Celebrating a woman on her milestone birthday

My mother’s birthday is today, March 21. It’s a milestone birthday — the first of three to hit our family this year. First mom, then me, then my dad. Dad, who is going to turn 90 in November, is looking forward to obtaining his goal. My mom, who is a full decade younger, not so much. And, if I am being perfectly candid, I’m not thrilled with my looming date this May either.

Whether we are anticipating them or not, those birthdays are going to happen and we might as well celebrate them, because as they say — the alternative isn’t a better option, and my mom has much to celebrate.

I’ve never taken my mom for granted, but I don’t think I fully appreciated her, not only as a mother, but as a role model. Recently I have spent time reflecting on her and the woman she is.

She was a stay-at-home mom until I was a pre-teen, caring for her five children with a sixth to come. Then she decided to shift gears and attend college to become a teacher. (Maybe I am giving her too much credit for this endeavor; maybe she just needed to get out of the house!) Whatever her motivation, it had to have been daunting to go back to school. She graduated from high school, married my dad almost immediately, had me one year later and then two of my brothers in quick succession. Her college classes would be filled with students nearly half her age, yet she wasn’t intimidated.

And somehow she did it — she earned a bachelor’s in history, while raising six kids. The typewriter keys would tap into the wee hours of the morning as she labored over term papers. Often she would pull all-nighters dividing her time between studying, baking cookies, mending our clothes (did I mention four of my siblings are boys and constantly in need of patches) packing lunches, and the list goes on.

She became a teacher and her students couldn’t have been luckier. My siblings and I had to share our mother, sometimes begrudgingly, but we pitched in when she needed help changing bulletin boards or laminating nametags or flash cards or whatever else an elementary school teacher needs. She brought fun to the classroom, but her students learned. She was regularly the most requested teacher and even after retirement, she was in demand as a reading specialist.

Despite her dedication to her students, she was always there for us, her other kids. She attended basketball and baseball games, track meets, awards dinners, school plays or whatever else we were doing. She drove us to swim lessons, sports practice, friend’s houses and the skating rink. I can still hear the roar of her Fiat as she came to pick us up from wherever we were. Our house was also the neighborhood hangout and she served up dinner on a nightly basis for whomever showed up at the table.

Our vacations were camping trips (what else do you do with a family of eight) — and though mom had all of the chores that she had at home without any of the conveniences — she never complained. I remember those family trips as some of the best times of my life. While money was in short supply, our lives couldn’t have been richer. And that’s because mom and dad made it clear that we were their first priority and always would be.

Mom doesn’t want a big party or any sort of fuss for her birthday; she has never wanted to be the center of attention. Each of her children will celebrate her special day and her life in their own way. I’ll send her flowers, just as my grandfather did every year before he died, and I’ll head to Napa for a visit. The greatest gift she gave her children is her time, and that’s the best present we can give her in return.

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