My mom, Barbara Britton Wenner, has accomplished a lot in her 60 years.
She was the first person in her family to graduate from college. She was a stay-at-home mom by day (or housewife, as they were known in those days), and got a master’s degree in education during the evenings. She completed her Ph.D. in English literature in five years–lightning speed compared to many doctoral students–while teaching college students and dealing with my teenage self. (God help her!)
Now she’s a tenured English professor at the University of Cincinnati and one of the world’s foremost literary authorities on Jane Austen. Plus, she travels extensively, has been happily married to my dad for 37 years, and enjoys an active social life (way better than mine, that’s for sure!)
But despite all her professional and personal successes, my mom says I’m the “best thing” she ever did. (Oh yeah–she says that about my brother, too.) So I’m writing this for her as one of our Mother's Day tributes to the moms in our lives.
She used to tell me that all the time when I was growing up, but I didn’t really get it. I’m not exactly an egomaniac, so I never thought I was some great contribution to the world. I certainly gave her plenty to worry about over the years. And she probably could’ve been filthy stinkin’ rich if she and my dad hadn’t had to pay for our upbringing (what is that, like $1 million per kid?).
So why was I her “best thing”?
Now that I’m a mom, I get it, of course. Having and raising my daughter is the most amazing, rewarding, and meaningful experience I can imagine. In comparison, all my other achievements and life experiences really seem like paper certificates stacked in a box.
I’ve had the opportunity to watch my mom with my daughter over the past year. Mom was there with me when Cassie was born. While Mom encouraged me to stay strong through those first rough weeks, she also lovingly embraced Cassie as an extension of her. Sometimes she would say, “She reminds me of a little Susan,” and I could get a glimpse of how she interacted with me when I was a tiny baby.
Once I went back to work full-time, my mom helped watch Cassie when Jay had to leave his home office for client meetings. But Mom also had a full-time job, and after a few months, helped us find a babysitter to take over those weekday needs.
I know she felt guilty. She desperately wanted to spend time with Cassie. But she simply couldn’t abandon her rigorous workload (not to mention her aching back) for “grandma duties” at the drop of a hat.
Now I try to bring Cassie over at least once a week for Grandma and Grandpa Time. They occasionally watch her on a Saturday night so Jay and I can have a date–and even took an overnight shift when we went on an anniversary weekend recently. Plus she sees us at every family event, which is to say, a lot.
No matter what the occasion, my mom is always so genuinely thrilled to see both me and my daughter that I am reminded of being her “best thing.” I hope Cassie knows she’s mine, too.