On Knowing the Best

Today is Grandparents Day.

This is a holiday that occasionally falls on my son’s birthday, and today is no exception. When this happened during my young parenthood, there was no contest. The day belonged to my kid. But it was a mistake.

Because he has two really, really amazing grandmothers.

Today, though, I’m going to talk about my favorite.

From the beginning, I thought my mother was one of the most beautiful people I had ever seen. It was the vibrant green of her eyes combined with her beautiful skin and dark hair. I always called it black, and she would quickly correct me – every time – and say that it was dark brown.

I still say I was right.

She had the best laugh, and a beautiful smile.

She laughed a lot. Still does. It was my early goal to be so funny that I made her laugh. Also, my mom’s side of the family was the funniest group of people I had ever, and to this day have ever, met. When the Jones clan got together, it was better than the funniest sitcom. They fed off of one another. The wit was sharp, and the quips, and barbs, and stories, came so fast and furious that rapt attention almost wasn’t even enough to catch everything.

They were the people I wanted to be around. Making friends was hard for me from the start because nobody in my peer group could ever touch that level of fun.

They taught me that you could be poor and still be the happiest person in the world. To appreciate the little things and always, always be grateful. That turned out to be one of my most important life lessons, because turned out I was pretty poor for a bunch of years later.

But I digress.

In that whole group of hilarious men (she had five brothers and a dad who were the best improv group ever), she still stood out.

She was an amazing mother. She kept our house clean and our yard mowed. We sat down to homemade dinner every night, as a family. We always had a huge glass container of homemade ranch dressing in the refrigerator. Homemade dressing.

She made our dressing.

She also volunteered. She helped at the church, at the battered women’s shelter, at the food pantry. She helped at the school. She was always the mom who made the amazing cookies, who perfected Texas sheet cake. She was the mom who gladly hosted all of my various sport team slumber parties. My friends wanted her to be their mom, and I always secretly loved that.

She also always, always built me up. Failure wasn’t an option, and she always behaved as though I had already won. As I went through years of chubbiness and bad skin and my fine hair reacted badly to perms, she never once made me feel as though I was lacking in any way. (She also didn’t let me wear the beautiful electric purple and blue eye makeup that my friends wore, and I hated her for that, but I’m so, so grateful for it now.)

She taught us the importance of reading, of sitting quietly to reflect, of how amazing an afternoon putting together puzzles, burning incense, and listening to Gordon Lightfoot on vinyl could be. She taught us to live by the gospel of Bob Ross and really, really tried to get us to love church.

My mom never thought she was beautiful. I remember she was always the one taking the pictures, and never wanted to be in them. If a picture of her did pop up, she generally made it disappear pretty quickly. I never understood that. To me, she was the most beautiful mother in the world. She didn’t wear the harsh makeup a lot of my friends’ mothers wore, and she was always beautifully put together. She also never wore jeans, which at the time occasionally embarrassed me but impresses the hell out of me in retrospect.

She made a lot of clothes, and made them well. Again, I was embarrassed by this at first – about buying patterns at stores instead of clothes. But then she would turn out something amazing, every time. She could hem anything in nothing flat, and patched things equally fast. I didn’t even realize that there was any degree of difficulty to any of it until I was faced with these tasks myself. (I still don’t sew.) Similarly, I never realized how tricky putting together family dinners was until I had three boys at home with vastly different taste in food than I had, and totally different schedules.

She made everything look easy.

I learned the importance of cleanliness, and the difference between picking up and actually cleaning. Our house always smelled amazing, and I would come home from school to sparkling countertops and freshly-lit candles all the time.

And she loved us. She loved us fiercely, in a way that left no doubts. She wore her heart on her sleeve, and cried frequently and freely. She reacted quickly when she was angry, and I learned not to back-talk, hit my brother, or lie at a young age if I wanted to avoid the fly-swatter or yardstick or, if nothing was in arm’s reach, her hand. To this day, I wince if I hear a child say “Oh my God” or “Crap” or anything that Sue Novak considered to be crude.

I was an asshole from the ages of 12 through oh, 40, and didn’t appreciate her nearly as much as I should have. But what I always appreciated was the way she loved my son.

From the time I was seven months pregnant, she was there. When Hunter was born, she was there, and was so excited that she ran out to tell everyone in the waiting room before Shawn could.

I really believe I would have possibly scarred my baby for life, both physically and emotionally, if she wasn’t right there with me in those first weeks of terror and incredulity that the medical staff just let a couple of kids leave the hospital with a baby. She made us meals that carried forward well. She brought us things that we didn’t think to, and couldn’t really afford to, buy for ourselves. She kept me from losing my mind when I didn’t think I could function for even one more damn minute without sleep, and when I wanted to murder my husband for deciding that changing diapers made him feel sick.

She had been the best mom, but she was the ultra-best grandma.

While I am forever sorry that I didn’t appreciate her as a teenager and young adult, I am so grateful that I realized what I had before it was too late. Hitting 40 made me see my mom with new eyes. I remembered her being 40 with a clarity that I can’t explain. When she was 40, she had lost both of her parents. She had lost a brother and a sister. She had lost a 23-year marriage and the home she raised her children in and a lot of her friends.

And she just kept on going. She reinvented herself. She didn’t change, but she did adapt and overcome.

She has a garage full of tools and just completely remodeled her kitchen…by herself. She’s a one-woman band of talents and accomplishments, and the person I strive to be more than any other.

The truth is, I could go on all day about how grateful I am to have this woman as my mother and my son’s, and stepsons’, grandmother…but I think I’ll wrap this up and give her a call instead.

I love you more than much, mom. Happy Grandparents Day.

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