Let’s be honest: as children, we don’t appreciate our mother’s love.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you think about it. We take our mother’s love for granted because it’s literally the first thing we experience in this world. This isn’t just me waxing poetic; science confirms that babies in their mother’s wombs learn the sound of their mother’s voice and will actually stop moving around doing little fetus things so they can listen to her. They’re born already knowing her because they spent every second of their lives up until that moment in her protection and love.
They don’t know what’s going on in her world: months of obsessing over the tiny little creature that’s taken over her body, the insurmountable love she already has for something the size of a walnut and the paralyzing vulnerability that someone she already loves more than life itself is about to come into the world. They just know her.
Our mother’s love is given to us so freely and unconditionally that it becomes part of our existence. So we take it for granted like we take everything for granted that’s been given to us without any effort on our part.
The only children in this world who don’t take a mother’s love for granted are the ones who don’t have it, and that is a horribly tragic thing.
But if you had a happy childhood, you had no idea how much your mother loved you.
Like every happy kid on the planet, I was completely unaware of the magnitude of my mother’s love for me. Don’t get me wrong, I knew my mother loved me and that I was the most important thing in the world to her, but I didn’t “get” it.
I wouldn’t really get it until I had my own children, but as I grew and my understanding of the world expanded, I had little moments of awareness that made me start to see what I meant to her.
One moment in particular has always stood out in my mind.
When I was 12, my mom and I went to the mall. My mom was a teacher, and she’d been given a gift card to a department store. We went there specifically to pick out something special for her. My parents made a lot of sacrifices to send my brother and me to private schools, and one of those sacrifices was that she rarely bought herself anything. But this gift card was going to go towards something cute for her to wear. It was only $25, but in 90’s money, that could buy a nice shirt or pants.
My mom and I browsed through the racks, but then something caught my eye: a silver bracelet with four dolphin charms on it. I was 12 and going through a rather obsessive “dolphin phase”, so I was drawn to it like a villain in an Indiana Jones film.
My mom, sensing that her offspring had steered off-course, came over to see what had grabbed my attention. I held the bracelet but never said a word. I’d already spent my babysitting money, and my parents had trained me not to ask them for extravagances. It was $24.99.
My mom said, “We’re getting it. Come on. I’ll use my gift card.”
I protested. “Mom, no, that’s your gift card, we’re here to buy something for you, and I don’t need this.”
She smiled and said, “Don’t argue with your mother.” Then she snatched it out of my hands and went directly to the register.
She bought nothing for herself.
I don’t even know what became of that bracelet. I loved it until I grew out of my “wear dolphin stuff” phase, and then it went into my jewelry box and God-knows-where after that. What I do remember is how it felt in that moment, feeling my mom’s love for me.
I told my mom about what it meant to me years later, and she had no memory of it. The moment had meant nothing to her; for her, it was just another everyday expression of her love for me. She never thought twice about it.
The truth is, our mothers don’t appreciate their love for us either. They give it so freely and unconditionally that it becomes a part of their existence, too. Moms don’t sit around reflecting “Wow, I really loved my kids today” any more than kids sit around reflecting “Wow, my mom really loved me today.”
Loving someone without even considering it is what it means to be selfless and what it means to be a mother.
This column runs on a Thursday, so I missed actual Mother’s Day, but I just want to say, to my own mother and every mother out there, Happy Mother’s Day.