I sat in my third grade class listening to the writing assignment, our chairs arranged in a circle with the teacher sitting directly across from me. It was the week after returning from Spring Break, and our writing prompt was, “For Spring Break, we…”
Kid after kid stood up nervously and read their own personal essays about their families going on vacation. Skiing. Disney. Beach.
My heart hurt.
I felt like something was wrong with me. I was crying inside.
Why didn’t I have a normal family?
My essay highlight was the snuggle-time on the couch with my mom late Friday night when she got home from work. We watched a movie and made popcorn. I loved every second. I don’t remember the movie, but I remember how loved I felt.
At the time, I thought my essay was dumb and lacked a good story. Today, I think of it very differently.
My parents divorced when I was three. I don’t ever remember what it was like having a mom and dad under one roof. But, I have these colorful, vivid memories of my childhood because I was raised by the most amazing single mom:
*I remember my mom always working two jobs at the same time. Sometimes three.
*I remember hunting for spare change in the car for a McDonald’s cheeseburger. She bought one for me, she would go without.
*I remember when I had middle school cheerleading tryouts, and she got up early to make pancakes that spelled “Good Luck.” She had worked past midnight the evening before. When I got to school, all my friends received good luck balloons and huge floral arrangements. Dozens of roses. I knew she couldn’t afford any, and I was perfectly content with my pancakes. But around lunch, my name was called to the office because I got the most amazing single rose I’ve ever received with the sweetest words on the card that said,
“No matter what, I love you.”
*I remember when I made the cheerleading squad, and I received the take-home paper listing the fees for my spirit jacket. I cried in the school bathroom because I didn’t know how we would pay for it. The moment she saw me that day, she knew something was wrong. I could barely get out that we couldn’t afford for me to be cheerleader when she said, “I will take care of this. Do not worry.” She did take care of it…every single time. I still have that jacket, and I’ll never throw it away. It’s a symbol of my mom’s love for me. Her dedication. Her hard work.
*I remember when we could barely afford to pay our electricity bill, but yet I would watch her give to those in need.
*I remember going to the diner where she waitressed and a man was very disrespectful to her. I ached inside. Later, I said, “Please quit that job.” She didn’t, she kept working hard.
*I remember someone telling her once that she could quit at least one of her jobs and be eligible for food stamps. My mom said, “No. I can work. I’m able.”
*I remember my mom crying in the bathroom (behind closed doors and with the sink water turned on) when she didn’t know I could hear.
I’m a mom now. I know how hard it is. She worked 12+ hours a day, came home and LOVED me. She didn’t just raise me. She spent time with me. She always made time for me.
She disciplined. She was strict (too strict sometimes). She was a great mom, but we were also best friends. It was she and I, facing the odds, standing strong together.
She cuddled me when I cried. She was my protector. She taught me to work hard and give generously.
She was my maid of honor at my wedding because there was no other person who had walked through life with me the way she did (and continues to).
The two of us… we were a normal family. And now, as I think back to that third grade assignment, I cherish those times I remember with her. No big fancy vacations. No expensive clothes. No big home – mostly only rentals in trailer parks and apartments.
Just QUALITY time. The most important thing to give a child… she got it right.
I spent half my life wishing I had a different one. And now, I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything. I’m proud of my family… my mom and my dad.*