Monday, March 15, 2010


Today is my mom's birthday. Happy birthday, Mom!

My mother is a really special lady--pretty much the nicest mom anyone could imagine. For starters, she always enjoyed playing with us when we were kids. Although I had plenty of independent play when I was a youngster, my mom frequently joined in the fun, and not as an obligation or to hit some developmental benchmark, but because she had fun, too. Wherever we lived, my mom and I explored the patches of woods, large and small, nearest our house. We kept nature journals (I mostly illustrated them). I remember plenty of hours sitting around the overturned bucket of Legos with my mom and my brother constructing all sorts of marvelous machines. Once, she fabricated a story about an alien planet that had been colonized by humans. In order to breath the air on the planet, the humans had to pass through a complicated machine once a month, which she designed and built out of Legos. Marvelous. She's a master storyteller. Many of life's greatest lessons were taught to me via my bedtime stories growing up, which featured a protagonist my exact age named Belinda. From the start, it was always abundantly clear that Belinda was a thinly veiled allegorical representation of me, and it was no surprise that Belinda's bouts with selfishness, not taking afternoon naps, horseplay in the house and other bad behaviors seemed to mirror my own. The moral lesson of the story was always delivered with a punch, when my mother would say with the seriousness of old school cautionary tales: "And then Belinda's mother would say: Belinda, Belinda.." (and then the moral lesson would follow. It was usually something like try to share more, be patient and wait your turn, lima beans are good for you, etc.)

My mom's storytelling tendencies also lean toward the macabre--a rare and wonderful trait in a mother. When I was five, she read Roald Dahl's The Witches to me. After each installment, I cautiously inquired as to whether or not witches were real. She'd just get a wild look in her eyes and say "I don't know!" Our family took frequent road trips across continental Europe when I was young--usually off to visit a castle or a battlefield. It was kind of like National Lampoon's European Vacation starring Chevy Chase. After hours puttering along in our green Audi stuffed to the brim with suitcases and wild cherry Capri Suns, I'd inevitably get bored and begged my mom to tell me a story. I'd usually specify that I wanted a scary story and then be sorry I did. She'd tell tales of families just like ours on their way to a castle or a battlefield. The family would get to the castle and split up (for who knows what reason) and then one by one, they'd mysteriously disappear until only one was left, wandering alone. Sometimes the castle in the story would start off as a tourist attraction but somehow go back in time, stranding the isolated tourist in the middle ages. Her stories were full of deeply unsettling and existential themes that gave me things to think about for years to come. Once she told the tale of a man taking a shortcut home through the woods at twilight (coincidentally, it was shortly after I'd been admonished from taking a similar shortcut after dark) and as the man walked home, darkness descended and he lost his way. The sun never rose again and he was trapped in the pitch blackness forever. Whoa. Once my friend Dan and I were playing my room when we thought we heard ghost noises coming from the heating duct. We were scared and asked my mother if she heard them too, which she claimed she did not. Later, Dan and I investigated the paranormal phenomenon by creeping downstairs to where my mom was working, only to discover her hovering by the vent making the noises. Hilarious.

But these anecdotes shouldn't imply that my mom only has a penchant for creepiness and gloom, only that she's got an incredible imagination. In fact, she maintains one of the sunniest dispositions I've ever beheld. She always looks for the best in people, and performs service. For years, she's kindly visited a handful of extremely eccentric and bizarre people in her congregation (these are people that most of the others try to avoid) and does so without any sense of judgment or complaint. She has always taught me by example to try to work hard, to try my best, and not worry about the rest (though I'm still working on not worrying). She's down to Earth and unfettered by irrelevant social concerns unlike almost anyone I've met. She has a heart of gold and a most extraordinary imagination. The combination of these factors is extremely rare.

Happy birthday, Mom. You're the best!!


Holly said...

your mom sounds so wonderful and i wish i lived next door to her....but she has an equally wonderful daughter - YOU!!!

Jill said...

Reading this stuff about your mother is very enlightening. Now I know where you get all of your great qualities. Your storing telling for example...apperantly you don't get that from strangers. I really wish I knew your mother now. Maybe someday we'll get to meet. I love that top picture of her. She' a beauty. Happy Birthday Meredith's mom! I'm totally going to use your 'story telling with a lesson' technique on my kids.

Maggie said...

This was so great to read - I especially enjoyed your mom's Belinda stories and her answer to your question about "The Witches." Oh, childhood. I hope she had a wonderful birthday!

Noodles said...

SO funny! As I was reading about witches, I thought about the time she had you and Dan thinking that you heard a ghost. Reading further, you mentioned that too! Yay! That was classic. I tell "Belinda" stories in the form of Billy Bob and Timmy Tom stories, but Justin sees right through that. Sometimes I confuse the names and he will remind me which one he is and which one is Ryan. Oops. I often fall asleep while telling them though.