My Mama mapped out the road that she knows
Which hands you shake and which hands you hold
In my hand-me-down Mercury, ready to roll
She knew that I had to go”
-Sugarland, Already Gone
My mom moseyed into my bedroom and surveyed the surroundings. “You’re not really going all the way to Chapel Hill, are you?”
I followed her gaze towards my five jam-packed suitcases, my empty walls and closet, and smiled. “Mom… we’ve been through this. You know I’m going.”
She sat down on my bed with a sigh. “I know, I just wish it weren’t so far away. It’s going to be so hard to have you all the way down in North Carolina.”
And it was. For me actually, more than my mom (or maybe we cried an even amount of tears those first couple months). But given her apprehension prior to me leaving, my mom’s response to my teary, homesickness-filled phone calls always surprised me, not a “See, Megan, I told you it would be hard, why don’t you come home,” but rather “Meg, you’re going to be okay, it’s going to get better, I promise.”
My decision in November to stick it out and not transfer to a school back home, eventually going on to have the most incredible experience(s) of my life at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, certainly wasn’t a direct result of my mom’s encouragement on those phone calls. But looking back, had her words been something different, had they been that “Well, why don’t you try coming back, I understand it’s too hard,” I could’ve easily been influenced to consider a different path.
You may have noticed that most of my blog posts, not to mention my most recent book, are largely devoted to my father. Some of that comes from writing as a way of healing, of release, and of course a way to commemorate his impact on my life and ensure it lives on. My mom asked me once sort of jokingly, why I didn’t write about her nearly as much.
“You’re still here,” I told her, “I see and feel your impact every day, so I don’t have the same motivation to write about it.”
But there’s a lesson in that statement of course, one that does not go unnoticed as I continue to grieve my father and remember him the best way I know how. And it is that in an ideal world, you can write those things — and say those things — to your parents (or anyone) while they are still with you. So on this Mother’s Day, I’m choosing to do so.
It’s no secret that I am far more introverted than my mom; She (like my sisters) is always the life of the party, while I tend to sit back and chuckle (and sometimes even admire) her antics. The funny thing though, is like the example with my first few months of college, it’s my mom’s quieter presence in my life, her unwavering support, that has always been most important to me… and at so many times, absolutely critical.
Her soft-spoken yet fervent encouragement was no more evident than in the months immediately following my dad’s death. Always there when I needed someone on the other side of a teary phone call, always willing to listen and reassure me. When I developed piriformis syndrome that same year, in the throws of near-constant sciatica pain, she made it clear she felt that pain along with me, researching every possible solution and relief on the internet even more than I did. Upon arriving at her house one day, she presented me with a ‘piriformis pillow.’ “It’s for sitting,” she said, “the company said it’s supposed to be a huge help as it takes pressure off the muscles. It was $75 but I figure it would be worth it if it helps.”
It did — the pillow as much as knowing my mom was there for me doing everything she could.
By the time my move to Tucson became a reality, I didn’t need the pillow as much for relief, but I sure as heck wasn’t ready in my still-recovering condition to drive across the country. So my mom did. 27 hours… countless miles… all in the driver’s seat. I often mark Tucson as the place that ultimately allowed for healing — from my dad’s death, from my injury, from the darkness of 2013. Fitting that it was my mom who made it possible for me to get there.
She also made sure I had a partner to continue with in my following of March Madness — not that it was a stretch for her, loving college basketball as she did, but my dad had left a void and she made sure I didn’t feel it. She cheered on my Tar Heels with me… and of course, against their rivals.
I remember a time years back, before my dad and I got close again, before he really “got me,” where he joked about how he was going to root for Duke in that year’s NCAA Championship game. “I’ve always been a Duke fan, Meg, can’t change that now.”
For the record, a few years later, he did come around and see that a part of supporting his daughter was understanding her team’s bitter enemies, but my mom….
We went out together to watch that same championship game. Nothing was spoken about who we were rooting for until someone from across the table asked her.
“Oh, I’m rooting against Duke,” she quickly declared, “just like I always do. My kid went to Carolina, I have to root against Duke!”
Her statements needed no encouragement, no reminder from the Tar-Heel-clad daughter sitting next to her; they were simply bred from 10 years of supporting me in my college journey, and seeing firsthand what my team (and that rivalry) meant to me. Even when most members of my family (born and bred Badger fans) give me grief for cheering on the Tar Heels, my mom will defend me and cheer the team on with me, time and time again.
My mom has been there for the big stuff too, like when I needed a place to live when my condo sold five months before closing on my newly built house. She’d just moved into her own new house and so when the prospect of me needing a place to stay was initially brought up, she’d supported me staying with my stepmom who had much more room. What my stepmom also had though, was a very sick dog who in her last days, took out her pain on me with a major bite. With two pups of my own bound to set the hurting dog off even more, my mom didn’t hesitate for a second to open her apartment-style basement to the three of us (okay, she did make me write up a contract :)). I’ve never appreciated more her love and support and knowing I had a place to go.
I’ve paid her back in most ways I can, particularly taking her on many trips both in the US and overseas. But much of the reason I do this is also because she’s one of my favorite people to travel with. From Italy, to Paris, to Nice, to Sedona, she’s always been up for an adventure, especially one that involves drinking a good glass of wine at the end. I’ve loved how our travels have brought us closer, offering the opportunity for long talks, or great stories, like the time that exiled Libyan prince bought us drinks in Rome.
My mom likes to tell me I’m most like my dad, and that much is undoubtedly true — my memory ability, my love of sports, my sense of humor is all very similar to his. And yet when I describe myself to others, I often say I am proud to be a combination of both my parents, particularly in my job. You’d think as someone who works in customer happiness and sales that I would point to my success coming from the best salesman I’ve ever met (my dad); and yet it was watching my mom manage the front desk at the private airport in our city that taught me the true value of customer relationships — remembering each guest’s name, and more importantly their story, stepping up to help them with the most mundane or unique tasks, sharing jokes and laughs to make them feel at home as they awaited their next destination. As I continue to build relationships with my customers, it is her example that I hope shines through.
Being there… It’s what she does. When I need a laugh, or a shoulder to cry on, or just to vent after a long day, I know my mom has my back… and usually a glass of wine to offer along with that as well.
So to her today especially, I say “cheers,” and of course: