Today, my mother turned sixty-five years old. As many of you know, my mom is my rock and a woman I love more than I can even articulate. What you may not know, however, is just how incredible she is. She's a woman who is unwaveringly optimistic, has faced countless obstacles and difficulties in life and never once chooses to blame, and who goes out of her way to better the lives of others by giving...she's always giving. She's the woman who befriends the Vietnamese couple at her nail salon to the point of being in the delivery room when they had their first child, providing the support of a friend...and now holds the title of the adorable little girl's "other grandmother." She's the woman who got her college degree and Master's after having kids and devoted her career to early childhood development and children with special needs. She's the woman who sends out invitations for family talent shows, girls-only movie days, and group caroling in Santa hats. She's the woman with multiple children and grandchildren who never misses a beat. She's the woman who makes everything in her vicinity beautiful, special, funny, and extraordinarily loved.
Back in March, I emailed my sister and asked her opinion on a gift idea that I stumbled upon on Pinterest. "Could we even pull it off?", I wondered. She gave me the green light on her support, but politely told me that I would have to orchestrate. (My sister home-schools four boys - needless to say, her plate is more than full!) After also emailing my brothers, my sister-in-law, & my stepdad with what I had in mind, we got to work. The goal was to collect 65 memories from people in my mother's life and present them to her in individual envelopes with each letter acting as a trip down memory lane - and a way for her to see how the rest of us see and remember her. My stepdad reached out to her church community and my siblings collected memories amongst their individual families. And I waited until May to make my big move...remember this visit? Envision my sister on the phone with my mom in my bedroom and there I was, hiding in the bathroom snapping pictures of my mom's address book like some crazed lunatic trying to beat the clock. The day after she left, I sent out letters and emails explaining our goal. I assured everyone that even a scribbled sentence of a memory would suffice. Meanwhile, I had to get creative in other ways. For example, my mom forwarded me an email chain of her colleague's newborn twins and I casually copied down the listed emails. Sneaky, sneaky. My biggest fear was that we would fall short of 65 memories - which would have felt so half-hearted - and which would be the complete opposite of anything my mother has done & does for others.
So then the memories started trickling in... Since I didn't know how my pending living situation would turn out, I gave out my work address. I felt like I was ten again and back at camp when mail-delivery-time meant the world. I'd squeal if I saw anything with my name fall to my desk. I'd quickly open it and immediately turn into a blubbering puddle, reaching for the nearest tissue before someone saw me and assumed Excel had really done me in. Boy did those letters far exceed my expectations; she heard from family, friends all the way back from elementary school, & old and current colleagues. Letters arrived from as far as California on colorful stationery, in heartfelt emails, and messages typed on a typewriter in an assisted living home. A couple memories were even encased in old photographs. Stories flooded my desk...the time she was pregnant with me and threw a Halloween party as a way to show her friends all at once that she had gotten braces...but, lo and behold, my brother ran into her before it started and she was the host with the fat lip. Or the time when she and my stepdad had to unload the entire Bronco truck at the Canadian border that was packed to the brim for a family trip to Prince Edward Island. Or what it meant to her grandchildren to look out at their school concerts and always see her there. Or how she helped friends get through losses and difficult times with her compassion and humor. Or memories from us kids and all the little ways she made us feel like we had the best mom in the world. As my oldest brother wrote in his final sentence, "my biggest memory is love."
To say we met our goal would be an understatement. We ended up with ninety-three memories...an amount that left me speechless. I combined some and sealed them in the 65 envelopes and mailed them in a big gold box to my stepdad. He presented them to her on our behalf this past weekend while they were on a mini vacation. Little did she know what was in store! :) My mom texted me on Friday saying she was ten letters and a box of Kleenex in, wanting to know how on earth we pulled this off. I called her - and we both just sat on the phone crying...
Happy Birthday, Mom. In case you haven't figured it out, we really, really love you.
photos taken by my stepdad
P.S. the article that inspired it all.
until next time,