Friday, May 12, 2017

A Realization for Mother's Day

In the Steel Magnolias of life, my mom is a Ousier Boudreaux. Like so many young woman, I know she started out life with optimism and perseverance; however, as she has aged and faced hard times, heartache, and chronic illness, she has admittedly become “not as sweet as she used to be.” It’s for this reason that I often find myself frustrated with my mom and wishing she were a little sweeter, softer, and less cantankerous. Often in my frustration I forget that there is more to my mom that her cynical, stubborn, and cantankerous outer shell, so this Mother’s Day I am taking the time to focus on her softer traits within that I love and admire so much.

Halloween 1984
For beginners: My mom is an artist. No, she isn’t an artist for a living. In fact, as far as I know, she has never sold anything she has ever made. However, she has the mind of an artist, always coming up with fantastic and elaborate ideas, usually for her kids or grandchildren, and executing them to painstaking precision, often at the last minute and staying up until the wee hours of the morning to do so. Like the Christmas we were stationed in Hawaii and didn’t have a Christmas tree, so she made one out of tinsel and garland. Or the Halloween when my brother’s costume was an elaborate robot made entirely out of cardboard boxes and plumbing supplies, or the year I was a 3 ft tall butterfly with a 6 ft wingspan. Speaking of butterflies, there was the year she spent all of her spare time for nearly 6 full months crocheting hundreds of little pastel colored butterflies for me to give away as favors in the masonic organization I was in.

The care my mom took, with every homemade Halloween costume, with every personalized birthday cake, with our school projects (because yes, she earned more As than we actually did), with planning all the big events in our lives: holidays, birthdays, weddings, births… says so much about who she is as a person. She is an artist. She loves to create things. To see the joy her creations bring to others. She takes pride in the things she makes, and she rarely wants anything in return except gratitude.

My mom is selfless, sometimes to a fault. I couldn’t, if I tried, recount all of the times my mom went without so that us kids never had to. She has never worn wear fancy clothes, had expensive bags, or spent lots of money on makeup or skincare products. She never in her life has had a regular hairdresser. For years, she just colored her own hair with boxed color from the supermarket and let months go between cuts. Yet, we kids always had everything we needed and most of the stuff we wanted too. That bicycle we wanted, that homecoming dress, that game system, and all the specialized sporting equipment we swore we needed. In fact, for most of my childhood, she worked not one, but two jobs to make sure we were never deprived. Sadly, even now that her children are grown and times aren’t so lean for my parents, I think she has still never really learned to take care of herself, because for her entire life she was accustomed to taking care of others and putting their needs before her own.

Mother's Day 1979
My mom is also fiercely loyal. Sometimes infuriatingly so. You can tell her a story about someone you are having a problem with, and she instantly dislikes this person she has never even met. I get irritated and say “Mom, you don’t even know that person. How can you have such a strong opinion on them?” She just waves me off and states matter of factly “They hurt you, that is all I need to know about them.” She has always been like this…unapologetically protective and defensive of the people she loves. And while I often protest, admittedly it has always made me feel safe. It is a special gift to always feel that loved and protected by someone. In fact, I find myself now repeating this same kind of fierce loyalty with my own sons, because deep down I want them to always feel as loved and protected as I did.

My mom is playful. She loves playing games. One of my sister’s favorite stories to tell is about the time she had asked for an Atari 2600 for Christmas. During the weeks leading up to the holiday, my sister would lie in bed at night and hear strange bee-boop-bee-boop sounds coming from the basement below her. On Christmas morning, it became clear what all those strange noises were. Mom had gotten us an Atari, and she had been staying up late playing all the games and setting them with her high scores! To this day, I don’t think anyone ever did beat mom’s high score on Qbert.

During our family holidays, after clearing the table and putting away the leftovers, it is always board game time. Pictionary, Scategories, Tri-Bond, Cranium, Spy vs. Spy. We often play game after game into the early morning. Mom is a night owl anyways, so she is usually the last person at the table, outlasting all us younger people. She talks and plays and talks some more. Funnily, I don’t remember my mom ever caring about winning any of the games we have played, she has just always seemed content playing the games and being with her family.

My mom is probably best known for talking too much, or as I like to say being a storyteller. Whether reminiscing about her childhood or retelling one of her infamous stories about her many other places of employment, her stories have almost developed lives of their own. Each time they are retold the details have gotten bigger, better, and more fantastical. Yet each time she tells them she swears up and down they are 100% true. Sometimes we argue about the revised details, but most of the time we just let it go. Because they make her happy. And she loves telling her stories.

In writing this blog post, I submitted a draft to my sister to read and give me feedback. She quickly pointed out that all of these characteristics I admire in my mom: being creative, playful, fiercely loyal, talking too much, exaggerating stories, going over the top for special occasions, and being selfless to a fault with friends and family, are all the ways I am just like her.

In this way, my Mother’s Day gift to my mom has really turned out to be a gift to myself. I realized that when I stopped to take the time and appreciate who my mother really is, instead of comparing her to the Hallmark one-dimensional sugary sweet mother and grandmother I sometimes wish she was, that I’m actually really freaking lucky. She might be a Ousier, but she’s my Ousier, and I wouldn’t trade her for all the M’Lynns in the world! #MyMothersDaughter