When I was in high school, my mom bought me a mother-daughter journal. It’s called “Just Between Us,” and behind the colorful cover, there are questions that ask the mother and daughter to list their ten favorite books, draw a picture of their ideal room, write about the first time they fell in love, and detail what they want to be when they grow up, among other questions.
A few months ago, while I was home for a holiday break, I found the notebook in my dresser. I brought it to my mom, and we flipped to a page that asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. I had written that when I grew up, I wanted to be a marine biologist, a pro-sports player, a graphic designer, or, unrealistically, a dolphin. We laughed tears into our eyes. I didn’t pursue any of those paths, aside from a semester as a graphic design major in undergrad, and we laughed about that, too. I am always changing my mind, making last-minute decisions based on gut instinct, and she has always been the one who knows how to love me through it all. She listens as I jump from one idea to the next, and she waits until I settle into one to say, I am proud of who you are, no matter what you do. My mother is, and always has been, a woman who loves her children well.
Last summer, in Cocke County, Tennessee, I met Amanda. With five children, Amanda is most proud of the way she has learned to be a good mother. It was early July, the beginning of week five, and the volunteers were working on the floors in one of the back rooms. We were sitting on a couch in her living room watching the volunteers tote packages of laminate flooring from room to room and chatting about why she needed the repairs, about why family is the most important part of her life. “I am living the dream,” she said, “I’m living it. Not many people have what we have.” I instinctively looked around the room, trying to measure how her home embodied a dream, but then I noticed the way she was looking at one of her daughters, Summer, who sat on the floor near our feet. Summer’s chin was tucked towards her chest as she watched hair and makeup tutorial videos. I watched the way Amanda looked at her. Her gentle attention showing how being a mother can fill a dream, how being a mother can make a life extraordinary.
Amanda claims mothering is the only thing she knows she is good at. Her husband works every day, from sunrise to sunset. He spends time away from home to make money, and she spends time in the home to keep a strong family. While she states her love for being a mother, it is evident in the way she speaks about her children with tenderness, the way her smile spreads easily between ears as she talks about their hobbies and all of the family traditions they created. She told me about the tradition for the end of the school year– Amanda congratulates each child with a bouquet of flowers. If she and Michael have a little extra money at the end of the month, they go into town for hamburgers. Her favorite tradition, she says, is their annual trip to Gatlinburg. In Gatlinburg, they visit the aquarium, and they always take a family photo.
When one of her daughters, Emily, graduated from kindergarten, Amanda brought a bouquet of roses that matched her outfit to the ceremony. Amanda gave her the bouquet at the end, after she had officially become a first grader, but Emily couldn’t accept her gift. She had noticed that most of the other students in her class hadn’t gotten a bouquet, so she walked around and handed a rose to every person without a flower. “I am so proud of this,” Amanda said, her eyes bright with happy tears when she finished the story, “my children know how much they have and want to pay it forward.”
Last summer, volunteers and donors provided Amanda’s home with new floors throughout the house, a ramp off the front porch, roof repairs, and a new ceiling where water had leaked through. They will now be safe in their home, distant from the dampness that caused them illness in the past, and Amanda can focus on what matters – being a mother to her children.
While traveling across Appalachia, I encountered many mothers like Amanda: mothers who put their children first and dedicate their lives to ensuring their children will grow up in a place that is good, in a home that is safe. This Mother’s Day, I think about the way Amanda looked at Summer, the way she taught her children how to love others. I think about the way my mother taught me how to love through loving me. Mothers deserve to be celebrated every day, but they especially deserve recognition today. Whether it’s your mother, a mother-in-law, a friend’s mother, or a mother you met while volunteering on ASP, we are surrounded by mother figures who deserve to be loved as much as they love.
Jamie Tews, ASP volunteer, staffer, storyteller, advocate