I used to take her for granted.
When my five sisters and I were babies in her womb, she never took so much as an aspirin for a headache. She never put anything in her body but the nutrients we needed to grow, and I took that for granted.
As a child, my world was rock solid because of her. She put our needs so far before her own that we didn't know that she had needs. She loved us without condition. I was so unaware of the fear and pain less fortunate children suffer that I didn't know such concepts existed. She worked hard to create that world, and I took that for granted.
As a teen, I gave her grief. I told her how wrong she was about religion, child rearing, everything. She was just a housewife, I said. What could she possibly know. I challenged her because she was strong, and I took her strength for granted.
She was extraordinarily moral. I still can't tell a lie, thanks to her, and I even blush when I'm innocent and people think I'm lying. The only thing she hated more than dishonesty was phoniness. She made sure we were, above all, genuine. I took her extraordinary honesty and genuineness for granted.
She prized graciousness and friendliness. She treated everyone the way she wanted to be treated. She was always full of compassion and understanding. The phone still rings constantly at her home, people calling for consolation, reassurance or to be cheered up on a down day. I took her graciousness and friendliness for granted.
She enjoyed simple things. The smell of a flower could send her into fits. The silliness of a child could make her laugh for days. She still sits outside on the deck every morning, enjoying the smell of spring, the taste of fresh, hot coffee, the conversation of her husband of 52 years. But I took her simple nature for granted.
As other parents nudged their children toward careers in accounting or engineering, she nurtured our creativity. While accountants and engineers are important, she believed, even more important are wit, imagination and beauty. I took her love of beauty and creativity for granted.
She sent me off into the world full of enthusiasm, hope and naïvete. My early expectations were unrealistic, I soon found. I took risks - tried my hand at my own business - and, early on, I failed. The work world proved to be much more competitive and challenging than I expected. I was frustrated and angry. I took my anger out on her.
She absorbed my anger, as she always did. She absorbed it for a good long while, even as it grew in intensity. As I let it turn me bitter -- as I lost my sense of humor and became hopefully lost myself - she revealed her great strength yet again.
She let me have it good that day - overwhelmed me with a clarity of thought that forced me to face what I'd let myself become. She freed me from myself that day, an awful place to be.
That happened a long time ago. And though I have stumbled and fallen many times since, her spirit is strong within me. I often see beauty where others see nothing. I love coffee in the morning. I love how simple things can make me laugh for hours. I am a writer because of her endless encouragement.
I've been blessed to know her a long time. For 46 years she has toiled, struggled, suffered and sacrificed on my behalf. She's given everything she has without asking anything in return.
If you're as lucky as I, you have had such a person in your life - someone who has loved you unconditionally no matter how foolish or thoughtless you may have been. Someone whose presence is so profound it propels you toward beauty and goodness.
She is my mother. I know now how blessed I am to still have her in my life.
I don't take her for granted anymore.