The People We Want to Be (Thank you, Mom)
By Joe Ulm
I grew up in a world of familiar things: a warm home, a soft bed, homemade meals, and lots of love. Aside from my brothers, the only problems I had back then were the expectations mom had for me: do your chores, make your bed, do your homework, be respectful, look people in the eye when you talk to them, speak clearly, and use your manners. Her expectations were nothing but a nuisance to me, never mind that mom also fixed whatever hurt, lent a soft ear to any problem, and knew the right way to make any day better.
By the time I was 12, mom’s expectations had grown. I helped make dinner, I helped clean the house, I learned how to sew, I folded my clothes, and on and on the list went. I hated doing these things. So one day I told her how unnecessary all these things were; how other things were far more important. And I spoke every word…within the house she made into our home, while eating her homecooked meals, with my soft bed waiting for me, and within the warmth of her unconditional love.
Years later, with the freedom of a driver’s license and a job that filled the gas tank each week, I came to understand how simple life really was – I knew things now, lots of things in fact, and I wasn’t shy about letting mom know. Then, while finishing another homecooked meal, in the home she made so well, and with my soft bed nearby, I asked if she could show me how she made her chicken parmesan again. There was this girl I wanted to impress….
As my teenage years drew to a close, I used my newfound knowledge to enlist in the Army. Basic training was a hard and unforgiving environment and my days were filled with the right way to salute, forced marches, PT, and weapons training. We respected ourselves, our barracks, and the uniform we wore which meant cleaning the barracks, sewing new buttons on our uniforms, and folding our clothes four inches wide.
When I returned home, I stood tall, looked mom in the eye, and told her everything the Army had taught me. I spoke quite clearly, with great respect for myself and for my country…all while in the safety of my familiar home, over the homecooked meal I had missed so much, with my soft bed waiting for me, and under the comfort of mom’s unconditional love.
A decade later, and with a son of my own, I find myself sitting at the kitchen table with mom, chatting. Alex is 8 now, and we’ve been talking for a while – mom asking him questions and smiling at his answers. Alex shoots me a quick glance that asks if he can go watch TV. I shake my head, just enough for him to see, and gesture for him to look mom in the eye when he speaks to her. He does. I give him a kiss on the top of his head and get up to fill mom’s coffee cup. She tells me to sit. I don’t.
I make lunch for all of us and wash the dishes when we’re done. Mom protests, but I wave my hand at her knowing she’d prefer to spend the time with Alex.
With the dishes done and Alex enjoying his show, mom and I talk. I ask her about the many things I don’t know; how to balance work and Alex, and life. I’m so thankful Mom is there to help me through it in the way she always has…in the home where I grew up, while offering to make a homecooked meal for me to take home, with my old bed made for Alex in case he wants to sleep over, and within the warmth of her unconditional love.
18 years have passed since that last conversation with mom. Since then, I’ve learned that I’ll never stop wishing for just one more conversation; one more time to chat, to laugh, and to show her all the things I learned from her.
In our world of high expectations and hectic days, moms rarely get the respect and admiration they’re due. And when they do, it’s often for the little things: lunches packed, clean uniforms, a ride to a birthday party, etc. But what moms give us is so much more than that; they give us the foundation for becoming the people want to be.
To every PSU mom and moms everywhere, thank you for making homes out of houses, for homecooked meals, for soft beds, and for that unique, irreplaceable love only you can provide. We wouldn’t be who we are today without you.
To the mom I live with, my wife…you’re an incredible, amazing mom. I love you so much.
To my mom…thank you for everything. I hope I’ve made you proud.