Tonight, we celebrated.
Three kids, their spouses, and nine grandkids gathered for a party. We celebrated the birthday of the woman who brought some of us into the world, who welcomed others of us into the family, and who was a mother to all of us. She’ll turn 70 years young later this week.
Besides good food, a few beers, and some shenanigans with the slip-n-slide that turned my back yard into a gigantic mud puddle, there was a time for reminiscing. We shared old pictures, took some walks down memory lane, and exchanged stories about the things we did behind our parents’ backs in our crazier younger years.
There was a lot of love crammed around that backyard table tonight. You could feel it in the air.
But we didn’t say the words.
You see, growing up, in my family, it wasn’t something that was said. Emotions weren’t often expressed. Affections weren’t verbalized. The words “I love you” were not ones we heard my mother utter very often when we were younger.
But here’s the thing. We always knew.
We knew by the way she’d take us school shopping and always opted for the practical, yet heinously ugly Buster Browns. She wouldn’t give in and buy us Jellies to be cool like the other kids, because she knew those cheap pieces of plastic crap would fall apart and give us blisters. And, as we tromped home in our comfortably atrocious shoes, we knew she was right. We also knew she wasn’t trying to make us wear hideous shoes because she wanted her kids to be fashion victims, but rather, because she loved us. (And, possibly, because she didn’t want to hear us whine about how much our feet hurt.)
We knew by the way she’d pepper us with questions before we went anywhere. Where are you going? When will you be home? Who will be there? Who’s driving? What’s the square root of 364? Even as teenagers, we knew why she was asking. And we knew she asked out of love.
Some days, when my older brother and sister were at school and dad was at work, mom would make liver and onions for the two of us at home. Most kids would wretch at the idea. But for me, it was a special treat. And I knew that a house that reeked of liver smell was just another way my mom said “I love you,” in her own special way.
We knew by the way she’d roust herself out of bed at 5 am every year on Black Friday to take us shopping for socks. We knew that only two things could get my mom out of bed that early: love of a good deal, and love for her kids.
We knew because she was always at every game, tournament, competition and match. I can recall only a few times throughout my teens that she wasn’t at an event, whether we wanted her there or not. Sometimes she’d watch from afar. But she was there. And we always knew.
Sometimes it was a handwritten note slipped into a tennis racquet cover the night before a big match. Words like “Good luck! Do your best! Mom and Dad” would be scribbled on a little Suzy’s Zoo sticky note. And as I geared up to play, I knew.
Even if the words weren’t articulated often, we always knew how much our mother loved us. A thousand tiny events, little gestures and seemingly insignificant details over the years epitomized the words that weren’t always spoken.
Now that I’m a mother myself, I can doubly appreciate the symbolism of her actions. And I understand now what it all meant. In reality, I always knew.
She was saying “I love you.”
We love you, too, Mom. Happy 70th.