To my mother:

My mom is the best mom, at least for me.  To keep you reading, she’s not perfect.  If she were, I might not like her as much.  I’d certainly be less impressed.  While I am about to gush about her for a moment, she has her flaws. She is human.  I don’t say that to knock her, but it’s even more impressive to me how much I’ve grown to admire her as a parent knowing, and even liking, her imperfections, for the most part.  Every moment of my childhood wasn’t perfect, although luckily, for me, the good certainly outweighed the bad.  But what my mom gave me was a person in this world who seemed to enjoy me endlessly.  For me, that has been truly vital.

Growing up she made life fun—dancing to show tunes in the living room, swimming in the pond at Misquamicut Beach, nightly massages as she listened to every detail of my day which included obnoxiously, exhaustive, extremely comprehensive information.  If I ate my sandwich top down instead of bottom up, she heard about it.  If I went to the bathroom five times or three, she heard about it.  It didn’t matter what level of meticulous data I provided, she always seemed intrigued.  Did I mention she was an actress and theater teacher?

Me and my mom, my mom and me

She remembers the moments she was tense.  I remember that being very rare.  Mostly she kept her cool.  Like the time I trimmed the hedges in the front yard, but I wasn’t tall enough to reach the top so she came home from work to discover my limited topiary skills.  I’d left two, giant, green penises on either side of our door.  As I write this sentence, I notice how much I want to write the word peni instead of penises.  That’s because of her too.  She’d make up her own words or intentionally pronounce them wrong.  She pronounced the “p” in pneumonia.  There was an embarrassing day in elementary school when I took a stance on the pronounced “p” insisting it was said pee-neumonia.  After all, my mom said it.  It must be right.  I was wrong.  Now I laugh.  I laugh because of my mother’s random quirk.  Did I mention she was an English teacher?

There has never been a moment where she hasn’t made time for me.  Kids can be exasperating, so as an adult with a job and no children, I’m endlessly amazed by this.  She must have really liked us.  Even when I was a grown, college grad with a full time job, she took a day off work when I was sick and didn’t want to be home alone.

Her best trait has always been her advice.  In my elementary school there was this boy who had kooties.  Obviously, boys were disgusting until they weren’t.  A couple kids would tease me that I wanted to marry him.  I hated it.  I didn’t want to marry him.  He was gross. I told my mom the predicament.  She suggested that the next time someone proposed I’d marry this boy that I should just confirm I would.  If they couldn’t see they were getting to me, they would stop teasing me.  The next time it happened I was on the swings at recess.  It was my time to pretend I was totally fine with marrying a boy with kooties.  My heart was racing.  I knew that if my mom was wrong my life would be ruined.  She better not be wrong.  It better not be like the “p” in pneumonia.  I said I’d happily marry him.  And I saw on the other kids faces immediately that I’d won.  There was no more teasing.  Because, of course, she was right.

My favorite picture of me and my mom

If you like my stories you can thank my mom.  My mom and my dad.  They both have always responded the same way when something bad happens.  “Well aren’t you going to have a story to tell.”  It was never said as a question.  It was a fact.  From a very young age my parents taught me that even when things don’t go your way, at least you get a story so it’s not all bad.  Honestly, some of my best stories are from moments gone wrong.  My parents provided that perspective.

She had her own interests.  When we were little she did regional theater and she’d pack us up with sleeping bags and My Little Pony (or whatever toy we wanted) and we’d play in the back of the theater or lobby while she rehearsed.  Seeing what she was passionate about opened worlds.  Schools, teaching, and theaters were all comfortable places.  We came with her when she taught summer camp.  We’d help her set up her room for the new school year.  She might just say she didn’t have a baby sitter.  And that may be true, but is enabled us to peer into her life.  It made me familiar with roles I might possibly take on in the future.

People meet my mom and they like her.  You can’t help it.  In the past month multiple people have made a point of telling me how special my mom is.  She’s kind, funny, easy-going, a good listener, thoughtful, open to discussion and debate, and, as I mentioned, really good at giving advice.  Plus, she loves me no matter what.  I’d like to think everyone has this love from a parent.  But I’ve seen that’s not the case, and it’s what makes me so grateful.  I’m not sure there is anything more important you can do for your kids than that.  At least not for this kid.  Everybody’s different.  Everyone might have a different need from their parent.

Moms I know, including mine, are always hard on themselves.  Their “mistakes” seem to haunt them.  My mom has always worried about what I’ll tell the therapist (or in the event I ever become a comedian, the audience) about her and our family.  We have our funny stories.  We’ve had real rough patches.  I’m not sure you’d be a real family who is honest with each other if you didn’t.  But even her supposed mistakes have only helped me build character and learn what I do or don’t want in life. They’ve given me a story to tell.

She instilled a sense of strength of character from the women I come from by telling me stories of the strengths of her mother and her grandmother.  My great-grandma came from Italy as a teenager.  Her name was Santa Sparano.  My mom would always tell me I was a strong Sparano woman.  My Grandma survived polio and learned to walk again.  She lived through the depression.  In meeting these women and my mom always talking about them, she provided a history, an ancestry for me to build my life on.  I could stand on the shoulders of these women who came before and somehow linger in me.

She taught me to always make my own money and open my own jars (that’s part of being a strong Sparano woman).  She made me do chores.  She took me to the movies and then discussed them.  When she comes over she still does my dishes.  I never do her dishes.  She was a terrible cook when I was growing up, and she was one of those people who cut the mold off the bread and gave it to you.  I still can’t eat food that’s even nearing its expiration date. (Is that one of things she thinks I’ll tell the therapist?)  She toasted English muffins and covered them in cheese and V-8 and claimed it was a Weight Watchers special.  It was special alright.  It was actually one of the good meals.  Now, that I’m out of the house, she’s a pretty good cook.  I think having grown children that don’t make her listen to which sock they put on first in the morning anymore frees up her time to make better food.  She looks up gluten-free recipes.  She made brains for a Halloween party out of spaghetti.  She drove me to drama and field hockey.  She watched my games and wrote lyrics to Kenny G songs—a fact I’ve never let her live down.  She let me paint my room every few years.  She taught me how to paint my own room.

Parenting is hard.  Kids can be ungrateful, snotty, challenging, exhausting.  At one point or another, I’ve been all of them.  My mom always seems to enjoy being a mom and being with me.  There is no greater gift you can give someone then to make them feel truly enjoyed by your company.  I know I’ll never convince my mom of what a good mother she is and was.  She’s a mom so she’ll never fully believe me, and she’ll always have her doubts.  But, man, her love sure does boost me up.

When I was little I used to tell her that when I grew up I’d want to marry her.  She would retort, “Maggie, when you grow up you won’t want to marry me.  And that will be okay.”  She was right.

Thank you for still listening.