My mother gave birth to me at 11:43 p.m. on May 14th, 1991. I like to think that being her third and final child was a sign of her realization that she finally got it right (after failing miserably with my two older brothers).
At the time, she was 36 years old, already the mother of two. Her months of pregnancy were probably spent trying to manage Reuben, a bona fide misbehaving boy, and Noah – a child who has been too smart for his own good, pretty much since birth.
People say there is a special place in heaven for mothers who raised all boys. I would not argue with that conclusion. In fact, I’d say that they deserve their own special place, a suite, room service, unlimited cable, restitution, personal masseuses, a makeup artist, and the best cook God can offer.
You see… most of my mom’s middle-aged years have been spent trying to wrangle a group of three and sometimes four (hi dad) boys into behaving.
From the times she had to change my diapers to the times she spent answering to police officers and principals, time to rest has been nothing but an illusion. A typical day included her or my dad making lunches, cooking breakfast, driving us to school, picking us up halfway through the day because one of us got caught skipping class or hiding beer in book bags, and then dealing with our resentment when we were handed down what was undoubtedly a fair and lenient punishment.
Throughout that time, she’s also been an inspiration. My mother is a proud cancer survivor. The victor over a disease that took away her sense of well being, her sister and father, her hair, but never her will. She is a tri-athlete, an editor, an employee of the prestigious Princeton University, and one of the most loving people I have ever encountered.
Yet, she was and is feared. I learned in my teens, when my brother’s 22-year old friends would run at the sound of her footsteps coming downstairs at 2 a.m., that she was the queen of her domain. Her fear of birds (one that we abused religiously, like the time we hid a dead bird in her gardening mulch) was nothing compared to our fear of her catching us with beer and pot, or sneaking out, or getting in trouble at school.
Mom is also an object of mystery. Her past as a bit of a wild child has been alluded to, but never elaborated on, by both my aunt and my grandmother. I’ll never forget when she mentioned plainly, in passing, as if I had known, that she spent a year after high school graduation hitch hiking across the country. “It was just the time,” she told me. Born Barbara and now Baru, she moved to Russia and back, attended the University of Maryland when she thought the time was right, and – from my perspective – basically lived the life of a hippie child on the run.
As a parent, the only way I have ever known her, she has had infinite patience. Some of the things I received scolding and groundings for as a kid seem – today – like things I should have received beatings and jail time for.
As a child, I was her baby. Certainly, I was coddled in response to my brother’s abuse, loved unconditionally for being “innocent.”
As a teen, I was given lenience and responsibility, and most importantly, the freedom to be whom I wanted.
When I sat down at dinner one night to announce proudly and prematurely that I was an atheist, my mom simply asked for my reasoning and encouraged me to stay educated, confessing honestly her own doubts about organized religion.
When I grew my hair into a ridiculous wannabe Afro at 13, the only time she ever encouraged me to cut it was for my Bar Mitzvah. She welcomed with open arms all the girlfriends and friends, good and bad, that I chose to bring home.
Towards the end of high school, she made an addition to the family; my unofficially adopted brother Venose. Once a 16-year old troublemaker left on the street, he was further proof of her and my father’s incredible good will, and wondrous talent at raising good spirits. Venose is more than a fixture in our family, and turned into a pretty damn good person at that.
As a young man, I continue to learn from her. Through job searches, challenging course work, heartbreak, death, victory, loss, and just about anything life throws at you, she has been a source of wisdom. She has taught me to treat women right, to be grateful for the little things, to channel your spirituality and good energy, and most importantly, to enjoy the life you live and never give up on the endless pursuit of happiness.
Today, she is one of my best friends. Today, she holds my trust like few people ever have or ever will. Today, she is the birthday girl.
So with that I say, happy (29th) birthday mom. I know, like the good number one fan you are, you’ll be reading this. So here’s to this and many, many more.