Friday, January 21, 2011

The Mother Lode

by Susan McBride

Today is my mom's birthday, although we won't talk about her age (since she doesn't act like it anyway). As you read this, I'm doubtless at the casino with her, playing the penny slots, since we make a pilgrimmage every year to celebrate. Usually, she wins, and I don't. But I try to make up for it at the buffet (free coupon!).

I've always appreciated mothers, my own in particular, even more so recently (if that's possible). I'm not sure where I'd be right now if not for my mom's wholehearted endorsement of my doing this writing thing. I knew I wanted to be a novelist at 19, when I wrote my first grown-up novel in between transferring colleges. While my business-minded father bemoaned my even leaving college to write a book--and to figure out "who I am"--my mom was behind me all the way. "You have to do what makes you happy," she told me on no uncertain terms. "And no one can decide what that is but you."

When I knew what I wanted to do, she backed me up, and I watched her do the same with my brother and sister. My father clearly didn't understand the need to be creative (well, he was an IBM guy, through and through), but my mom did. Even though she wasn't any kind of artist, nor did she strive to be, she was one of the most creative people I've ever known. She made up songs as we drove to the grocery store or to the zoo (something I do to this day!). She helped me with school projects (never doing them for me, just assisting), and I had the best time creating Conestoga wagons out of shoeboxes and cutting up old encyclopedias to do a map of Big Cats Around the World.

You've probably even heard me mention her creative meals. I never knew what I was going to see when I opened my lunchbox. On holidays especially, it could get very interesting. I remember sandwiches cut in the shape of four-leaf clovers on St. Patrick's Day (and, that night, green milk and green mashed potatoes with dinner). One day, she packed cookies shaped like dog biscuits, which I loved and which freaked out my friends.

Christmases and Easters were incredible. Mom was--and still is--a decorating fiend. And, oh, did we get gorgeous Easter baskets! Each one hidden somewhere in the house so we had to find them. She dyed eggs, too, every color imaginable, and she hid them outside. There was always something to look forward to.

As I got older and as we moved around, I realized what a grounding force she was. No matter where we lived--or what kind of troubles we had adjusting--she tried to make things better, or at least remind us that we wouldn't be the new kids forever, that sometimes life sucked but that didn't last. Even when we disagreed, I respected her point of view. I'm pretty sure she respected mine as well.

Just the other day, I mentioned the idea that we all have a gift, even if some of us might not realize what that is for a long time. To which, my mom remarked, "I still don't know what mine is." And I said, "It's being a mother. You're great at momming." She laughed, but I meant it.

So much of what's in the novels I write involves mothers and daughters. I didn't do it consciously, but it's there just the same. Maybe it's because of the amazing complexity of mother-daughter relationships. They grow, they change, they evolve. They're full of push and pull and compromise. And they have a life-long effect on us.

When my grandmother passed, I could only imagine how hard that was on my mom. I want to think my mother will live forever and see me through whatever else life throws at me. On today, her birthday, I want to thank my mom and moms like her everywhere, who've taken on the hardest job there is and who do it with such passion. May you all continue to blow out the candles on the cake for many more years to come.


  1. Susan,
    First, happy, happy birthday to your Mom -- and many, many more!

    Second, you have me in tears, both as a mother and as a daughter. Beautifully written and captures exactly what a mother would pray to hear from her daughter. Best gift you could give your Mom!

    Enjoy the day and the penny slots. You've both already hit the jackpot, but here's hoping that the bells and whistles go off on the one-armed bandits as well!


  2. Very nice post. Give Mom a big birthday hug from me!

  3. A touching post and tribute to your mom, and moms everywhere, Susan. Happy B'day to yours!

  4. Thanks, Marian, Zita, and Misa! I'll tell Mom you said, "Happy Birthday!" I think we're putting off the slots until I'm done with revisions, but I can't wait to go. We're celebrating at my bro and SIL's tonight and then Ed's taking Mom to the hockey game tomorrow night! Hope the Blues win in her honor! Hooray to all the moms out there! You rule! (No, really, you do!) :-)

  5. Happy Birthday to your Mom! What a great daughter to give this wonderful tribute. Doing all that fun stuff is part of being a mom--I have fond memories of much of the same from my mom and then doing it for my kids.


  6. Seriously, you don't need to give your mother anything else for her birthday! What an incredible gift. This is all any mother would want from her daughter/child. Say happy birthday to our favorite Mom in the midwest. Maggie xo

  7. Enjoy every minute you have together. I lost my mom five years ago next month and I miss her every single day.

  8. Marilyn, thanks! I know what a good mom you are (and grandma!). I'm sure your kids have tons of fond memories, too. :-)

    Maggie, I sent my mom a link to the piece so I hope she reads it! I'm surprised she hasn't called to say, "What do I have to click? How do I do that?" She is more tech challenged than I am, which is kind of funny. I'll give her your regards when I see her tonight!

    Oh, Linda, I'm sorry you lost your mom. So not fair. Sending you a virtual hug! Thanks for the reminder to enjoy every moment with our loved ones. Because life's too short as it is.

  9. Beautiful post! Happy Birthday to Susan's Mom!

    aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

  10. Susan, Do you rent your mom out to daughters without one? :) She sounds fabulous. She's really put tremendous effort and joy into the job of motherhood.

    How fabulous that she supported you when you needed that time to find yourself. I left college after one year as well because I couldn't figure out what my major should be. I finally went to secretarial school so I could work with a skill set that could take me from AT&T to a bank to an seminar firm to a physical therapist, to a bookstore to a CPA. All of that was to earn my keep yet try different fields until I found one that "fit."

    Tell your mom that I still haven't figured out what I want to be when I grow up. :) I think I want to be a bunch of them really!

    Aren't you lucky to have grown up with such a wonderful woman and to still have her in your life. Slip her a few pennies for me so she wins the slots. And give her a hug, too.

  11. Sandie, my mom is awfully special. I will slip her some extra dough for the penny slots! Can't wait to go (just have to finish these revisions first). Wish I could rent her out. I'd make a fortune! ;-)