Dear Mom,
Yep, I had it together this year and had a card in the mail to you last week, but there’s always more to say. Here’s a bit of it…
Happy Mother’s Day. Geez, thank you. Thank you so much.
Thank you for being a public school teacher. Thank you for getting lice from your students and coming home covered in boogers. Thank you for always believing in your students, and even though I could never absorb a math lesson from you, I watched you work your magic with hundreds of other kids.
Thank you for having other people’s kids before you had your own – my gay cousin who was struggling at home, the pregnant student trying hard to stay in school, some young man who just preferred living with you guys than living with his own parents. That’s amazing. I remember you casually mentioning this story or that about kids that lived with you, and my little-kid brain just sort of exploded. Who are these people, my parents?!
Thank you for loving us (your actual children) but not revolving around us. It helped us keep perspective. Even after almost 40 years of parenting, you’re one of the few moms I know who responds more reliably to your first name than to “mom”. I love that.
Thank you for marrying Dad, your partner in compassion, in quietly radical values, the most decent man I know.
Thank you for using coupons, shopping at thrift stores, eating leftovers (ahem, forcing us to eat leftovers) even when they were questionable, and generally for reminding us that pennies matter. We didn’t live in a community with any real racial diversity but we had a broad socio-economic spectrum, and you surrounded us with poor people. You taught me the default bias: that poor people are good people.
Thanks for a million drives down rarely-traveled dirt roads, for strange conversations with folks at pancake breakfasts, and for never letting us be shy or impolite or inattentive – no matter who we were talking to.
Thanks for teaching GED classes at our local prison, and for cheering your students there, coaxing them through to passing grades. It was you who took me there for a community day, who kneeled down and told me that if I got lost to ask for help from a person wearing orange. Classic! I was probably 4 years old and you were hard-wiring it in me that the client was the good guy! The others, avoid…
Thank you for not selling out, for interrogating but not losing your values, for not whining about taxes or property values, for vehemently opposing efforts to drill our land for natural gas no matter how lucrative "they" promised it would be, for believing in volunteerism for community good, and for not contemplating retiring to Florida. Thanks for never letting self-interest cloud your vision of the world!
Thank you for never asking me why I do this work. Of course I do this work. This is the right work to do! It’s a given. (Thank goodness I didn’t make you have to pretend to be proud of me by going into finance, right?)
Thank you for doing hard, physical work on top of grading papers and writing lesson plans. You haven’t been able to take your wedding ring off in 25 years because 50 years of laundry, farming, floor scrubbing, ice-skate tying, window-scraping, refinishing, and other projects have cemented it below your knuckle. Be vain about it!!
Thanks for making us work; earning your keep is just part of life. So get out there and do it all along!
Thanks for braces, and money towards college, and that pair of Saucony shoes I wanted so badly for so long (I remember everything about the day we bought them), and for suffering through so many sporting events, band concerts, college ceremonies. Thank you for bribing me to not have a graduation party from high school or college but agreeing to host a wedding. Infinite things.
Thank you for my siblings, also cast in your form. They keep me such company in lonely times, and are the best friends I’ll ever have.
Thank you for not becoming bitter even though you’re angry, dismayed, heartbroken. It has been hard. It took a toll. You bore it, and bear it still. Public defender work is also hard; but it’s familiar because you showed me what it would be like.
You (and dad) epitomize the resistance. All your life, you only built bridges, never a wall. You brought strangers into your home, you dedicated thousands of unpaid hours, you held fast to righteous values, you helped, you helped, you helped. And then you helped some more. You taught your kids that we mattered, and that everyone else mattered just as much. 
I didn’t come to the place I am now by fate or fortune, but by following your footsteps. Here I stand.
You’re awesome, Mom. I’m in awe of you. You’d never ask for a letter like this, you won’t know how to respond once you’ve read it, and that speaks to the essence of your wonderful, humble, self.
Happy Mother’s Day.