My Original Hero by Deb Jess

I thought we’d end this week on a sappy note. Hey, why not: it’s the holidays! If ever there is a time of year for a little schmaltz and heart-warming treacle, it is now. Haul out the holly and all that. So I’ve composed this letter to my mother, my original hero.

Me and MomWhen I was born, it was “you and me” against the world. A single, unexpected parent at 18, I can’t even imagine the secret fears you harbored, but you epitomized tenacious optimism and resourcefulness. And truly, you are my first hero, always. I could never replicate your subtle grace under pressure, try as I might. You have a kind word for everyone…self-deprecating to a fault (sometimes too much so), always brimming with laughter. How do you do it? I study you, trying to find the keys.

My heart aches a little when I think of how you always put your children first. I can’t remember you ever buying yourself new clothing, even wearing my cast-offs when I got to high school, but I can remember you making us Malt-O-Meal on cold winter mornings and hot cocoa on cold winter afternoons. I remember you chauffeuring us to the orthodontist, to after-school activities, to our friends’ homes. I remember you making us homemade Halloween costumes: an Indian princess, a butterfly, even a picnic table. Getting sick was almost a treat, because you’d put cool, damp washcloths on our foreheads and fetch us saltines and warm 7-Up with a bendy straw.

You played endless board games with us. We assembled dozens of puzzles, laughed like hyenas at Spoons and Old Maid and Go Fish. You even played games with us that we invented on the spot, games like “Flashlight Ceiling Light Show” and whatever the hell game Jake and Maddie invented that one summer involving a baseball and the cats. You let us stay up late on Christmas Eve so we could lie in our sleeping bags on the couch and watch the multicolored patterns of the blinking tree lights on the ceiling.

You still put your family first, because that’s just you. When asked what you want for Christmas, you’ve been known to think for a bit before replying, “Oh, maybe just a potholder.”

You quietly instilled in us a sense of justice, of right and wrong, appreciation for all that’s beautiful in the world. You are a talented artist in your own right. A chef, a humanitarian, a master gardener, a comedian.

You don’t even blink an eye when we tease you about the way you dance at weddings to 50 Cent or Nelly, or when we beg you to just accept a compliment already. (Really mom, it’s okay! You ARE beautiful.)

You once told me during a difficult time in our family history that I was your strength. Well Mom, if that’s anywhere near the truth, it’s because you raised me to be a strong woman. Just like you.
Driving Sideways

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