When I was little, our family spent a lot of time on the Columbia River near my home in Richland, Washington. That’s where my mother, Judy, taught me how to kneeboard.
I was probably five years old. We’d stand in the water together, me on the kneeboard, my mom next to me, and then the boat would take off. Every time, I’d tumble over the kneeboard, go face-first into the water and get water up my nose. Every time, I’d get a little more scared. We would try again, and it would happen again. I remember almost starting to cry.
My mom comforted me, but she wouldn’t really let me quit. We kept at it, and one time, suddenly, I took off. In time, I became a great kneeboarder. I love it to this day (even though nobody uses kneeboards anymore — I know it’s so old-school now).
Growing up, I glorified my father. My parents were divorced and he came in and out of our lives, but he was always the sports hero, and the one I wanted to be closer to. My mom was always the one working. I would be mad at her if my dad didn’t show up. I kind of took things out on her. But she was always the steady one. The one who took care of us. The one who was there day in and day out.
This blog entry is about her, and what she means to me.
My mom grew up in the town of Reseda, California, the second of four kids (she has two sisters and a brother). My grandfather was in the Navy and later became an electrical engineer, and my grandmother was a speech and hearing therapist. They started off with nothing, but worked hard all their lives and made out well. They were very conservative and religious, and they preached about the value of hard work.
When my mom was a teenager, my grandparents decided to move to Richland, which is how we all wound up in Eastern Washington.
Growing up, my mom was quite the athlete. We have the same body frame, the same bone structure, and she was always really in shape. She loved water skiing and karate. She was a quite the hippie growing up, a ‘60s child who wore bell bottoms, and wore her long hair parted down the middle so that it flowed down on both sides of her face. She was also brilliant — really intelligent — and eventually, she became an environmental scientist for the Hanford nuclear power plant in the city of Richland.
One of my earliest memories is of my mom riding me around on her bike in a baby-backpack. She biked everywhere, and I always rode around with her, all around town. I loved that. Looking back at pictures from that time, she seems like such a loving mother, so carefree and happy when she was outside, and the sun was shining upon her.
She was really active with me, and we did a lot of outdoor stuff. From the time I was six, she took us camping on the Oregon coast every summer. We’d hop in our old, pumpkin-colored Volkswagen van, and head to a place called Happy Camp. We stayed right on the beach in our tents. We’d look for sand dollars. We went clamming and crabbing. She taught us how to build a fire. All my survival skills come from her.
She also boated all the time. She loved the sun and the water, and she couldn’t do without the river. (She always made her sun tea, too, and grew gigantic sunflowers in our front lawn.) The only people launching their boats out on the river back then were men. My mom not only ran her own boat. She worked on the engine. She wasn’t just a passenger with her male counterpart. I always thought that was really awesome — that she was the captain of her own boat for as long as I could remember. I loved it when we’d jump in the boat, and head out. I still love getting on the water with her. I enjoy the serenity it brings her.
She took really good care of us. It’s funny to think back about all of the things she did. She always helped me with homework, which I did while sitting in her big recliner chair. She loved helping me with the handy projects. She helped me build an awesome model home with a retractable roof made of wood. Once, she built a sandbox for us in our backyard herself, and brought in all the sand. Another time, I got a bunny rabbit, and it ended up having pretty bad issues with its teeth. But I loved that rabbit to death. So every day, my mom filed its teeth to make sure it could eat. It was a real burden for her. She did it anyway. When we didn’t have our own high school soccer field, we built one with my mom’s help. The school got the land, and we all rolled out the sod. My mom had a big double-wide trailer donated, and we used it as our locker room for three years. That trailer was pivotal — not only because it gave us a locker room, but because it was home to many of my high school soccer memories.
It was through soccer that I really began to appreciate my mom as a parent. A lot my teammates’ parents were overbearing, and were always at practices and games, wanting their kids to get more playing time, even begging to be the team mom or administrator. My mom took me to practice and picked me up almost every day, but she didn’t let soccer interrupt her life. She came to some tournaments, but other times, she and my stepdad, Glenn, would head to their cabin in the mountains for the weekend, inviting me to come if I wanted to camp or hike or ride dirt bikes, or just simply be a kid. I loved that. It allowed me to really enjoy and love the game. It also showed me that there was more to life.
Of course, I wanted to show off for my mom when she did come, and she came a lot. I could feel how proud she was of me. That was a gift, too.
As I’ve gotten older, my mom has taught me a lot about life by how she’s dealt with the challenges she’s faced. When I was near the end of high school, the nuclear power plant in Richland laid off hundreds of workers. She was one of them.
The years that followed were hard for her because she wasn’t really sure what kind of job to look for next. She got her license to sell health insurance, and did that for several years. Then she decided it was time to do what she really wanted to do. She ended up starting a business.
A lot of people, especially older people who weren’t able to do a lot of the things, were still living in their own homes. So instead of having men come over to fix things, she had this really successful handy-woman business. That’s what they called her: the Handy Woman. People loved having my mom come over, and she could do pretty much anything. She liked being out in the sun working. She drove her truck around with all of her equipment and tools, with her fat golden yellow lab Rex laying in the bed of the truck looking happy and lazy. She trimmed trees. She built fences, and fixed sprinklers. She did electrical stuff. She installed windows. Whatever they needed, she did, and she did lots of different things for many different people. I remember helping her sometimes. It was kind of fun. I learned a lot and met some memorable clients.
It was great to see her do that. She could do it at her own pace and in her own time, and she was helping people. People felt safe having a woman helping them — especially older women who didn’t feel comfortable with men in their homes. She met a lot of great people, and I think it made my mom feel good, just helping them.
My stepfather passed away in 2012, and for the last six years of his life, my mom was his caretaker. It was really, really difficult. It took a lot out of her. It was hard on all of us. I learned so much about so many things just from watching her with him. And when he died, I learned even more from watching her mourn the loss of the man she loved, and seeing her heal and deicde to live again.
Back in February, Good Morning America came to my house to interview me. They were trying to get things started, but my mom kept getting out old pictures to show the producers, or getting ice, or shouting from the kitchen. I just smiled and shook my head. That’s just kind of who she is. She has a way about her that’s really endearing. We always joke around the house, “Well, that’s Judy.”
Throughout my life, my mom has really pushed and challenged me without even knowing it. As a kid, when I was younger and clueless, I remember being embarrassed at our soccer games when she didn’t act or dress like all the other moms. She wasn’t always invited with the popular moms group to go to dinner after games. She didn’t try to fit in. That was never important to her. (She’s always been like that.) Now I think it’s an incredible gift. It takes a lot of self-confidence to be entirely authentic 100 percent of the time, and true to who you are. I admire that. I have so much love and pride that my mom is who she wants to be.
It’s taken many years for me to realize the important things in life. My mom has shown me that it’s not about creating a facade for other people. It’s really about enjoying those moments that I do have with the people I love most — in an authentic and real way, — which is always more memorable, and much more fun!
I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day!