I guess in some ways it would’ve made more sense to write this post on Mother’s Day. I could have, but I didn’t. Because although you have been a mom to me these past 39 years, you’ve also stood where a dad should’ve stood all these years, too. When you’re a single parent, you don’t think about taking off the “Mom” hat to put on the “Dad” hat, do you? You just see what needs done and said and paid and corrected and kissed and tackled and you do it. All. Alone. Every. Day.
Last week, I glanced at our faces in the mirrored dining room when we laughed, not sure which was yours and which was mine. Our eyes, our hair color, our size, our smile. Have two mothers and daughters ever looked more alike?
When my newborn hand first wrapped around your barely 19-year-old finger, you wrapped your love in determination and sealed it with a kiss on my tiny black-haired head. That kiss was full of expectations for how we would get through. Starting with the first time the babysitter would pry my little arms and legs from around you so you could go to work. You’d be brave, telling me and all my tears I could too and then run to your car crying on your way because you hated leaving me scared and sad. What hat were you wearing then? “Mom” or “Dad”? Or were you just knowing you had bills to pay and our mouths to feed and if you didn’t work, who would?
You had expectations for me the summer before Kindergarten when we took a walk on Daytona Beach and you told me things would be different. I was becoming a big girl and would have to go to school and pull my chin out of my chest and make friends. And you knew I could do it. I believed I could too because you said so.
You had expectations for me when Amy, who had every toy she wanted, made fun of me because I didn’t even have a dad. You didn’t say all I’m sure you wanted to say about her, nor did you justify our situation. You helped me take pity on her because she had toys, all right, but she didn’t have a relationship like ours.
You had expectations for me in 3rd grade when Carla said I looked like a chipmunk with my buck teeth hanging over my lip. You didn’t rush to the orthodontist and throw some braces on me to boost my self-esteem or tell me buck was the new beautiful. You expected me not to take myself too seriously and suggested that I go with the theme and dress up as one of the chipmunks for Halloween. So out came the over-sized sweatshirt and paint for Alvin’s signature “A”. Trick or treat!
You had expectations for me in 5th grade (Stella’s age) when I had to start setting my own alarm clock for school and getting myself out of bed, ready, and out the door on time. I couldn’t miss the bus because you were already at work and couldn’t leave to come get me if I did. I think I ran to the bus stop many mornings that year, climbing those bus steps panting and wind blown. I may have even chased it down a few times, running across Forest View Drive to the last stop in our neighborhood. (Punctuality was never my strength. Wonder where I got that from?!)
You had expectations for me in 7th grade when I didn’t make the cheerleading squad in spite of being favored for a spot going into tryouts. The teachers picked the girls from “good families” and who knew what mayhem I might introduce considering the kind of family I came from. You gave me strict instructions that I was to be as glad for the girls who won as I would’ve been for myself. That I shouldn’t dare talk badly about the judging or any of the other girls who beat me, regardless of what I thought of their “barely off the ground toe touches” and “horribly uncoordinated dancing.”
You had expectations for me in the summers from 5th grade on. I was to be out of bed by 9 AM, check my to do list for the day, and get busy completing it before you got home that afternoon. I was also to read Five Little Peppers and How They Grew and list every word I didn’t know the meaning of. Then I was to look up those words in the dictionary and write out their definitions. (Thankfully, you let this one expectation go after awhile!)
You had expectations for me in high school when one of my teachers, who by all other accounts was a nice person, had the audacity to say a woman could never be President of the United States because she would constantly be changing her mind about what color the drapes should be in the White House. (Even typing those words now still makes my blood boil a little too much.) I don’t think I’d ever heard someone criticize and demean my gender like that because you had taught me, not in a man bashing way, nor in a we-need-men-as-much-as-a-fish-needs-a-bicycle way, women were as competent as men. Didn’t everyone think that? I knew you couldn’t care less what color the drapes were in the White House, but you were a woman who could capably lead our house and your office, with a multi-membered staff and several departments, because you were smart and decisive and strong. And you expected the same from me.
For 26 years under your roof, you told me what I should be and you lived it for me like a mom should and like a dad should’ve. My old high school teacher might be surprised that you raised me to be something better than President. God used all you invested in me and expected of me to help make me a Christian woman.
Happy Father’s Day, Mom. For all the days you did what needed to be done, said what I needed to hear, worked your fingers to the bone, studied into the wee hours of the morning to earn your degrees, stayed up late to wash clothes and floors and dishes, and lived the expectations you held me to. You became part of who I am. And I couldn’t be prouder to be so much you that I can’t tell us apart.
*Some names have been changed in this post to protect the guilty:)