A Mother’s Day celebration of brave, badass single moms everywhere.
When I was a child, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with my mother.
Sometimes, the sound of her keys unlocking the door late at night was all I heard from her. When my parents’ marriage ended, my mother worked day and night to support us. I remember her handwriting — from all the little notes she left us about dinner and chores — better than I remember her beauty regimens or her favorite meals.
I used to wish that things were different. If she hadn’t worked so much, she could have been home to teach me the things that moms usually make sure to teach their daughters. I used to feel like I missed out.
But now I realize that even though my mother didn’t have a lot of time to spend with me, she was always teaching me something important.
1. My mother didn’t teach me secret recipes.
There’s no secret to rice or ramen or spaghetti. She showed me how to cook ground beef and pour a jar of sauce on top of it. My sister and I would take turns picking out a box of cereal every week, and we were never allowed to have more than one bowl for breakfast. We rarely got to pick what we wanted for dinner. Sometimes she left a box of macaroni and cheese on the table for us to cook for dinner while she was at work.
I don’t have family recipes to pass down to my children, but I teach them my mother’s sense of duty and responsibility. My exhausted mother rarely indulged us with a comforting home-cooked meal, but she worked tirelessly to make sure that we were never hungry.
2. My mother didn’t often have time to play with me.
In my fondest playtime memories, she is absent. I remember when she’d emerge from her bedroom, tired and groggy, preparing to leave us for the entire day again. She never sat and played with dolls or pretended to have tea parties. If I asked her to play, she would say, “Where is your sister? I have to get ready.”
And so my sister became my companion, an extension of myself, my other half.
Instead of waiting for time with my mother, my sister and I took care of each other. We woke, we cooked, we played, we cleaned, and we fell asleep always together. The love we built throughout our childhood made us inseparable. My mother made sure my sister and I took care of each other. She couldn’t entertain me, but I was never alone and she made sure that I always knew that.
3. We didn’t take family vacations.
My mother was too busy working. My summers were spent in our apartment or outside playing with neighborhood kids. Sometimes I spent the whole day at the restaurant where she worked.
We didn’t have many beach days or family trips, but when she had the time to take us to the park for a picnic, it was enchanting. My mother could make a frugal day seem like a lavish outing. When she would take us to McDonald’s or let us get ice cream, I felt like royalty. My childhood memories aren’t filled with vacations or grand adventures, but my sweet mother showed me how to find joy in the simplest things.
4. My mother didn’t make sure life was easy for me.
She worked and slept and worked and slept for most of my childhood. She didn’t have time to shield me from many things kids shouldn’t know or see. There were times when both of us were deeply hurt and broken. She couldn’t stop the world to soothe me, but she showed me how to find the will to carry on. When my mother’s heart was broken, when she grieved and when she was weary, she never let her sorrow overcome her. She faced each day with determination.
She showed me that through hard days, you can just go through the motions. On other days, your will can be strong and steady. And on really bad days, you can get through even if you barely make it. I never knew the feeling of a coddled, carefree childhood, but my unstoppable mother showed me how to dig deep and find my own strength.
5. My mother didn’t have time to teach me how to be a “lady.”
When it came to navigating traditional aspects of femininity, I was pretty much on my own. She didn’t show me how to put on makeup. The pretty dresses she owned became dusty on hangers in her closet because there was rarely an occasion to wear them.
What I learned from my mother, though, was how to be a bold woman.
She fearlessly showed me her strong yet breakable heart, time after time. She taught me how to rise to an occasion: crisis, joy, terror, or celebration and look straight into it, ready and able.
My mother danced in our living room. She wept in our kitchen. She raged when she was angry. She fought when she was attacked. Her laughter echoed through our home when she was joyful.
She wasn’t always right and she wasn’t always wrong. But my bold, authentic mother was always a woman, always herself.
Now, I have children of my own and I have precious time to spend with them.
The mornings when my tired mother would emerge from her bedroom are long gone too. Now my mother is retired, and she gets to sleep as late as she wants. But like every mother, she often wonders if she did enough for me. She worries that we missed so much and tells me she wishes she could go back in time.
When I look back, though, I see an unbreakable, courageous woman. I see the kind of strength that builds a legacy. I see a mother who didn’t have a lot and gave everything she had. I see love poured out through hard work and small joys.
I hope my children say the same about me.