I am taller than my mother. I can’t remember when I wasn’t. It’s like trying, as a grown man, to ride your first tricycle. It feels like I always have been this big.
A few weeks ago, I walked my taller frame alongside my mother – and my father, whose height I also have exceeded – onto a podium before a small crowd in a Borders bookstore.
We were there because I had written a novel called “For One More Day” about a son who gets one day back with his mother years after she has died. Borders thought it would be interesting to bring the author and his actual mother together for some questions.
I had never done anything like this. Neither had she. We come from a family where the stories fly at the dinner table, year after year, often the same ones – but we don’t share them with strangers.
Now here we were on a podium.
It was awkward at first. Some short answers. Nervous laughter.
And then a theme came up, from the book, about “times my mother stood up for me.”
And my mother grew taller.
From music to medicine
She spoke about the time when I was a boy that a librarian refused to let me check out a book because, she claimed, “it’s too hard for you.” When my mother heard this, she marched me back to the library, yelled at the librarian -“Never tell a child something is too hard for him!”- and demanded the book, which she shoved in my arms.
She spoke about the time when I was even younger, and a kindergarten teacher asked the students, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I said, “A trashman.” And rather than be embarrassed before the other mothers, or suggest another profession, my mother simply replied, “As long as you’re the best trashman you can be.”
As she spoke, my mind tumbled into other moments like that, when my mother stood up for me. A time, in first grade, when I accidentally broke a musical wooden block – remember those? – and was convinced the teacher would have my hide, and how my mother stayed up for hours assuring me we wouldn’t have to move away.
A time when I developed a strange swelling on my neck, and when the doctor removed a towel we’d put around it, his eyes bulged. My mother stayed calm and kept me away from a mirror, so I wouldn’t be afraid.
A time when a bunch of fifth-grade friends were having a “make-out” party and I didn’t go, then felt embarrassed that I hadn’t. She assured me it was the right thing to do, that I wouldn’t become a social pariah.
A time when, years later, my father lost his job, and she – and he – insisted I stay in college, incurring cost, instead of coming home to contribute money to the household.
How to honor your mom
I bring all this up because next Sunday is Mother’s Day. I could have written this column then, but it would be too late for what I’m about to suggest.
Make a list – in your head or on paper – of the times your mother stood up for you in your life. Come up with one for each day this week. And then, if that list moves you and your mother is still around, thank her next Sunday for each of those times.
I know it sounds corny. But it beats a box of chocolates. And I can speak from some experience. The best moment I’ve had as a writer came when I was able to give this latest book to my mother, while she is still here on Earth, and say, “Read this. There are some things in it I should have said long ago.”
Her reaction – her smile, her proud eyes, her headshake in disbelief – made me wish I had done it sooner.
My mother has white hair now and wears big glasses, and I joke with her that she is getting smaller every day. But when we walked off that podium, I discovered something – something you may, in considering your memories, discover for yourself. No matter how large your body grows, you never really stand taller than your mother. And you never stop looking up to her.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. When he will sign “For One More Day”: Friday – noon, Borders, downtown Compuware Building; 7:30 p.m., Barnes & Noble, Rochester Hills. Saturday – 11 a.m., Sam’s Club, Novi; 1:30 p.m., Costco, Bloomfield Township.