Mother Knows Best

In my earliest memories, she wears a long blue robe and smells like coffee. My dad offers goodbye kisses to her, my little sister and me. Then he goes to work. He’s a high school Spanish teacher. My mother’s work is us.

She is young, in her early twenties, ironing clothes in our den. Love, American Style is on TV. Or Gilligan’s Island. I Love Lucy. She uses a water bottle to dampen the fabric which helps smooth out the wrinkles. She sprays my sister and me and we giggle. The room is small and safe.

When she cleans the house, she puts albums on our record player. The Fantasticks might be my favorite. We all dance around shouting, “Why did the kids put jam on the cat?” We have a cat. His name is Pumpkin. He licks ice cream from our bowls.

Mom sings to us at bedtime. Goodnight my Someone, Puff the Magic Dragon, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Scarlet Ribbons or Lemon Tree. I’ve got no idea what the lyrics mean, but I like the sad songs best.

She bakes our birthday cakes and sews new dresses for Easter. She reads Time magazine and keeps books of love poetry on her nightstand. She tells us we’re smart and lucky. That we should be kind and grateful. She is right.

There are camping trips where the boys play with their father and watch him use his gun cleaning box and the girls collect berries and flowers with mom and of course, beach days. Movies at the drive-in. We drink Slurpees after swimming lessons. Why not? We’re already freezing! Our dog’s name is Migas which means ‘scraps’ in Spanish. She won’t stop playing ball. We play Clue and Parcheesi and Sorry! Cribbage and Yahtzee and Scrabble. When Trivial Pursuit comes along, Mom always wins. You want her on your team.

There were also hard times. As a teenager I’d lie to her and sneak. Fight. Scream. I hate you! My mother was wrong. Stupid. The meanest. She stuck to her guns because she wasn’t any of these things. If you asked her now if she was a good mother then, she’d probably laugh.

We didn’t worry about stuff like that. We were just trying to survive.

Over the years my sister and I have taken turns being difficult, giving our mom her share of reasons to worry about or be frustrated by us. But she always had our backs. She has her parents’ backs, too. Ask her now if she’s a good daughter to them, and she’ll probably laugh.

Thank goodness for wine.

We still laugh a lot in this family. We tease each other and make fun of ourselves. She tells me I’m a good mother and I believe she means it. She’ll admit I’m not a good disciplinarian, that my children and dogs run the household. But she also thinks they’re wonderful. She is right.

When I talk about my kids with my mom, I often get teary-eyed. I’ll tell her a story I’ve shared with others and find myself choking up. Why? Why do the feelings spill out with her even when I’m not sad? I don’t have the right words to explain it. I’m not sure the right words exist.

But tomorrow is my mom’s birthday, so I’m writing about her anyway. This year is a milestone. She (hopefully) won’t mind my saying it begins with a seven and ends with a zero. Seven. Tee. It looks good on her. Aging gracefully is easier when you know exactly who you are.

My mom still loves my dad, he still loves her, and they both still love TV. She dubbed her grandchildren The Fab Four, and joined Twitter and Snapchat to keep up. She’s into mah jongg, mimosas and crossword puzzles. She’s discerning in friendships and works at speaking her mind. If she says Yes or No, believe it. She stands by her principles without apology. She is stronger and tougher than I am. But I’m learning.

My daughter’s learning, too.

So at the risk of getting teary-eyed, I’ll say Thanks for being you, Mom. I’d bake a cake but that’s Nancy’s thing, not mine. You love me anyway.

I am grateful.

You were right.

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My mom Diane, me, my daughter Karly, and my sister Nancy. 

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If you enjoyed this post, my mother would tell you to subscribe to my newsletter here and you’ll receive a FREE sample of my memoir now. To really make Mom happy, *like* my Facebook page, and follow me on Twitter, and Instagram. I’m @juliecgardner. I also have an @juliecgardner Snapchat you can follow, but I’m not as good at it as my mom. True story.

9 thoughts on “Mother Knows Best

  1. Diane

    Happy birthday Diane! You are an incredible woman who raised two terrific daughters who are raising incredible kids. What a testament to you. ❤

  2. Dear Julie,
    This is a beautiful tribute to your life growing up with a caring, loving, conscious mother. Thank you for sharing your words and your story.
    Aparna

  3. That teary-eyed thing? It’s contagious. (Meaning, I’m crying!) What a beautiful tribute to what (who?) sounds like a beautiful lady. You are smart and lucky! xoxo

  4. Courtney

    Amazing how much we appreciate our mothers as we get older! This is beautiful- I do feel like the “lawn chairs in the bus” picture maybe should have an honorable mention

  5. This is beautiful. You are strong like your mother. I like the sad songs best, too.

  6. I’ve always loved the way you honor your parents (and your entire family) in your writing.

  7. Happy belated to your beautiful mom! I love the imagery with this post. It was like I was the third sister hanging out watching Gilligan’s Island and dodging the water bottle with you. And I agree with Nina, you write about family in such a heartfelt way.

  8. Okay, this makes me want to bawl my eyes out. Do you take in strays?

  9. nannyk

    I just read this again…because I LOVE (and am so thankful for) the memories! And I’m, as always, amazed by how incredible Mom and Dad’s parenting instincts were, in spite of their young age. I know they were just trying to survive. But along the way, they were intentional about gratitude, mindfulness, education and humor. There was no helicopter parenting. I was constantly thirsty or bleeding or both…and just had to deal with it :-). I learned to be less bossy; to let others have a voice and go before me. I learned, by their example, to get up early, work hard, make lists, and be diligent with my time. But along the way….the board games, camping, drive-in movies, girl scout meetings, Eskimo Pies, cleaning up after being TP’d…..were fun. They made sure we had fun. Without parenting books and classes and Pinterest. Imagine that!!

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