Normally on Mother’s Day, I like to repost the story about the time she and I managed to clog the entire plumbing system of a Greek island.
This year, however, has been a different sort of crapfest—one I would not and could not have survived without her. I figure she deserves a little more of a write up this time than an embarrassing bathroom story (no matter how epic and hilarious it may be).
When I was little, the prospect of going underwater for any amount of time terrified me. This wasn’t due to an inherent fear of drowning or anything normal like that. It was because I thought that Monstro, the whale from the 1940’s Pinocchio animated movie, would eat me.
Considering all the childhood nightmare fuel that film contains, I’m not sure why I latched onto the whale like I did. Perhaps it was because the story of Jonah and the Whale is one of the first stories used to introduce kids to the Bible. There’s plenty of debate about whether or not stories from the Old Testament are to be interpreted literally. But to my four-year-old mind, the tale was church sanctioned confirmation that a whale could in fact be an evil, man-eating creature…and this one had an appetite for children.
In an effort to help me overcome my cetaphobia (a fear of whales…and yes it’s real thing), my mom said that if I managed to go underwater at a YMCA swim lesson, she would reward me with a Bossk action figure.
At the time, I had no idea I would eventually become obsessed with both the Star Wars movies and the tiny pieces of plastic that went along with them, which now adorn multiple shelves and wall areas in my office. I didn’t even know who Bossk was back then besides being “the cool lizard man” that showed up onscreen for a few seconds in The Empire Strikes Back.
|“Didn’t he have elbows in the movie?”|
I also knew there was no way my mom would let me go underwater at the YMCA if it wasn’t safe. Still, the prospect of Monstro showing up to devour me continued to wage war with my desire to own a real life piece of my favorite film. Then, as we got in the car to leave for the pool, my mom played the ultimate trump card: She took Bossk out of her purse and showed him to me.
She’d already bought the toy. That meant that as soon as I conquered my fears, the action figure would immediately be mine.
When my turn at the pool came, I took a deep breath, submerged myself under the water, and discreetly went ballistic. I say “discreetly” because I was still under the illusion that the space beneath the pool’s surface constituted a different world. As far as I was concerned, the only thing that could hear or see me screaming into the chlorine-filled abyss was a giant two-dimensional whale. The poor girl running the swim lesson probably thought the geyser of bubbles I’d created was from my bowels emptying.
Fortunately, both my sphincter and my mom’s assurances of safety remained true. I’d gone underwater and survived.
I don’t actually remember the moment my mom gave me that cherished Bossk action figure. You’d think such a momentous occasion would be burned into my memory, but what really stuck with me from that ordeal was the fact that my mom believed in me. Despite my crippling fear of a cartoon whale, I wasn’t oblivious enough to think she would buy and show me a toy if my success wasn’t a safe bet. She not only knew I could do it, but she knew I would do it, too.
In the grand scheme of things, that terrifying dive into a highly controlled environment constituted an exceptionally small victory in my life. My mom’s faith, however, would end up being more valuable than I could possibly imagine.
If the world ever becomes boring enough that the story of my life is written, it will be severely lacking in the absent and/or abusive parent portion that makes for a more compelling narrative. I’ve been extremely lucky to have two loving parents who were both heavily interested and involved in my life.
As far as interests go, I definitely take after my dad. If there’s a good story/franchise involving monsters, aliens, malevolent spirits, or anything can just plain scare the crap out of you, we’re 100% on board.
You think Mom would let us keep this in the house?
We like to suit up in our customized paintball gear and hunt each other on various playing fields in Georgia and South Carolina (which sometimes ends with us squealing like terrified kittens after we ambush one another at the exact same time).
Together, we can wonder the hallways of a large comic con or watch financial news shows and become equally enthralled.
Despite my father having no affiliation to the University of Kentucky (besides the fact that I attend school there and graduated from it), he reacts to the athletic programs’ results with the same elation or despair that I do.
We call each other to complain about how bad The Walking Dead was this past season or how Stranger Things might be the greatest television show ever made.
Mom’s interests, on the other hand, do not often align with ours. When Dad and I react favorably to a promo or trailer for some new action/horror movie, she will usually roll her eyes and say “You guys can see that one without me.”
Where I do take after my her, however, is in my personality—particularly with regard to my sense of humor. We are both the type of people who will walk onto an airplane wearing neck pillows on our heads like hats, smiling and waving to the strangers around us as if we’re greeting a throng of adoring fans. We can also laugh at one another’s embarrassing-yet-harmless misfortunes—like when I forget what the safety key on a treadmill is for.
One area where I strive to take after my mom (but cannot possibly match her) is her ability to nurture people’s hearts. I know lots of folks think their mom is the most loving and caring person on the planet, but my mom’s so good that she’s made a volunteer career out of it as a Stephen Minister.
In addition to her uncanny knack for showing love and empathy to an unfathomable degree, she’s also great at helping people find strength and potential within themselves that they didn’t know they had. While I was growing up, Mom never allowed me to retreat into my introverted shell for unhealthy amounts of time. Despite my general (and often severe) lack of self confidence, she still managed to convince me that I needed to try new things—and that I could actually be good at some of them.
Sometimes, she was right…like with band, which started as something I had to be convinced was worth sticking to and soon grew into a passion that eventually become a beloved career.
Other times, she wasn’t…like with soccer.
The kid playing goalie in the gif isn’t me.
I was actually much worse.
This wasn’t some helicopter parent demanding her kid try things until they succeeded at something so she could brag to other moms at the PTA meetings. When my mom got the sense I really didn’t like something (like soccer…and tennis), she didn’t push it. But when she saw me struggling or losing hope in something I loved, she refused to let me give up. Instead, she would gently but firmly push me to face down whatever new Monstro I’d concocted inside my head.
If I succeeded, we’d celebrate. If I failed, she would pick me back up and help me try again. No matter what happened, though, I knew that if my mom was supporting me and refusing to let me give up, then at least one person in the world truly believed I could do it.
On March 19, 2017, my life took a substantially drastic and severe turn. I won’t get into it here (yet), but let’s just say that it was a shock I was in no way, shape, or form, prepared for. What started out as a relaxing day watching Kentucky win an NCAA tournament game turned into arguably the worst night of my entire life.
When it happened, part of me didn’t want to call my parents. I was so embarrassed that my life could implode so spectacularly without me having a clue it was coming. But my parents had always been there for me when I needed them—and now I would need them more than ever. I also knew that my mom wouldn’t let me drown even though all I wanted to do was sink and let this new Monstro, which bigger and more terrifying than any of the others before it, swallow me whole.
Despite both my parents being similarly shocked and heartbroken over the news, Mom immediately shifted into warrior mode, packing her bags and preparing to tear asphalt from Atlanta to Charleston. In one of the very few moments of levity from that evening, my dad nervously described her as having gone “full mama grizzly bear.”
“It’s actually pretty scary,” he said.
If we’d both been thinking more clearly at the time, we probably would’ve said that mom had actually gone “full Ripley.” Like the badass hero from one of my dad and I’s favorite movies, mom was ready and willing to combat any danger to her child’s wellbeing…
…except instead of going to rescue Newt, a plucky pint-sized survivor with an adorably weird way of saying the word “mostly,” she was going to a son in the midst of a full-blown, Hudson-level meltdown.
|My face was locked in this expression for 24 hours before she got here.|
When my mom arrived, she hit hard with love and support. Lots of hugging, lots of holding me while I cried, and plenty of reassurances that I would make it through this. She also assured me that she would be here as long as I needed and make sure the dogs were okay when I wasn’t home.
Then she got to work.
Sometimes it was little things, like making me promise to open the blinds every morning to let sunlight into the house…which actually made a much bigger difference than I would’ve expected. Or insisting I eat healthy meals—together—instead of going off by myself to gorge on comfort food. She helped me get the house clean and keep it that way (although my resistance to properly folding t-shirts remains a hill I’m willing to die on).
Other times, it was simply having someone there to talk to and joke around with. Laughing and smiling were not actions I’d expected to do for a very long time. Now it was my general state of being before I turned in most nights.
Most importantly, my mom refused to let me to wallow in my own despair. This wasn’t a simple matter of cheerleading or steady positive messaging, either. There were plenty of times I really did just want to give up. No day has been worse than March 19, but I’ve had a couple since that came close. Each time I started to sink, my mom was there with all the love and support I could ask for along with a firm resolve to not let me drown. No matter how much I wanted to give in and let the depression swallow me into a void isolation and defeat, she refused to let me to do it.
She didn’t plead or cajole. She didn’t offer me an action figure, either (in case you were wondering). Instead, she would give some variation of “I love you and you are not worthless. Now get back up off the mat and fight.”
|I think she might’ve also called me “Rock” and|
forced me to chase a chicken around the yard a couple times, too.
I realize that the “fight” part of all this might not seem like much, especially since it’s mostly inside my own head. But as someone who already suffers from clinical depression, dealing with the sudden and unexpected implosion of my life on top of it has been by far the hardest battle I’ve ever fought…one I couldn’t still be fighting and surviving right now if it wasn’t for my mom.
Sometimes, heroics are erroneously linked to physical or lethal force. One reason I love the movie Aliens so much is because its protagonist, Ellen Ripley, completely turns this common trope on its head. She’s not at all like the heavily armed, gun-ho soldiers surrounding her at the start of the film. But when the poop starts hitting the fan, and when the life of her surrogate daughter Newt is directly threatened, Ripley’s motherly instincts kick in, turning her into one of the most badass characters in movie history.
Chances are that my mom doesn’t see any sort of connection between her and the characters from a lot of the movies and TV shows my dad and I like. She can’t wield a katana blade like Michonne or fire a pair of pistols like Black Widow. She doesn’t have super powers like Jessica Jones or Eleven (I think).
But I hope she knows that to me and Dad—along with the countless others my mom has counseled over the year—she’s one hell of a warrior. The type of person you can depends on not only for comfort and protection, but to be a source of strength, as well. When it comes to the wars waged by the human soul, there’s no person I’d rather follow into battle than her.
And if monsters like the Alien Queen did exist—and ever threatened to harm me or my dad—I have no doubt that my mom would find a way to step into a power loader, utter some variation of Ripley’s most famous line, and smash the creature into submission. It wouldn’t matter that she was scared out of her mind (like anyone else would be). My mom is the type of person who does whatever is necessary to protect and defend the people she loves, especially her family. I consider myself incalculably lucky to be considered part of both those groups.
Thank you for everything, Mom. I’ve always known you were a great parent, but these last two months have proven it once again. I love you and appreciate you so, so much…even when you get mad at me for how I put my clothes away.
PS: Because it’s too good not to share—and a bit of a tradition at this point—here’s the story about us clogging the entire plumbing system on the island of Naxos.