The greatest gift my mother gave me didn’t come on Christmas day. It wasn’t the latest game console, or the the shoes I wore on prom night. It wasn’t intricately wrapped with a ribbon tied around it. There was no bow on top.
My mother gave me life twice. The first time was on the maternity floor. Breathing heavily, she pushed me, unaware, into this world. I was born hungry, wailing loudly. I can’t say much has changed.
There wasn’t a specific time marked by any inky footprint when she gave me life again. No. It occurred day-by-day over the course of two years at a different hospital, nearby. Children aren’t born there. A nurse would take blood or an oncologist would insert a hollowed needle into my spine. But it was always her, eyes wide, looking deeply into equally bugging eyes. Deeply, into one another’s pupils. It was always her, grasping my hand with all her might, as if letting go would allow her to lose me.
One, two, three. Ouchie!
We had our routine. It didn’t hurt less, but I knew when it was coming. I knew she was with me, all of her.
Sometimes I look back on these moments and wonder, Is all the strength people see in me partially stolen during these times? Through osmosis, did I steal some of her fire?
The greatest lessons my mother taught me weren’t from one of those one-on-one talks that you see in the movies. Mother and daughter, discussing secrets and life’s truths while sitting at the edge of the bed. No. It wasn’t over dinner; that table saw far more folded laundry than shared meals.
My mother taught me through example. She showed me. I saw, through her, that a young, single mom of two children, one going through chemo, could go back to school. She could earn her degree, leave behind all she knew, other than those two kids, and chase her dreams. She could shoot for the stars. She could become a physician.
She taught me perseverance. That with hard work, struggle is short term. That the only thing that makes one stuck is the limitations they place upon themselves.
The greatest responsibility my mother gave me was not a weekly task. It wasn’t to care for the family pet, or to keep my room tidy.
My mother gave me the responsibility of finding my own way. Her leniency allowed me to whither, then flourish. No one told me who I was nor who I needed to become. When I grieve over the discomfort of having learned everything I know ‘the hard way,’ a part of me knows that there isn’t a better way to have learned it. That my missteps and mishaps were what gave me my wisdom. My lack of privilege shaped my character in a way that has become my greatest privilege as an adult.
I’m not a perfect mother, nor did I have one. But she gave me all the tools I needed to thrive.