My mom made the best Hamburger Helper. She used to buy the the Beef Pasta flavor, the one with the giant egg noodles. I remember her preparing this decidedly mundane dinner in the most exotic way -- in the wok. My parents received a wok as a wedding gift and I think my mom considered it the greatest culinary invention. She was also really great at oatmeal. For breakfast, she'd prepare the old fashioned oats on the stove and toast an entire loaf of white bread. Then she'd sit my brother and I down at the table, each in front of a steaming bowl of mush. In the center of the table she'd place a towering stack of white bread toast and plenty of cinnamon and sugar, the better to flavor our bland oatmeal. From there it was a free for all. To this day I can't eat oatmeal without plenty of white bread toast to sop up the mushy dregs.
My mom was a great babysitter. During the summers of my childhood, she often babysat a handful of neighborhood kids, in addition to my brother and I. (Although, is it really babysitting when it's your own kids...?) She was always searching for activities to occupy our time until the pool opened at noon. One particularly creative morning she decided to clear out the kitchen cupboards, eradicating any canned goods past their expiration dates or deemed unworthy of gracing our kitchen table. The morning was fruitful, as she found buried at the back of the cupboard a can of Campbell's Nacho Cheese Soup (which, ew, really does exist), and a can of pickled beets. In a stroke of motherly genius, she donated these two items to my game of "house". And because every good mother wants their child to have the tools to succeed, she also offered up a can opener. WHY? The world may never know. But man, oh man, were we glad she did. That day the Yokom girls and I created the culinary delight known as Beet Cheese Surprise. Lacking bowls or cups, we dumped the contents right on the pavement, using sticks to stir up the lumpy mass. When my mom discovered our masterpiece, she checked the clock, announced the pool to be open, and sent us on our way. She must have felt somewhat responsible for the unpalatable mess as I'm pretty sure she hosed that shit down and never spoke of it again.
My mom was a fantastic cheerleader. As a precocious first grader, I had the dubious honor of receiving an award for excellent spelling. I say dubious because first grade spelling is not really all that difficult. Either that, or I was matriculating with a class full of morons. Anyway. I was set to receive this award at an all-school assembly, which also happened to fall on "crazy clothes day". My mom, not wanting me to miss an opportunity to express my individuality, enthusiastically applauded my decision to wear long johns covered in tin foil topped with an antenna headband. Crazy, right?! The school administration thought otherwise and ordered my mom to bring a change of clothes, post haste, which she also did enthusiastically.
My mom was a great storyteller. At night, after tucking my brother and me in, she'd pull out the chapter book and read until I drifted off. Most of the books are a jumbled mass of lost memory floating in my brain, but the night my mom finished Charlotte's Web made an indelible mark on me. Mom's voice was calm and soothing as she read of Charlotte's imminent demise and Wilbur's panic and dismay. Like every other night, my mom closed the book, checked once more on my brother, and went off to bed herself. But that night I lay weeping, sad for Charlotte's death, sad for all that Wilbur had lost, confused at why anyone had to die. I snuck out of bed and tiptoed to my parent's room, looking for answers. I crawled in next to my mom and sobbed, "WHY DID CHARLOTTE HAVE TO DIE?" My mom, ever the compassionate woman, replied, "Because all things die." Her answer was so succinct, so honest and true. She hugged me close and let me cry until I couldn't cry anymore.
My mom was never the soccer mom. She never carpooled the neighborhood kids or baked elaborate birthday cakes or volunteered as art mom or joined the PTO. She never scheduled her life around my brother and I. What she gave was time, and sometimes her time was precious. My mom gave of herself in a way that fostered a deep and lasting relationship, and we have weathered some storms. She has always been my loudest cheerleader and a seemingly bottomless well of support. I don't always say it and sometimes I'm quite terrible at showing it, but mom, I really do think you're the greatest. And you still whip up a wicked Hamburger Helper.
Happy Mother's Day.