Growing up, I didn’t really have any “secret” traditions with my mom. She was always pretty open about everything, which is probably why she remains to this day my most trusted, cherished, and sacred friend. Throughout my tumultuous childhood, she remained my constant. She never wavered, never slacked, and never failed. It wasn’t until I became a mom, however, that I actually understood the depth of her sacrifice. But I can say without question that I am who I am because of who she is.
I remember sitting at the end of our driveway every morning waiting for the bus, and my mom would make us “Put on our armor”. It was this little thing out of Ephesians 6 that she would have us kids say before we got on the bus. And while sometimes it was irritating, most often I found it comforting. And I never forgot it. And then when I dropped my son off at his first day of preschool, I did it with him. Now every morning before Boo gets on the bus, we “put on his armor”. It’s become a tradition that my mom started that I’ve carried on to my kids.
As much as I wish I could say I have many traditions that have been passed down in my family, we actually don’t. My family is pretty spread out and divided – extremely city vs extremely country. Southern vs Northern. And every other cliché opposing side you can bring into the conversation. I learned extremely different things from my grandmothers – one taught me how to make “fried lettuce” (which is just country for “use the bacon drippings for your salad dressing”) and the other taught me how to make pierogis and sautéed onions. So when I became a mom, I decided that there were certain things I wanted to pass on to my kids. And while life has been a hateful heifer and thrown some pretty vicious curveballs our way, there are a few things that have remained. One thing being the armor before school. Another being placemats and cloth napkins when we sit down to dinner. To my kids, that is just part of how we “set the table” and make it a nice meal. It isn’t nearly as fun to them as our picnics in the living room floor on a tablecloth, but they still enjoy it. It is a tradition for them. My mom gave me that. And I gave it to them.
When my son was a toddler, we started a bedtime tradition that included saying a prayer and then I would sing him whatever song he wanted. It has continued to this day, and has become a very special and comforting thing for him and me. But one of the things that he and I do that is just ours is something akin to what Carol Burnett used to do when she signed off her show every night (the infamous ear wiggle). I tap his nose with my finger three times and tell him “I. Love. You.” And about a year ago, he started doing it back four times – “I. Love. You. Too.” To this day, it is just our little thing. And I cherish it.
My mother was a force I couldn’t understand as a child or an adolescent. She is still a force, but now that I’m a mom, I understand what drove her. She has a faith I can only hope for, and a heart I can never compare to. Without my mom, the last two years of my life – the most difficult two years of my life – wouldn’t have been anything close to a success. I wouldn’t have achieved what I’ve achieved, I wouldn’t have learned what I learned, and I wouldn’t have what I have if it weren’t for her. This weekend is her birthday (shhhh – she likes to pretend it’s a secret). And while few of you know her, I wanted to take a moment and honor her. She gave me fight, gave me hope, and gave me support to do something good with my life. And I can honestly say without question that I am exactly who I am and where I am because of who she is.