When it comes to the holidays, everyone approaches them a little differently. Sometimes they are filled with cheer and family togetherness, while other times they are a not-so-subtle reminder of grief or loneliness.
Thanksgiving came and went, in what felt like a blink of an eye. I’m not too sad to see it go; the day, beyond its problematic roots of indigenous people’s mistreatment, is wrought with excess and sprinkled with consumerism. I love getting to see family and spending time together, but I’d honestly be okay with never seeing another Thursday football game in my lifetime.
I do, however, like the idea of pausing to remember what I’m thankful for. Who doesn’t appreciate that reminder? This year—in part due to the holidays and also thanks to Word’s Between Coast’s recent “thank you” series—I am feeling inspired to carry that theme of thankfulness with me beyond a singular day.
Welcome to my new series.
Once a month, I’ll dedicate a post to someone or something that deserves my gratitude. I want to embrace others and ground myself, and remind my anxiety-ridden self of what I have, throughout every season.
Up first: my mom.
Dear mom, I love you and I’m thankful to you and for you.
You are kind, compassionate, considerate, loving, and fun. You are full of life and ideas, passion and humor. You inspire me in so many ways, and I feel so fortunate to have your guidance. I’m one of the lucky ones.
To those who don’t know my mom Michelle, here’s all you need to know.
Originally composed for my 2016 communications class, Family Narratives
My mother is an artist. She always has been and always will be—you can see it in the way she finds beauty in all things, how she grasps a paintbrush, or her attention to even the smallest, faintest detail. Though her art is captivating and her appreciation of nature is admirable, my mom is inspirational beyond originality and creativity. Her power comes from her actions.
She fell in love with Santa Fe over several trips. We—my mom, dad, and I—would drive five hours to the New Mexico city from our own small Colorado town, Gunnison. Once my older brothers came along too, and we spent Thanksgiving in a hotel off of Cerrillos Road. Slowly, as my dad started to work more and my brothers grew into adulthood and I transitioned into my teenage years, my mom and I started making the trips alone. Once or twice a year we trekked in the name of Girl’s Weekend.
We would stay in hotels and casitas, molded in sandy adobe, and explore the city. We’d walk all day and eat far into the night, gorging on sopapillas and honey. Whenever possible, my mom would treat me to a soak in a Japanese hot springs spa, Ten Thousand Waves, where we’d relax in kimonos and private tubs for up to an hour. The plaza has always been our favorite. There are cathedrals and hand-made silver jewelry and people strumming guitars in the park, with their cowboy hats tilted enough to show off a smile. There are cobblestone streets and French pastry cafés and murals around every corner.
My mom would take me to the children’s museum, then the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, and we’d end up at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, where my mom admire the movement in each painted flower. She would pause in front of each painting, tilt her head, and throw all her energy into contemplation. If I wasn’t by her side, she would motion for me to join, and say in an excited whisper, “Take a look!” It might’ve gone a little over my head at the time, but now every time I see an O’Keeffe canvas, I feel a sense of calm and nurturing that my mom instilled.
My mom fell in love with the way people in Santa Fe said hello, asked where she was from, and opened up about their lives. Sometimes it would happen in the checkout line at TJ Maxx, other times it happened with jewelry vendors on the street. My mom could—and still can—talk to anyone, about anything, for any length of time. In Santa Fe, she could do this all the time, among art and art lovers and a rich history.
When I was a junior in high school, my mom made the decision to go back to school to get her master’s degree. She wasn’t happy sitting still, and wanted more for herself. She found Southwestern College in Santa Fe, and settled on studying Art Therapy. She and my dad, happily married for 29 years as of this March [now up to 31], decided that they would make it work. After many discussions of, “Yes, this is what I want to do,” my mom rented an apartment in Santa Fe, while my dad and I stayed in Gunnison.
My mom traveled back to our home in Gunnison every weekend, and drove back to New Mexico each Sunday. For my junior and senior years of high school, my mom went to school part-time, so that she would be able to make it back to Colorado more often, for my school and sporting events. She made it for nearly every softball game, all of my basketball tournaments, and each award ceremony or National Honor Society event. She found a way to make it for early mornings and late nights, and never batted an eye at being asked to attend. I could tell that she felt guilty for not being around during my last years at home, but she was never any less of a mom. After I left for college, she went full time, to finish her degree. Normally a one-year program for full-time graduate students, my mom finished in three. She did so for me. The best part, though, is that she did it for herself.
My mom and dad met while they went to the same Catholic high school in Sioux City, Iowa. They had my oldest brother when they were 17, and faced a hefty dose of adversity through their teenage pregnancy and lack of support. Within two years they had another child, and continued to support themselves financially and emotionally, as they funded their own wedding and then their college educations. Seven years later, they had me. And ever since, I’ve been exposed to two loving and caring and compassionate parents who demonstrate their love for both one another and their family on a daily basis. I’ve been blessed, to say the least.
I’ve also seen the underbelly. I’ve seen what it’s like to move away from an Iowa home with deep familial roots to a small, isolated mountain town and not know anyone. I’ve seen what it’s like to feel discouraged with job selection, when options were limited with a fine arts degree. I’ve seen the struggle of making sacrifices, to ensure that children are put first. I’ve seen the endlessness of going to sporting events for years, even though it’s the last thing a person would ever want to do. I’ve seen a father grow into his own business and success, while his partner is hushed in his shadows. I’ve seen the restlessness of staying put, when nomadic blood boils beneath the surface.
When my mom went to Santa Fe for school, I saw her live for herself.
I saw her put her own needs first, after years of doing the best things for everyone else. I saw her leave her comfort zone—her husband, home, dogs, family—to chase her dream. I saw her dedicate all of her time and energy into academia; she was focused, centered, organized, and responsible. I saw her pushed to her limits, missing the people she loved, feeling left out of the everyday life of our family, but still sticking to it anyway. I saw her confidence grow, as she found her niche and her passion foster into one of her best talents: helping people.
My mom graduated from Southwestern College in September of 2014. She stood on a stage and gave a speech, humbly thanking everyone for their love and support, in front of her family and friends. My dad and brothers and I sat with tears in our eyes, as we watched this wonderful woman we love finish a long and difficult journey. We saw all of her hard work, courage, and love come to fruition. She was the same person, mom, and wife—but she pushed herself to be person that she wanted to be—which is no small feat.
My mother is an artist, and you can tell just by talking to her that she is filled with love and energy and compassion. And, if you’re lucky enough to know her, you can see that she is just about the strongest woman imaginable, in a 5’4” frame.