I always wanted to be an artist. Maybe a poet or a painter or a musician. I used to be passably skilled with a colored pencil, at least. I know you remember. You have elementary school drawings from all six of your kids still hanging in the dining room.
And, for 20 years now, the siblings have argued over whose drawing is the best. I still say that my flower sketch demonstrates a certain skill and artistic sensibility that none of the others could possibly match. You’ve never taken a side in this decades-long war, but every time this debate erupts, I can feel the vibes coming from you, saying, “Matt’s picture is by far superior to the hideous abominations my other children tragically vomited onto pieces of white construction paper.” I’m paraphrasing your vibes, but that’s the gist.
In any case, despite my promising early career, I never became much of an artist. That’s a shame, because artists have the ability to take enormous things — deep, immeasurable, infinite things — capture them and translate them into something tangible and comprehensible.
I do not have that ability. So I sit here, attempting to take on the simple but colossal task of saying ‘thank you,’ and I know that however I say it, and for whatever things I express my gratitude, it will be only a small, dim shadow of the ‘thank you’ that you deserve to hear.
I can only mutter it in my own clumsy, insufficient way — but clumsy and insufficient is better than saying nothing at all.
So, here goes:
Thank you for never getting that bigger house or those nicer cars. Thank you for never taking us to Disney World. Thank you for never buying me the latest video game system. Thank you for a humble life — a life of hand-me-down clothes and beat up Astro passenger vans and six kids crammed into three bedrooms — because you and Dad had different priorities . Thank you, because you had six kids, and you stayed home to raise us — to be there for us, to teach us, to mold us, to love us, to discipline us — and that meant less Happy Meals and fancy toys, but more life, more joy, more love.
Thank you for enduring our lack of gratitude.
Thank you for making us snacks when we came home from school.
Thank you for packing our lunches and making us home cooked meals for dinner.
Thank you for seeing to it that we ate dinner as a family — always at the table, never in front of the TV.
Thank you for sitting there and listening to us tell horrendously boring stories about our adventures in gym class and recess.
Thank you for encouraging us to think. Thank you for asking about our views and our ideas, and teaching us to how express them.
Thank you for making sure that we had opinions about the important things, and were never afraid to voice them. This was very positive and important, but of course now you and Dad share the blame for the fact that every family gathering turns into a loud debate about some topic or another.
Last Christmas, someone mentioned The Little Mermaid, and next thing you know, an hour-long argument erupted over whether or not it would be morally acceptable for a man to actually fall in love with a woman who is partially a fish. I said no, and I was right, of course. Partial bestiality is still bestiality.
Thank you for teaching us how to question the culture. Thank you for showing us how to stand up for the truth.
Thank you for telling us that we would never be in trouble at home if we got in trouble at school for standing up for what’s right.
Thank you for only having one TV for 8 people, which forced us to find other things to do — like read books and play games.
Thank you for buying me the whole Dr. Seuss anthology when I was five years old. Green Eggs and Ham is still, for my money, the greatest piece of literature ever written.
Thank you for the family game nights.
Thank you for the family movie nights.
Thank you for cleaning the vomit out of my Halloween mask that one year when I got sick while trick-or-treating.
Thank you for your patience.
Thank you for teaching us responsibility by making us walk to school if we missed the bus.
Thank you for your tough love, for your nice love, for your compassionate love. Thank you for your love that gave me a hug when I needed one, or a kick in the butt when I needed that instead.
Thank you for forcing me to get a summer job when I would have preferred to sit around and watch TV for three months, like most of my friends.
Thank you for teaching me that you have to work for what you want in life.
Thank you for not falling for my excuses.
Thank you for your remarkable organizational skills. Thank you for the infamous Chore Chart, describing who is responsible for which chore on which day, and the even more infamous TV Schedule Chart, assigning half hour blocks of TV viewing to each kid, and the later addition of the Computer Time Chart, which allowed us each, if I remember correctly, one hour on the computer.
Thank your for your courage.
Thank you for teaching us the meaning of life. “To know God, to love Him, to serve Him, and to be happy with Him, in this life and the next.” I still have that memorized, and I still wonder why people think the question is some great mystery.
Thank you for making us kneel on the floor at night and say our family prayers.
Thank you for living out the words of the prayer that Dad always said: “Lord, we offer ourselves to you, we offer our children to you.”
Thank you for being a light of kindness for those around you.
Thank you for teaching me about loyalty and respect.
Thank you for reassuring me that one night, when I was 7 or 8, and I was upset and scared because my friends were coming to school talking about things like ‘divorce,’ and ‘custody,’ and ‘spending the weekend at dad’s house.’ Thank you for looking me in the eyes and telling me, with a stern but compassionate voice, that I would never have to go through that, because you and dad would never get divorced.
Thank you for sticking to that promise.
Thank you for showing me that the marriage bond is the foundation on which the family is built, and the most important relationship a parent can have is the one they have with their spouse.
Thank you for loving Dad, for being a good wife to him, for showing us what a marriage is supposed to look like.
Thank you for putting me in my place when I tried to get my way by turning you and Dad against each other.
Thank you for taking me grocery shopping that first weekend after I moved out of the house. Thank you for stocking my pantry full of food, and showing me how to budget and use coupons.
Thank you for pulling me aside the day I first introduced Alissa to the family. “Matt, we really like her. She’s great.” You knew I’d been through some bad, unhealthy relationships in the past. Looking back, I realize what you were saying to me then. You were saying, “Matt, she’s different than the others. She might be the one. Hold on to her.”
Thank you for embracing her as your daughter, and making her feel loved and accepted.
Thank you for building me up.
Thank you for pouring yourself into your vocation of motherhood.
Thank you for never giving up on me.
Thank you for never giving up on me.
Even when I was failing my classes. Even when I barely graduated high school. Even when I dropped out of community college. Even when I couldn’t keep a job or set a goal or stick to any commitment at all. Even when I was ready to give up on myself. Even when I thought I’d never amount to anything. Even when I thought I was too stupid, too lazy, too lacking in talent. Even when I let you down. Even when I made you cry. Even when I rejected your love, your trust, your faith in me.
Even in those darkest times. Even in my worst moments.
You never gave up. You fought for me. You believed.
Thank you for everything.
UPDATE. My Dad posted this comment below, and I thought it was well worth highlighting here:
Thanks for a great article about Mom, who is, quite simply, the most wonderful human being and the most authentic Christian I’ve ever known in 60 years of living. She is, truly, the light of my life.
One lesson I’ve learned during those 60 years: people love; people struggle; people try; people do the best they can while carrying their own crosses beyond the comprehension of others.
So I would like, first of all, to honor and praise Mom. And secondly, to honor and praise every mother. Because every mother, regardless of station or creed or position or lifestyle, has done something quite beautiful: cooperate with God in bringing that most precious gift, human life, into the world.
And Matt, the value of every human life is infinite. Indeed, because of that infinite value, every human being has the potential to change the world.
Thanks, Dad. I couldn’t have, and I didn’t, say it better.
Mom and Dad