An Open Letter To Mom


Bernie’s daughter, my mother. London, 1970.

Dear Mom,

I sent your Mother’s Day card yesterday. Spoiler: It’s pretty ordinary. My message is a paragraph long. In it, I wish you a happy Mother’s Day and tell you I’m excited to see you in a few weeks at the wedding and I’ll bring your gift then. Love you, love you. The end.

As soon as I dropped it in the mailbox, I knew I made a mistake.

Mom, you are anything but ordinary. And I know you’d be perfectly fine with just a card, which, since I’m going for full disclosure here, isn’t a real card, but actually a piece of stationery I had in my desk at the office. Oof. I’m sorry! It’s been a crazy week! But you know that because we’ve been talking about it, and you’ve been texting me saying it will all be alright and that coworkers complain, they just do, and it comes with the territory of trying something new. But still. #mothersdayfail

So I’ve been thinking. Why do we even send Mother’s Day cards in the first place? What we should be doing is writing thank you letters. I have so many reasons to thank you. I don’t even know where to start, but I feel like it’s important that I do. Even though I tell you I love you, I wonder sometimes if you know that I know how fortunate I am, how much you shaped me by being the person you are — by being a scholar and a caregiver, a feminist and a cheerleader; a speaker, a listener, a confidante.

This is in no way complete, but here’s a list of beliefs I have — things I know to be true — all because of you, Mom.

I’ll participate.  When I was in seventh grade, it was your idea to skip whatever we were doing and go see Bill Clinton on his whistle-stop tour. And in high school, when a local politician guy blew me off, you were the one who encouraged me to write a letter to the editor. You know that organization for kids called Do Something? You were/are my Do Something. You empowered me and got it in my head that I could make a difference by doing.

I’ll never smoke a cigarette.  I won’t. Ever. And you know what? I’ve never been tempted to, not even in high school or college. When I was in preschool, possibly before then, you told me they were dangerous and that was The Word. You taught me to respect myself and my body and your wishes, and I heard all those things loud and clear. How’d you do that?

I’ll laugh out loud — loudly.  When something tickles you, people know it. You don’t always laugh like that, but when you do, you don’t hold back. It used to embarrass me in public (“Mo-ommmm!”), though now I’m realizing I do it, too. Not purposefully, of course. Just happens. Uncontrollably.

I’ll never work a nine-to-five.  You love your job, and I love that. It’s not “work” to you. You believe in what you do and how it will impact other people’s lives. You were proud and supportive during my magazine years, but you helped me realize it was time to quit, you know. Your passion inspired me to search for something more in my career — and I think I’m on my way to finding it.

I’ll go for it.  Remember when we were in Budapest, at the baths, and you didn’t skip a beat when it was time to bare all and take a dip? Eeep! All of the sudden, I was all self-conscious and you were all “When in Rome…” You’re right. Your why-not attitude that day, and many days before that, inspires me when I’m out of my comfort zone. You help me go, jump in and live how ever the moment requires. 

I’ll make a scene.  Related: Part of living is doing what you feel like doing, even if it’s silly to other people. I learned this from you, too. I’m specifically thinking of our power walks through the neighborhood, when we pump our arms like an aerobics class, like we’re in front of a mirror and not passing by dining room windows. Someone asked us once if we were praying (was that guy joking?). We kind of are on those walks, though, I think. We let go, we lead each other through the moves. It’s freeing. And we don’t care who’s watching. 

I’ll always be a cheerleader.  You’re an optimist, and it rubbed off. If I’m nervous, I call you. If I’m scared, you’re there to say I can do it. I count on you for that, and you never let me down. You were a cheerleader in high school and in college (I know, if it was a different time, you would have played sports), but what’s wrong with being a cheerleader? You mother that way, as my cheerleader. And I’ll mother that way, too, when my time comes. All because of you.

Thanks, Mom. I love you, love you, love you.