I was 22 when I met your mother. At the time, both of us were draped in polyester. We worked together as ushers at The Music Center and the uniforms left much to be desired in the way of fashion. Although, when it was cooler, the girls got to wear dark cloaks with crimson linings. Your mother looked beautiful in hers, like a character from one of the operas whose doors we guarded every night. I don’t need to tell you that your mother can wear just about anything and make it look stylish. But that’s not why I fell in love with her.
I’ve written you this letter because one day, many years from now, when you’re more worried about which dress to wear to the prom or whether Billy Simms looked at you during math class (he’s not good enough for you, by the way), you may not give a second thought as to how lucky you are to have the mom you do. You probably won’t have the time to sit with me and let me tell you this story. I’m sure you’ve long since determined that I’m pretty square (but lovable in a nutty professor sort of way). So I’ve written it all down for you. You may not remember all the details from when you were a sick kid and Mom gave you such great strength. You’ll want to keep this handy, maybe even re-read it the next time you’re thinking that your mother is on a mission to make your life hell. Truth is, ever since you were very small, you and your mother have butted heads. But whenever you were afraid, whenever you were hurting or feeling blue, she was the first one you ran to. I’m about to tell you why.
I confess, your mom wasn’t my type. I had this inexplicable obsession with Italian girls. In my last year at college, I waxed poetic over a dark-haired Florentine named Cella who barely knew I existed. Actually, I fell in love with all things Italian, not just the girls. That’s why when I graduated, I flew to Italy on an exchange program and planned to stay for a year. I’d hoped to find a job with a theatre company and begin my career as a director and writer. I fantasized I’d find a nice girl while I was there, too. Fortunately for you, my grand plan fell apart shortly after I arrived. I was forced to return to Los Angeles feeling myself a total failure. It was a dreadful summer. I felt sorry for myself constantly and nearly drove your grandmother crazy. But by September I’d had enough with self pity. I decided to move in with a couple of friends from college. I found a job as an usher at the Music Center – not a great job for a college grad – but it did get me close to the theatre. And that’s how I met your mother.
What I most remember about our first meeting was how bossy she was. She had just been promoted to senior usher, and I think the power went to her head. She got to wear an ugly maroon uniform, while I had to settle for an ugly blue one. She kept her ushering “zone” under tight control. There she stood, all of five foot tall, not more than 90 pounds, wearing a modified sofa cover, and commanding four of us as though we were going into battle. The first time I worked with her I tried to strike up a conversation, but all I got out of her was quick, curt responses. One of my colleagues that night asked me what I thought of her. I said she was cute but really not my type. When he asked me why I responded, “she’s a little too serious … and blonde.”
It was your nina who matched us. The two of them were very close friends. Nina and I struck a friendship of our own and it was just a matter of time before she decided to put us together. We all went out after work most nights. One of those nights several of us sat around a table gossiping and I made an offhand wisecrack, something sarcastic and desperately clever. Your mother found it funny. Her eyes shaped themselves into wistful little crescents like they always do when she laughs. Her cheeks rose up to welcome that wide, warm smile she wears as comfortably as an old t-shirt. I remember thinking, “she’s pretty cute.” I told your nina the same a few days later, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Seven years later, you were born into our family. How your mother fawned over you! Late at night, when you’d wake up crying, she’d rock you and then bring you into our bed. You’d nuzzle up close to her chest and the two of you would drift off to sleep looking so beautiful. I could always make you giggle but your mother was the one who gave you true comfort. It wasn’t long, however, until you started testing her boundaries. I often laughed and teased your mom about the road ahead. She, a virgo with a fixed point of view on how to do things, and you a strong-willed Leo set on establishing who was boss. Do you know that when you were about five you used to walk through the house and proclaim that YOU were the queen? You were explicit in pointing out that mom was either a princess or a step-mother, but not the queen. You’d quickly glance over to see if Mom took notice, a wry smile on your face. One Halloween you told Mom she should be a witch. Again, you said it with a grin, knowing it stuck your mom in the gut.
And then you got sick.
I was unprepared for your first hospital visit. You were in such pain and there was nothing we could do. I wanted to do my part, as a father and a husband. I volunteered to stay with you one night so that your mom could go home and rest. It was awful. You were having severe headaches all night. They woke you from sleep. The nurses gave you pain medication, but that only got you disoriented. I tried to hold your hand, but you pushed me away. I couldn’t give you what you really needed. You wanted your mom. She arrived the next day looking very weary. She couldn’t sleep at all being away from you. We decided from then on that she would stay at the hospital and I would look after Lucas. I felt bad that I couldn’t relieve her, but she only wanted to be by your side. She slept in the bed with you at night, and you nuzzled next to her just like you did when you were a baby.
Jordan, you must never forget how much you relied upon your mom. Perhaps the bond between you goes deeper than mother and daughter. As you know, your mom nearly died when she was an infant. For the first five years of her life she went in and out of hospitals, and she developed a strength that governed her actions for the rest of her life. Gram J calls her the iron butterfly. She looks very delicate on the surface, but try to crack her and you’ll see how strong she really is. You wouldn’t be who you are now without that strength. You wouldn’t shine so bright without all the love she gave you.
Hopefully, cancer is now a distant memory in your life. I hope you forget most of your illness. I hope you can’t recall the debilitating surgeries and the countless tests. But I do hope you remember the way your mother loved you throughout it all. I hope you remember how when you were hurting and feeling lost it was her that you turned to to give you strength. She gave it to you effortlessly and unconditionally, served with generous amounts of love. No one drives her more crazy than you … but she will always be there when you need her. She has a character and an ability to uplift the soul that inspires me every day. And the seeds of these wonderful gifts lie in you. Let them bloom and return the gift.