My mother turns 70 today.
Editor’s note: My father turns 72 today as well, but he likes to celebrate quietly. And by “quietly,” I mean he is “perfectly fine if I don’t write a dedicated blog post about him.” He knows my history in journalism and stated that everything was “off the record” when I was approximately 8 years old. Happy Birthday to him all the same!
Back to where I started. My mother was born on a <some temperature’d> day in March in 1952 in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (I am rolling the dice that I remember that location correctly, but I won’t be surprised if she tells me at dinner tonight she was actually born in a manger in Kansas or something.)
The important thing to know is this: My mom is not my best friend. We agreed on this very early on, not because we did not appreciate each other or had any sort of “terrible teenage years” or something but because we each had our own best friends whom we were good with.
What I laugh about now, though, is that our relationship is actually pretty similar to what we look for in friends, I think. Many who say their mother is their best friend have relationships that seem to be in the manner I would view as completely maternal. And maybe I have it backwards, but I thought I’d dissect it a bit. (Y’know, outside of therapy for once.) (Totally kidding.) (Truly.)
Our Special Interpretation of Important Maternal Bonds
My Mother: Not a Mama Bear
I believe wholeheartedly that, had it come down to it, Mom would have expressed some sort of bear qualities to protect me from something. And maybe it wasn’t her plan to entirely turn me into Assertive Bear (the missing Care Bear) at such a young age, but I think it was secretly her goal. I am quite confident that she felt her Mama Bear duties were relieved from the time I was 7 and first sent a letter to KayBee Toys telling them to stop labeling their damn aisles “Boy Toys” and “Girl Toys.”
From there, all she had to do was encourage me to become the woman I am today… You know, the one whose biggest talent might be writing professional yet subtly snarky yet ass-kicking assertive emails/letters. Mom definitely made that one happen.
The Serious One
Growing up, we used to say Dad was “the fun one” and Mom was “the serious one.” That’s a typical dynamic, I think, even though my parents had nothing resembling “typical” dynamics overall. Dad used funny voices when reading and let us listen to music really loud. Mom asked us to clean our rooms. The nerve.
The secret here is that absolutely no one I know has a greater sense of humor about herself than she does. No one.
And within that, she became the “straight man” in our comedy duo and honed that role to absolute perfection. Sure, she may have failed just a bit at the “teaching me to understand there are some scenarios that require us to be serious” lesson, but I’m okay with that.
While most people call their mothers as soon as something good or something terrible happens, Mom and I talk most when something is so funny we can hardly stand it.
She Gave Me Life and then Gave Me the Secret to Life
That’s it. Every other cliche piece of advice, every Bible verse, every other saying you might see stitched on a pillow means nothing. None of them will do anything if you’re thirsty.
Accidentally shoved a boom box antenna into your finger trying to fix it? Water.
Been diagnosed with bipolar disorder? Fill that glass.
Trump elected for four years? Well, it’s okay to have margaritas in between cups, but your best friend is still agua, baby.
What amuses me to no end is that she’s not totally wrong. I can make fun of her for this being the primary life advice she gave to the world, but the number of times my first reaction to other people is to advise them to hydrate would astound you.
How We Handle Touching Moments
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve republished posts that I’ve written about Mom over the years. Families create their own living histories in a variety of ways and I’ve always been the designated writer of our little bunch. But I find it so easy to come back to stories about her.
She makes herself available and “vulnerable” in nontraditional ways and in response, I create a record of life that (I hope) can only come across to everyone who reads it as a deep and meaningful mother/daughter relationship. It’s just not focused on the hard times or the ceremonies or the life milestones. That can throw people off sometimes, but if you know me or you know her and for sure if you know both of us, you understand that our “touching” moments exist in humor.
Taking whatever life throws at us is captured best through the stories that we tell each other and the exaggerations we agree have become truth over the years. It takes a very special person to be the focus of her daughter’s comedy, to encourage it (and contribute to it) regularly, and to still stand back and say she’s proud of me for just the weirdest things.
So today, if you will, just mention a Happy 70th Birthday to Shirley because she really is just the funniest, kindest, most loyal one there is.
She is just definitely not my best friend. That’d just be silly.