Happy Birthday, Mom

My mom gave me life, her face, the flecks of auburn that sometimes sneak into the gray and black in the Summer, and Jesus. The least I can do is remember her birthday.

Let’s double-back to that Jesus part. My mom was my popsicle stick-wielding flannel-graph-wizard of a Sunday school teacher when I was five and six and seven and, well, for several years. I first heard about a kid killing a giant with a rock from her. And about that guy with the big boat, and that other guy who parted a sea and turned a stick into a snake. And about Jesus.

My earliest memory of my mom might be of her singing “If I were a butterfly, I’d thank you God for giving me wings…” with hand motions to me and my friends. Then I’m pretty sure we melted crayons between two pieces of wax paper with an iron, drank some red juice and ate crackers.

But she didn’t just give me Jesus at church. She gave him to me at work too. She took care of at least 150 kids for twelve hours every day for 27 years. I remember being about six years-old and very jealous one day that some other kid was sitting on mom’s lap. The kid probably got in trouble or skinned a knee – for some reason the kid had to go see Mrs. Marcia. And Mrs. Marcia treated him like her own, hugging, holding, listening, reminding me later that I have to share not only my toys but my mom too. And, truth is, I knew without being told that some kids in that daycare needed a mom – my mom.

She gave me Jesus at the mall one day too. They named him Rambo. The popular kids at school acted like Rambo’s friend but behind his back they laughed at his turned in leg, crooked arm, slurred speech and drunken gait. And because they did, we all did. Until that day at the mall when mom saw him crying and alone by the fountain. He was lost and mom wouldn’t leave him. She knelt down, looked him in the eyes, held his hand, calmed him down, and called him Michael. Then she told me to stay with him while she found a security guard – as if she didn’t know or care that Michael was beneath my station in school life. And when Michael’s mom arrived cursing and belittling, my mom calmed her down too and talked up Michael’s bravery.

My mom retired for about a month a few years ago. Then she started a new life teaching public school kids who can’t see, or can’t walk, or can’t talk – kids who need a grandmother. Her eyes fill up with tears when she recounts the first time this girl went down a slide or that boy turned on the lights by himself. The good kind of tears. I imagine a lot of people shed the same kind when they think about her.

Thank you, Mom, for being Jesus to me and so many other kids. We’re all glad God made you today. Happy birthday.