1. 5 years old, lesson: Work as hard as you can.
When I was 5, my mom graduated from nursing school. I watched her care for three children, study through all hours of the night, keep a clean house, attend classes, nurture friendships, and run a business on the side. It’s not easy, but it’s doable — and it’s worth it.
2. 6 years old, lesson: Treat yoself.
My mom taught me that pampering is key to a girl’s positive self-image. You better believe I was rocking candy apple red finger nails and toe nails in my 6 year-old pictures (not to mention jean shorts and red plaid button down crop top, ooh-la-la!).
3. 7 years old, lesson: You and Beyonce both have the same number of hours in a day.
While Beyonce had not yet publicly confirmed that girls run the world, my mom was rocking out in a Queen Bey type of way. Working night shifts at the hospital so she could be home in time to cook us breakfast and send us off to school in the morning, she did what she had to do to make life work, usually with little to no sleep.
4. 8 years old, lesson: There is always more love.
When I was 8, my sister Abby was born. My parents’ fifth child, she was an accident. As far as I know, she has always felt just as loved as the rest of us (even though she’s remarkably strange).
5. 9 years old, lesson: Do not let any obstacle overcome you.
When I was 9, my brother was diagnosed with autism. My mom made it her personal mission to ensure Ben had the best care possible. Her persistence, determination, and can-do attitude led to early intervention, which has led to my brother’s heightened social and emotional skills, and his off-the-charts intelligence (as well as his general kick-ass-ery.)
6. 10 years old, lesson: Not everyone is good at everything, and that’s okay.
My mom loves to sing; she has a beautiful voice. I love to sing; my voice sounds like a combination of a cow giving birth, nails on a chalk board, a fork dragging across a plate, rubber screeching on pavement, and your standard fire alarm. My mom lets me sing in the car anyway (sometimes.)
7. 11 years old, lesson: You should be smart and tough, but you should also be pretty.
In 2000, Miss Congeniality came out. My mom told me I reminded her of Sandra Bullock’s character in the BEGINNING of the movie (you know, when she was unkempt and had no manners.) To this day, when choosing what to wear before going to my mom’s house, I think of that movie, put down the sweat pants, and grab the heels.
8. 12 years old, lesson: Everyone loves parties.
Having five kids, my mom had a lot of practice throwing birthday parties. Thanks to our parties, I think our house turned into everything from a carnival to a magician’s lair to a train station to a beauty parlor during the late 90s and early 2000s.
9. 13 years old, lesson: You are stronger than you think.
When I was 13, my parents went through a terrible divorce. My mom handled the “no words typed here can explain to you how horrible they were” circumstances like a champ.
10. 14 years old, lesson: Family is everything.
And, family can be friends. But you need a support system, preferably a strong one. As the aftershock persisted from the divorce, my mom seamlessly coordinated all details of our lives, with the help of our incredible family.
11. 15 years old, lesson: Growing up is hard. Be nice to your kids.
I think we all gave my mom a run for her money as teenagers. She handled our wit (read: sarcasm) and spiritedness (read: bitchiness) with patience and resilience. I hope someday I am able to do the same with my children.
12. 16 years old, lesson: You should learn to cook.
At 16, I was fortunate enough to receive a car for my birthday. I also received new expenses, like paying for gas, and many meals out with friends. My mom is an exquisite cook, and always put delicious, nutritious food on the table for dinner. I finally appreciated the importance of this, in terms of family time, health, AND my budget.
13. 17 years old, lesson: Coffee is necessary.
I graduated from high school in three years and went to college two months after turning 17. My mom’s care packages always included one-pot portions of grinds, and I quickly learned that coffee (1 part coffee, 2 parts sugar, 3 parts creamer – that’s a family recipe, hold it close) is everything.
14. 18 years old, lesson: Change happens.
I changed my major from something I wanted my whole life to something weird (history.) My mom did not once question me, and supported me whole-heartedly.
15. 19 years old, lesson: Have fun with your kids.
The night I left 19 behind in favor of 20, my mom truly let loose. I can tell you that fish bowls were involved, and you can interpret that any way you’d like. I know my grandparents may read this, so that is really all I can tell you.
16. 20 years old, lesson: Life is too short to not do what you love.
When I was 20, my second youngest sister started college. Her whole life, she had been passionate about dance. Entering freshman year, most people advised her to cast dance aside in favor of pursuing a more practical career. Instead, my mom told her to tune them out and focus on her dreams.
17. 21 years old, lesson: Your kids come first, but, eventually, you do come second.
When I was 21, my mom finally started dating her first boyfriend since her divorce. He is a sweet man who compliments her perfectly. She avoided dating while my siblings and I were young to give us a sense of normalcy, and to always show us that we came first in her life. I am so happy for her now though, as she has finally allowed herself to experience true love.
18. 22 years old, lesson: You do not know everything.
At 22, I obviously think I have a good handle on the ways of the world. Daily talks with my wise mother confirm that, in fact, I do not. Approaching 50, my mother humbles me often when she shares her insights and opinions on my life’s events.