My mom never says, “I love you.” She’s not really into hugs either. She runs mini-marathons and drinks huge glasses of green vegetable protein and works exhaustingly long shifts in the emergency room as a nurse.
She volunteers at soup kitchens and cleans the house like it’s a contest. Her toes are always pedicured, her hair a sleek black. And she moves like she’ll never get everything done if she slows down.
She used to work at a Pizza Hut in a dusty Kansas town, where she moved with my Dad when she was 18 years old. She also worked at a shoe store and had to scrape together change to buy milk and cried when she broke my Dad’s guitar because it was all he had.
When my parents moved back to Indiana after their post-high school stint above Oklahoma, they had a baby and vague ideas about parenthood. Before I was two (and before my mom was 22), my sister was born. And there we all were in a little house South of town where the neighbors had planted flowers to bloom out of an extra toilet stool and bathtub set.
By 1986, there were three of us little girls, demanding grilled cheese sandwiches, Cabbage Patch dolls and energy draining attention. My sisters and I would suck down Yoo Hoos while mom braided our hair and in the winter we dripped out of a spotless porcelin tub onto cream-colored linoleum floors to dry, towel-wrapped at the foot of a roaring, old-fashioned woodstove.
In the humid Indiana summers, we piled into scorching cars with steamy, sticky plastic seats, and headed to the pool loaded up with brilliantly colored beach towels, pails and 45 SPF suntan lotion. She buckled seatbelts, slathered sunscreen, settled arguments, dried runny noses, untangled hair, and did it all looking tan and fabulous in a bikini.
When we were very small, mom did something I didn’t realize was amazing until many years later. She went to school to become a registered nurse with three children under the age of 10, a part-time job and not a lot of money. I remember her sprawled out on her bed with flashcards and bulky, 10-pound textbooks open to lines of yellow highlighting unpronounceable words.
Between shuttling us to gymnastics and tap dancing and girl scouts and soccer, she studied the dog-eared cards and mastered her craft. She dusted even the crevices of the coat rack and made a modest house sparkle like a palace. My mom applies the “just do it” philosophy to everything, neither making excuses or tolerating laziness. A complaint rarely crosses her lips. Her exhaustive humility churned out a driven, dedicated, selfless lady who devoted herself to helping others and raising well-adjusted, happy kids.
My mom never studied to be a mother — she just was. When other mothers succumbed to empty nest syndrome, my mom was painting my new apartment walls taupe and transforming my old room into a library. She’s the most active, forward moving person I’ve ever met. She has constantly sacrificed her possessions, time, and energy to give her daughters everything to be strong, honorable, Godly women. She’s helped send me on safari’s and cruises down European canals, while she’s never been overseas herself. She always picks the perfect stocking stuffers and makes the best homemade macaroni and cheese. And I’ve never felt so cared for as when I’m home sick with the flu and she wants nothing more in life than for me to feel better.
If I mention I need something in a phone call, it’s usually waiting in a FedEx box at my door several days later. I’ve learned all I know about humanity and service from this amazing woman. There’s a reason why her co-workers say she’s the best nurse in the ER, and why she never fails to serve me up a dose of healthy perspective on my privileged, blessed life. Future mothers of the world ought to take notes on my mom because she’s just a natural. As the card I sent her yesterday said: “People who know you are lucky – but not as lucky as the ones who call you mom.”
So she doesn’t say, “I love you,” but somehow I hear it loud and clear.