If you’ve ever met my mom, you probably know she has partially blue hair, wears frustratingly asymmetrical jewelry and responds to compliments with “I think so too!” instead of “Thank you!” (something we’re still working on). She usually thinks it’s too hot in the room, hates saying “Excuse me” because she feels like it sounds like she's apologizing for her own existence and is always getting ready to take her next photograph. When all I wanted to do was fit in with the other kids in my elementary and middle school when she came to pick me up, yes, she was quite the source of embarrassment sometimes. But she also somehow managed to take pride in that.
I don’t think I ever truly appreciated my mom’s character growing up. She never drove me in a minivan to soccer practices (and hasn’t driven since she left Germany 20 years ago). Instead, we took the train every Saturday morning to 23rd street to German school. We never went to Six Flags or Splish Splash together, but we could spend hours at the Hall of Science. She can fix anything in the house with a rubber band and tape. She’s stubborn in all the right ways, but is still the best listener I’ve ever known. She’s always doing something with basket-weaving, jewelry-making, wool festivals in the Hudson valley, retreat centers and who knows what, yet her hobbies somehow never replace her spending time with me and my brother. There was one thing that never wavered: her support.
My mom grew up in a small town in western Germany named Lüdenscheid and began writing for their local newspaper at about 15. She describes herself as a “Linke Socke," which translates literally to “left sock” but means “left-wing,” whereas the newspaper was always right. She was the only woman writing for it at the time and the youngest by far. Her parents worried she would become too educated and want to go to college, and she did just that; she waited restlessly for her 18th birthday, moved out on the same exact day and later moved to Berlin to study. Needless to say, she did not have the support of her parents, did not have any mentors or role models and was (and still is) the only one in her family to have gone to college. It pains me to say support is something she grew up without, because without hers, I would probably not be writing this right now.
My mom was never the parent to say “Make me proud” as a source of motivation for me. The undertones of that phrase suggests that if it isn’t something your parents approve of, it isn’t adequate. In our Uber from LAX to our hotel a couple nights before move-in day, the driver asked, on my future, “What do you want her to do?” My mom stumbled on her words for a few seconds and didn’t quite know what to say, because the real answer was, “Whatever she wants.” She never had preconceived ideas of what profession I should go into or what I should study. It was, simply put, whatever made me happy (with some slight exceptions). And in some ways, not having such outlined expectations to live up to fueled me even more to want to make something of myself.
I applaud her for not trading her passion for motherhood or her youth for children. She, in some way, shape or form, is still very much involved with the things she was passionate about before my brother and I were born. She still takes photos, does crafty things and plays music on instruments I don’t know the names of. I admire her for not giving up everything for us, because we sometimes forget that our mothers had their own elaborate and intricate lives before we joined them.
As we sat on campus the day before I moved in, I realized I was experiencing the manifestation of genuine, unwavering support. She never questioned my desire to go far away from home for college, and never agreed with all the other mothers who asked her if she would let me go so far. She always told me, “I gave you wings for the past 18 years, and now you need to use them.”
Soaking up the southern California sun and sipping overpriced drinks, she told me about her own, radically different journey to college. She teared up a little as she told me she had never truly had support for the things she had accomplished in life, but it was an emotional gap I could tell she didn’t need filled with my pity. I tried to be the support for her in that moment that I knew she didn’t have growing up, but a part of me ached knowing how much more spoiled I had been in that sense.
As I think about the things I can call privileges in my life, there are many that I know are just that simply because I got lucky at birth. But there are a number of ways my mother has made me feel privileged and appreciated, in her unconditional support of my endeavors and the way she never made me feel like I had to impress her. Thank you, mom. I am who I am because of the way you raised me.
Lead Image Credit: Louis Brickman