Growing up, I thought I had the meanest mother in the world.
My friends’ mothers did most of the work on their science fair projects, but I had to do almost all of the work on mine. One year, I tested different brands of store-bought popcorn for their popping prowess. On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, my mother made me sit at the kitchen table counting hundreds of popped and unpopped kernels while my friends played outside.
In elementary and middle school, I hated wearing dresses and got nervous around boys, but during my sixth grade year, my mother forced me to participate in Teen Cotillion. On Wednesday nights, instead of building forts in the woods or going to Charlotte Hornets games with my dad, I had to put on a skirt and go to a middle school gym to learn how to do the waltz and the shag and the electric slide and hold hands with boys.
For more than a decade, my mother dragged me to piano lessons once a week, and the other six days, she made me practice for at least 45 minutes, setting the timer on the oven so I couldn’t cheat. While other kids got to play fun music from movie soundtracks and chart-topping albums, I had to play the classics. And while lots of kids got away with just playing in the annual recital, I had to play in all of the competitions, too. I got a ‘superior,’ the best score, every single competition in every single year – all but one. That time, I got an ‘excellent,’ the second best score. On the way home, my mother told me I didn’t play to my potential.
Some of my friends bought pizza in the school cafeteria five days a week, but my mother sent me to school with thermoses of chicken noodle soup and apple slices and peanut butter sandwiches with the crust still attached.
A lot of my friends’ rooms looked like war zones, but my mother made me clean my room and took away privileges if I didn’t. She used to follow me around with the vacuum cleaner and got mad when I wore my muddy soccer cleats into the kitchen.
Most of my high school friends had midnight (or later) curfews, but my mother insisted that I arrive home by 10:30. During my sophomore year, on the night before I turned 16, I went to the senior follies production at school with my junior and senior friends. One of them convinced me to stick around for a birthday celebration with store-bought cupcakes and mismatched candles at midnight. I walked in the door of my house at 12:25, almost two hours after curfew. My mother grounded me.
None of my friends’ parents pressured them about their grades like my mother pressured me. The first semester of my freshman year of high school, I got my first-ever ‘C,’ in English. My teacher told my parents that I got the ‘C’ because I didn’t apply myself, so my mother took away my Cliffs Notes, threatened to hire a tutor, and insisted on reading my take-home papers before I turned them in. I never got another ‘C’ again; that spring, I took the state writing test and got the highest score in the school. Seven years later, I graduated from college with an English degree and an ‘A’ average.
Many of my soccer teammates’ moms came to every single game – even the weekend-long tournaments out of the state – and waited in the parking lot after practice so they could yell at the coaches about their daughter’s playing time. My mother never came to practice, never yelled at my coaches, and never even came to many games. She was too busy being president of the Junior League or serving on some other board to give kids with handicaps or from less fortunate families a chance to believe. And while my teammates’ mothers helped them research college soccer programs and athletic scholarship opportunities, my mother told me to go to the best school, even if I had to walk on the team or, worse yet, never got a chance to play on the varsity.
When I became extremely homesick at the beginning of my freshman year of college, my mother wouldn’t let me move home to go to the school my boyfriend attended. She told me that if I didn’t like my school, I could go somewhere else, but I couldn’t come home.
When I told my mother my boyfriend and I wanted to spend the summer after my graduation driving across the country, she told me no. Instead, she made me get a PR internship at a local ad agency while I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, since my original plan to be a starving artist didn’t solve the issue of getting me off my parents’ payroll. That internship led to the career I have today. And when I wanted to get married after I earned my undergraduate degree but before my husband finished his, she convinced me to wait until he was halfway through grad school.
Finally, after years of waiting, my wedding day was the happiest of my life. That day, I stood in front of 75 of our closest family and friends and toasted my father and my mother for giving me everything a daughter ever could ask for.
Since that day, I’ve seen my mother torn apart by the disease that shattered our family the same day we learned of its existence for the first time, just one month after my wedding. I’ve watched her fight for my sister, Taylor, like her own life depended on it – and maybe it does. I’ve watched her demand the best of the people who have a chance to give kids with Batten disease a future, just like she used to demand the best out of me. I’ve seen her at her most desperate, and in those moments, I’ve tried, often in vain, to be the rock for her that she’s always been for me, even though I used to be too naive to see it.
I love my sister, but I’m not only fighting for her. I’m fighting for my mother – the greatest mother in the world. Because that’s what she always did for me.
Mother’s Day is almost two weeks away, but my mother deserves to be honored 365 days a year. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you!