Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once said, "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do matters very much."
In my opinion, my Mom got it right.
She would hate for me to sing her praises with flowery tributes or cliched sentiments, so I won't. And besides, my Mom is way hipper than that.
She's not one of those chronically warm-fuzzy, cookie baking types whose home is too scary-clean to enjoy. Actually, hers sports a sign that reads, "My house is clean enough to be healthy but dirty enough to be happy."
That sign and her old kitchen table are among my favorite things - along with my memories of her from my childhood.
She cried when she left me at the preschool door and laughed when, at age seven, I dug up the side yard for a pool - and hit power lines.
When her marriage crumbled she turned lemons into lemonade by recycling her wedding dress into beautiful first communion dresses for my sister and me. She helped me build a huge castle out of sugar cubes for Girl Scouts and then built a new life for herself and her children - along with a thriving real estate business.
Her most memorable showing to date has to be the time at her own house when my young brother dangled a vacuum cleaner cord over the balcony into the living room - with a 'feminine hygiene product' tied to the end! She managed that moment and most of her others, with grace.
The truth is, though "When Mama ain't happy ain't nobody happy," hence the other sign hanging in her kitchen. And my Mama ain't happy before her second cup of tea.
She's so obsessed with tea that she once sewed me into a stuffed pillow case made to look like a Lipton tea bag for Halloween.
I'll never forget the time she invited her former brother and sister-in-law for New Year's brunch, but forgot - until they knocked on our front door.
"Mom, someone's here," I whispered, peeking through the curtains. She bolted out of bed and met my siblings and me in the hall.
"Let's pretend we're not home," she suggested, wincing, but then another knock echoed up the stairs so we all scrambled into clothes as we giggled and cobbled together 'brunch' for our unwitting guests. God knows what we fed them, but all anyone can remember is the bowl of sunflower seeds, raisins - and tea.
Mom dropped us off at the front door of the local Catholic Church every Sunday, because, as a divorcee, she no longer felt welcome there - but she made sure we still did. And all the way home she paid anyone who spotted a FSBO (a house for sale by owner) a quarter.
She could turn a bad mood good on a dime. She made back-to-school shopping feel like Christmas Eve by singing Christmas Carols in the car.
Her idea of a nature outing was to take us to see the mynah bird at the 5 & 10 and she taught us to ice-skate by strapping scrub brushes to our feet when the kitchen floor needed scrubbing. She never missed even one of my rhythmic gymnastics meets and still manages to get to us, no matter how far from the coop we've flown. Mom's not afraid to get lost.
A former English teacher who was invited to join Mensa, Mom proofread my school essays and later, many of my columns. She plays 9-square (cards) with her grandkids, sews their Halloween costumes and feeds them her 'funny lunch,' a sort of Grandma-style 'tapas' complete with dipping sauces (peanut butter and condiments).
Mom essentially took her baby sister in when their mother was terminally ill and has been mothering ever since. She weathers heartbreak and challenges with an amazing grace that belies the pain in her tender heart.
And yet, her favorite song is "Happy Talk" from South Pacific, which she recently sang to my daughter Holly, in its entirety, over the phone:
"…You gotta have a dream, if you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?"
A stunning blue-eyed brunette, Mom doesn't see what I see: a strong, resilient, clever, charismatic woman with a quick wit (who beat us at Boggle even when she was on pain medication), who raised four children virtually alone and yet never fails to sponsor a needy family at Christmas time.
She took a juggling class with us at the 'Y,' but clearly, that's a class she could have taught herself. After all, in addition to being our Mom, she was a social worker, brownie leader, PTA president, award-winning Realtor, mentor to many and the one CCD teacher who had the wisdom and the moxie to teach the Apostle's Creed as a rap - and that was over thirty years ago.
Taking herself too seriously just isn't her thing.
But parenting? She took that very seriously.
She taught us how to make bread-dough ornaments and laughed when we sold them to the neighbors. She once washed my mouth out with soap but the next day gave me my first perm. She cancelled her dinner plans the night I got my first babysitting gig, so she'd be nearby if I needed her. She told me to knock it off when I necked with my boyfriend on the front steps and reassured me that it wasn't the end of the world when we broke up.
She cried when I found my wedding dress and later, after visiting my firstborn. "Now don't go giving your mother a hard time," she whispered as she left, and then listened years later as I cried when he did.
Children do that.
For example, since April 1st is Mom's birthday, I decided one year that as an April Fools joke we wouldn't wish her a happy birthday until April 2nd. Sometimes we hurt her, unwittingly or otherwise, and there wasn't anyone around to say "Go apologize to your Mother."
That's still true today.
If there's one thing Mom taught us, it's not what happens to you in life that matters, but how you handle it - and there's always plan B.
Oh, how proud I am to be her daughter - and I almost managed to say it in a thousand words or less.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.