Friday, August 10, 2007

Milestones And Yardsticks: How To Measure A Good Life

Today my mother turns sixty five. A milestone birthday. That's her up there in the photo, taken by my grandfather when she was two years old.

There are so many things that people use as ways to measure the successes and events in their lives: jobs, marriages, health, wealth, children, grandchildren, parents, friends, family, births, deaths, etc. I believe my mother has been fortunate enough to have had many things in her life that would be measured favorably by anyone’s yardstick.

So what milestones and yardsticks does she have to measure her good life?

Well, at a very young age, my mother honed her exquisite skills of caring; she was a mother long before she had children of her own. As the oldest of four girls, she was often given the responsibility to take care of her sisters. They were all at different times her shadow, her charges, her worries, her projects, her little helpers, her stars. Each had their own special qualities and each, to this day, hold such importance in her heart that they can never be erased or replaced even though many miles separate them. Her heart still beats for each one of them and I know until her last day, she will consider each of them an integral part of her being; I hear it in her voice when she talks about them and know they will always be her little sisters, no matter how old they all get.

She was also fortunate to have had two wonderful parents. Living modestly and caring for four young girls, the home was filled with my grandfather’s guitar playing, the girls' singing, my grandmother sewing, all of them learning how to cook. She often quotes my grandfather (just yesterday I got to hear one of his eccentric anecdotal quotes) when trying to make a point or give reason for how something is “just so” because Poppy said it. As for my grandmother, she gave much of herself and often didn’t express or heed her own feelings, but was able to spend the last of her days with my mother as her confidant, lunch date, Targets shopping buddy (that’s how Nanny said the name of the store - with an "s" on the end) and armchair traveling companion.

Who can stand one man in a lifetime? My mother. Who can stand two? Yup, mother again. Two husbands; different as night and day. The current one, who she has been married to for twenty-seven years, was quite taken with her when they met. He charmed her, dated her, married her, took care of her, annoyed her and loved her. Still to this day, he calls her the smartest and most beautiful woman he knows. He often states that out loud, adding “anyone who doesn’t see it, has something wrong with them” but typically throws in a few colorful words to describe those people. The first husband was my father; the handsome high school love who was a smooth, entertaining, talented cook who always gave more than he had, filled the home with friends, family and music and who loved his “Tabby” as he called her, until the day he died. He also came with a wonderful family; how many people do you know who not only like, but love their in-laws??

Her next great accomplishment (her words, not mine) are her children. That’s right; me and Michael. I was the first and Michael came a year later and since the day of our births, she’s been our biggest fan. The one who has been there for us through everything. The one who sucked the watermelon pit out of Michael’s nose (no, I did not put it there) and fished through my poop for days to find the pinky ring I swallowed. Now that’s love. Thank God we no longer shove things up our noses or swallow items that don’t belong in our mouths. I guess when a mother says “don’t put that in your mouth, you’ll swallow it!”, one should listen.

Then we grew up. And surprisingly, she’s still our biggest fan. And proud?? All you have to do is listen to her speak. Michael, the responsible one, has traveled the path of success his entire life. Everything he touches becomes better. From when he was young, he was industrious and “just like Poppy” as my mother used to say; able to both swing a hammer or spin a wrench with the greatest of ease. He’s not only a husband, father, homeowner and successful business owner; he’s her SON. He might not think anyone is looking or noticing, but when she talks about him, her whole being glows with pride about all he is and all he's done. Her voice is filled with resolute admiration. He can build a dog house and she’d look upon it as the modern day Taj Mahal (yes, he really is that good). Michael takes up a good part of that yardstick.

Me? I’m the generous, mouthy, opinionated nomad. Never content with the mundane, I’ve always been a bit of a dabbler. Always employed, but over a lifetime, probably in nineteen different jobs/careers/callings/vocations. When my mother told me I didn’t “have the luxury" to sit on my ass and wait for the job I really wanted, I sat; and I got the job I wanted. And she of course, was thrilled. When I came home from work one day to tell her I was quitting my job to move to Kentucky by the end of the week; she supported me. A few years later, when I again came home from work and told her I was quitting my job to go on the road with Ed (again, by the end of the week), she supported me. Support doesn’t always mean “in agreement with” but I knew that if I did it, she’d be behind me. And she was. If you think Michael built the Taj Majal, after listening to her talk about me, you’d come away thinking I was the female Sir Edmund Hillary; driving North America with the same aplomb in which he scaled Mt. Everest. So I think I’m probably a good part of the yardstick too.

In addition to her great children (modest, aren’t I?) she includes my Eddie as part of her life; loving him completely for his kind words, gentle ways and superior Scrabble skills. But the one who really has us beat is my sister-in-law, who just yesterday my mother described as “Spectacular," "Beautiful” and “Looking like she was ready to model on a runway.” Oh, and did I mention she was the one who gave my mother her life’s greatest joy? Three grandsons.

Fuggedaboutit! They knock Michael and I off the yardstick completely. That was a big milestone, becoming a grandmother. Three times, no less. My uterus could shrivel up and blow away for all she cares. She’s got grandchildren. (Thanks Pam, for saving my uterus!) Not a day goes by that my mother doesn’t have a story about one of them. The oldest gently corrects her because she’s not savvy in the ways of skateboarding, PlayStation and some other "kid" things, the middle one likes his free time in her art room and the youngest has decided that because he gets to shovel, rake, make mud and do construction work in Nana’s back yard, that his new favorite word is “debris.”

So I’d say at sixty-five, she has a lot to be thankful for. She has passed many milestones during the journey of her life and has a yardstick that seemingly goes on forever, which she doesn’t even really need, to measure all the blessings that have been bestowed upon her.

So Mommy, after the party is over and presents unwrapped, and you close the day on your 65th year, know that you are entertaining, sought after, needed, wanted, admired, cherished, emulated and most of all, loved. I believe I can speak for us all when I say that you add immeasurable joy to our lives and not a moment would be the same were you not to be in it.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful tribute to your mother. Happy Birthday and God bless your family.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written (as always) - you just described what is known as unconditional love. Fantastic tribute. Love you! Jules xo

MeHereNow said...

Did you really have to make me cry this early on Sunday morning?? Beautifully written.

Happy Birthday Mom from across the Atlantic.

Sri said...

So beautifully written... though very very late - belated happy birthday mom - from across many oceans. From India