When I think of Mother’s Day, I think of another day, a lifetime ago, when my mother picked me up from college and took me out for dinner.
It was a Friday. I remember being tired from staying up late the night before to finish a 10-page paper and study for a test. I walked out of the test thinking I had bombed it and felt pressured to use the weekend to come up with a plan, any plan, to somehow salvage my grade.
I can’t tell you much else about the paper or the exam, but I remember walking to the edge of campus where my mother met me. She had called me the previous day and asked if I wanted to get together for dinner.
We went to Elby’s Big Boy restaurant, a chain long since shut down, where she fretted over me. I had lost more than 15 pounds since the Autumn and looked pale. She worried that something might be wrong. I shushed her. I told her I was just busy. I didn’t have time to be sick. (It would turn out later that she was right. I was anemic and doctors were able to get me back on the right track with the right prescription, but that’s a story for another day.)
In any event, my mom chatted me up and made sure that I ate, ordering me a fudge brownie sundae when I went to the restroom. She updated me on the local gossip and peppered me with questions about my classes and my friends.
After a long while, I had told her that I had just came from a test and that I thought that I had flunked it. I told her too that I was exhausted from working my part-time job; needed to get moving on another paper that was due; was down to my last $10 and was worried about the mountain of student loans I had taken out. How was I ever going to finish up and earn my degree, get a decent job, and pay back my debt?
I was tired and sick and I let go of the mountain of worries and stress that I had been holding inside like the Hoover Dam. I let everything come out in one burst of emotion.
My mother knew nothing about college. She had grown up Amish and had only an 8th grade education. Whatever she knew about college, she knew from watching my two older brothers attend a couple of years ahead of me. When I was done though, she reached out her hand to grab mine and told me in voice just above a whisper that she knew that I could do it.
I remember asking point blank how she knew. How could she know the future? She said she just knew that “everything would work itself out.”
We’ve had a million conversations over the years, everything from my plans to propose to my wife to the house needing a new roof to the weather. Some big, some small. Some emotionless, some heated, but out of all those, I think often of this one.
I remember the calmness in her voice. The stoic look on her face. She just knew. She couldn’t put her finger on any one thing. She didn’t say I would ace the next exam. She didn’t make up any crazy stories about winning the lottery.
She just knew.
She drove me back to campus and that was it. I’m not even sure we hugged. I studied the rest of the night and hung out later with my friends. I moved onto the next day and then the next and the next. Like she said, I would survive the semester and go on to graduate two years later. Soon after graduation, I got a job working at my local newspaper and then moved away to Northern Virginia. I would meet my wife and one day start my own family.
I’m sure the conversation stands out because I’m now in my mother’s role. I’m having the same conversations with my own children. They exude confidence and ambition. They’re stronger than I ever was, but they still have questions about their future. And like my mom, I just know that they will be successful. The final dream may veer left instead of right. They may have a few steep mountains to climb and they may throw aside a few other dreams, but I know.
They’re smart. They’re driven. They’ve got good values, they’ve got their faith, they’re good people. They’ll be fine.
I never thought of my mother as much of a predictor of things to come, but she saw the dream take shape well before I ever could.
With that in mind, I have two hopes this Mother’s Day. First that everyone has someone like my mother in their corner and, secondly, that my mother knows how much her faith in me meant when I was just getting started and how much it still means today.
Happy Mother’s Day!