recipe and the ingredients, make it happen. At twenty-six, during my live-at-home stint, my mom and I often prepared dinner together in the kitchen. We had the same approach to cooking, a dash of this, a dash of that. We joked that we would start a mother/daughter cooking blog that I wanted to call Joanie and Sony’s Food Delights. We had numerous cooking adventures including my favorite during Christmas 2013 wherein my mom finally taught me how to prepare a turkey, complete with putting my hand up in the carcass to season and stuff. I had always avoided dealing with bird carcass, but no longer! Thankfully, we had gone for gel manicures first, so our hands looked lovely while inside the turkey (and the gel manicure meant the color lasted for weeks).
My mom knew I needed to feel special as a middle child since we middle children often feel overlooked. To me, feeling acknowledged meant self-expression. Thus, I was allowed to decorate my room in whatever way I wanted, which meant I taped up pictures of friends and magazine cutouts over my teddy bear wallpaper. When it came time to redecorate the house, once we were all in college, my mom kept my room in tact the way I’d left it. I wasn’t ready to let go of my childhood room, and she validated these feelings (however ridiculous they were). Even when she turned it into her office, she continued to do her research amongst the teddy bear wallpaper and magazine cutouts of 90s’ hunks.
Finally, one of the great things about my mom that often flew under the radar was her sense of humor. After I moved home from college (the first time), she would often respond to me, “well why don’t you marry it?” whenever I was going on about how much I loved her cooking, or the book I was reading, or my boyfriend at the time. When I asked her to read my cover letter, she pointed out that I had written the word love five times in the letter and that it was way too enthusiastic–nobody loves working that much. Or, she would razz me for that fact that I had an incredible ability to show up at the front door just as she was putting dinner on the table. It was true. I always arrived home from work just as she was placing a hot dish on top of the table.