Oh my, where do I begin? My mom and I are very close. I haven’t written a piece about her, both because – like it’s sometimes difficult to buy gifts for those closest to you, so is writing about them – and because I was afraid it would sound too gushy, or too typical – my mom is the greatest mom in the whole world. Not to say that I could today but, I will give it my best shot.
I was born to this woman many, many years ago, who, at the tender age of 19 was so scared that she asked my dad to drive around the hospital while in labor, because she didn’t want to go inside. According to my dad’s version of the story, he said, “oh no – you’re going in now.” Well obviously she made it inside, cause I’m here to tell it. I can only imagine what she was thinking about this whole thing, and giving birth in those days meant dad got to wait in the waiting area, so she was for the most part alone. I was much better informed when I had my children, and I was blessed to have loved ones there, but still – the first go round was pretty scary. (And so was the second time, but this is isn’t about me.)
The younger years. Having a young mom meant she was hip, and cool, and yet struggling to figure it all out. Mom didn’t exactly come from a warm childhood – the household she grew up in was sharply different than mine, and she took her experiences and reshaped the kind of life she wanted for her child, and herself. My mom and dad divorced when I was 5. It matters a lot less why, today. Mom became a single mom – one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Money was tight, yet she worked night and day to provide – so that I never wanted for anything. She supported my relationships with my dad and his family without bitterness – another difficult thing for divorced parents to do (and to this – I can attest).
My friends all loved her, thought she was so cool. She threw me the best sleepovers and birthday parties. When I found a stray cat with my dad, she let me keep her. Her friends were pretty cool too. She had a friend with a wooden leg that I found absolutely fascinating, a friend who taught me how to hold my drink inside my straw with my finger (I thought that was awesome), a male friend who wore makeup and “acted a little strange,” and a friend whose daughter became my first and oldest friend for life. I rarely got to see her at work, but one night she took me to the restaurant where she worked, where she and her girlfriend played and sang “Day by Day” on the piano. I thought she was a star. She was my everything, my mom, I loved her like the she was the world, and I had this profound and irrational fear that I would lose her.
The middle years. Mom remarried when I was 11. My stepfather was warm and loving, but firm. My mom was loving but not altogether tolerant of the insolent little Fury that I was. She was still one of the youngest moms among my circle of friends, and my middle and high school friends all thought she was so cool. Cool to them, but annoyingly old-fashioned to me. She taught me that girls don’t call boys, and I wasn’t allowed to wear black.
When I complained about some injustice by a friend, she’d piss me off by making excuses for them. I just wanted her to take my side, and her efforts to make me see someone else’s side went grossly unappreciated.
She and my stepdad owned a restaurant, and I was expected to work there – first as a busgirl, and later as a waitress. I think Mom’s 30s must’ve been tough. She was the “cook” during the morning and afternoons, and had a wicked temper when things weren’t going well. She once threw a whole carton of eggs across the kitchen because the yolks kept breaking on the grill. Now THAT was cool. She was legendary for her temper, that guests could sometimes hear her yelling from the dining area. And add to that, issues with the husband and a teenage daughter with a major attitude. I don’t know how she did it.
But me – her only child – went for nothing. There was always shopping, and clothes from Macy’s and The Limited. We’d go to the King of Prussia mall, and mom would drive
me crazy around the parking lot for what seemed like an hour, but was really only 20 minutes, to find the closest parking space. We’d eat burgers at Houlihan’s and their colossal Cappuccino Cake. And she and my stepdad dragged me out to fine restaurants with their friends all the time. I didn’t know how well I ate, until I became an adult. They gave me their old Audi – a 1977 Fox – and taught me how to drive stick (a very important life skill, btw).
She let me go on my first date at 15, at which I begged her to please take down the Christmas tree (it was February, after all) so my date wouldn’t know (but he did, and soon everyone in school would be wishing me a Merry Christmas). It was her I confided in about intimacy with my first serious boyfriend, and to my horror she didn’t get mad. She cried.
She supported me through the heartaches, laughed at me when I was being insolent, hugged me often, made sure I knew she loved me more than she loved herself, and didn’t let me get away with anything. One morning after a serious party, I was suffering from my first real
underaged hangover. She barged into my room and informed me I was going to work anyway. No slack. (Worst day ever.)
And when I told her I wanted to transfer away from my safe little college in central PA, she never once questioned my decision to move to the largest city in the country to attend NYU. She finagled the money for tuition (with my dad, of course), drove me to my dorm, helped me unpack, went food shopping with me, told me I should learn to play an instrument, and asked me if I could tell if a man was gay. I’m still not sure why the latter was important to her, unless she was worried I’d fall in love with some guy who really wasn’t my type.
She saw me through relationships, both good and bad, and somehow bit her tongue as I descended into a dangerous life with the wrong crowd. That must have been the hardest thing she had to weather with me, and I don’t know how she did it. We worked seamlessly together for years in her current restaurant, until I stopped to start a family.
The later years. She helped me plan my first wedding, shopped for the dress, and walked me down the aisle alongside my dad. She let me go. She became something greater than just my mom, she became a grandmother to my son, and later my daughter. My children adore her, and she is that special Nannie that they will always remember and tell stories about. She was there the day I took Ava to the hospital, and she was strong while I cried. She stood by me and held me up, when their father tried to take them from me. She was with me, and felt helpless for the first time as this was one thing she couldn’t fix for me. And she felt the same joy I felt, when I reunited with my first love, and married him in the courtyard of her restaurant two years ago.
My mom is an amazing woman. It sounds so simple, so typical, so cliché. But she IS. She has been on her own most of her life, she has made her own way without parents who would pick her up and dust her off. She is a survivor. She is strong. She is generous. She is unique. She is creative. She built a restaurant from a dusty old lean-to to a beautiful, eclectic and colorful “home” for the many guests who come to enjoy the fruits of her labor – her menu, her food, her terrific staff – that is still running strong 25 years later. People love her, so many guests have become friends beyond the business, and so many of them have embraced me, just because I am “Gracie’s daughter.” Some became family, who we have loved and lost. It’s not cold in her shadow. Because she never let me be there.
She gave me many gifts –most importantly the gift of life – but the most important gifts she gave me are those you cannot see. All that she is, was imprinted on me. I am not weak, I am not broken, I am not afraid. I am capable. I am strong. I am loved. I am – because she IS.
Thank you Mom, for giving so much of yourself so that I can be and for being my best friend. I love you more than you will ever know.