Every person has a certain kind of love language. Some show their love through touch, others through their words. Some show it through gifts while others show it through actions. My mother’s love language is presence. Being there. Showing her support by showing up.
My mother has worked hard her entire life, often jumping fully out of her comfort zone and figuring out how to swim once she was already treading water in the metaphorical ocean. As a newlywed she left all her family and friends to live in a foreign country due to my father’s deployment. When they returned, she ended up living and working on a ranch never once having dealt with livestock before. She’s learned a whole new profession not once, not twice, but three times in her life. She was driven and she got the job done. She is definitely a boss.
But once she had kids, my mom made sure she always put my sister and I first. Even before remote work was even really a thing, Mom was fortunate enough to have a job where she could do most of her work from home. That meant that if my sister or I were sick, she could stay home with us. If there was a field trip at school, she could be one of the chaperones. It was important to her that she could be there. This dedication did not go unnoticed. Maybe sometimes unappreciated, but never unnoticed. (There was a certain middle school dance where her ‘gift’ of being there did not overwhelm me with gratitude.)
She was a classroom helper, my girl scout troop leader, team mom for all my soccer and basketball teams, and even headed the massive end-of-year fundraiser event during my senior year of high school. Mom saw each play that my sister was in so many times that she could recite all the lines herself. She spent most of her Saturdays when we were younger driving back and forth across town so that she could see both of us play in our soccer games. It didn’t matter how far apart the fields were, she was going to be there. When I had to stay up late at night, working on a project for school that was due the next day, she would stay up with me. She was my biggest cheerleader, advocate, and, since I loved writing but absolutely hated typing, she was my willing typist.
To this day, I still remember the one basketball game in high school that she missed. I remember where we played (West Hills High School), how I played (I racked up a double-double in stats), and the outcome of the game (we lost). But I also distinctly remember looking up in the stands and, through the glass partition, seeing an empty space next to my dad where she should have been. This isn’t to say I begrudge her her absence that day, but to say that her not being there was so rare, I can distinctly remember when it happened. She was so determined to be at every one of my games that she even once showed up in black tie dress, hurrying off to an event only once the game was over.
And when I went away to college, and then to grad school abroad (a decision she was far from happy about) she still found ways to be there. Care packages and cards arrived for significant and insignificant events alike. My friends and roommates were especially thrilled when the large tubs of popcorn, snack foods, and candy would arrive in my mailbox. She spent every Thanksgiving travelling to watch me play in tournaments and any time there was a game within driving distance, she was there. Her presence has been a constant in my life.
Showing up is also important to my mother when it comes to giving back to the community and volunteering her time for good causes. And she has always tried to instill this value in her children. Whether it was volunteering with the Red Cross or serving at church, working at a soup kitchen or organizing holiday gift and food drives, she has led by example, making sure we understood the importance of giving back to our community. My mother was the woman who could never say “no” to anyone if she was asked to help.
And this, her example of being present no matter what, is what I take with me into motherhood. Even though I am only just over two years into being a mom, I am already coming to understand how exhausting being constantly present is. Motherhood is a 24/7 job and I honestly don’t know how my mom found the energy to show up day after day, not only for her family, but for others in her community. And it has only been recently, since becoming a wife and mother, that I truly understand the scale of strength my mother has had all this time. She gave everything of herself to her marriage and her family. Even when she had very little to give.
As an adult, I can now see through the façade my mother worked so hard to keep up when we were kids. The times we didn’t have much, but she made it work. The times when my family struggled in one way or another and she was able to carry on, making sure none of it affected her children. I now realize things weren’t always easy, but she had a way of carrying through with June Cleaver perfection. She has always showed up, fully present for any challenge. And she still does.
This past year has been particularly difficult for my mother as her ability to show her love through being present has been handicapped. Due to the pandemic, she has not been able to be there for many of life’s big and small events. The death of a friend, the birth of a grandchild, these things took place in a space where she could not be. And sympathy or celebration at a distance just doesn’t feel right to her. But she has persevered and, as always, found ways to still be present. She continues to serve her community even after she has lost so much. She continues to give and give without complaint, without even having to be asked. It’s just who she is.
My mother being consistently, insistently present has shaped my life in so many ways. There was not a day when I did not feel loved and supported. And while it may seem quite a privileged life to have such a present parent, I am very aware that I was only so privileged due to my mother’s sacrifices. She gave up so much and put herself last so often. I could never repay all she has forgone for herself in order to give to me. It is a debt that I hope to pay off towards my own children. Though I worry her complete selflessness will be hard to replicate.
Mom has shown me how to be there for those I love and how important it is to help and serve the community I live in. As a mother, I could have no better role model. I hope to be a similar guide for my children, teaching them the importance and the love language of showing up.
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