My mother has been sick for almost as long as I can remember. But the truth is, I did not consider it as much as I should have growing up. She never allowed her physical limitations to define her, so I saw her through the lens that she held up for herself and it did not focus on what she wasn’t able to do. She shared with me once, in a rare moment of reflection on her childhood, that before she became ill she was quite the active tomboy, spending most of her days out of doors and beating the boys at baseball and running races. I remember her sad smile of what l now know to be nostalgia as she recounted the story, though I did not recognize it then as I was young when she shared this and had no frame of reference. Her illness, she said, had robbed her of her energy and deprived her of doing what she loved.
She made sure that my sister Kathy and I spent our childhood days as she would have, pushing us out the door to explore. Summers were spent – sunrise to sunset – outside, riding our bikes, reading our books high up in the crooks of trees, having picnics and playing games with the other neighborhood kids. “A dirty kid is a happy kid!” she would say (actually she still says this when she sees me raise an eyebrow at my children when their clothes are full of a day’s play). I fondly remember sitting on the lip of the tub with my sister, scrubbing the dirt off our feet when we did not have time for a bath before bed, and being tucked in, exhausted and happy, to the sound of crickets.
As we grew, she watched us tackle our physical endeavors and supported us from the sidelines. I do not think she missed a single tennis match, and she sat close in the football stands when I was a cheerleader, subtly letting me know whenever the ball had changed hands so I would not embarrass the squad by calling a cheer for offense when we were actually defense. Though those days are long gone and my sister and I have families of our own now, she is still there for us in every way possible.
She has recently become sicker and her body simply cannot keep up. Every occasion spent together, from celebration to simple lunch, holds more meaning than it would have perhaps even a year ago. Next month, she will stand on the sidelines once again as I take on my first olympic distance triathlon. What she does not know is that I am doing this for her. For every bike ride she could not take, for every race she could not run, for every boy she could not beat. Thank you, Mom, for teaching us that we could do anything we set our minds to, and for showing us through the beautiful example of how you have lived your life what true strength really is.