When I was 14 years old, I slapped my mother hard across the face. It was two years after my father left the house, and probably at the height of their anger for each other. It was a Sunday; I spent my day with him and when I returned, my mother was different. I had left her for too long. That night we had an argument—I don’t remember how it began, or why, or what I said that made her so angry. But I remember her words clearly, the words that triggered my brain to instruct my hand to move. “Your father doesn’t love you, that’s why he’s never coming back.” Slap.
This is the moment that haunts me in my dreams. It’s a scene that ten years later, I replay in my head when I can’t sleep at night: I slapped my mother. I slapped my mother. I hit her. I hit my mother, I hit her right across the face knowing that her words came from a place of irreparable pain, that she was going through a horrible, life-shattering time.
I remember gasping hard as soon as I struck her, as if slapping her took my breath away. And she stood there, hand holding her cheek and eyes fixed on me, taken over by shock and sadness. Her oldest daughter had moved away; her husband had left her; and her youngest daughter—the one who stayed behind—just hit her. This was not, I suspect, how she imagined her life to turn out.
I apologized immediately, breaking down to tears as my mother moved away from me, toward the sofa in her bedroom. She sat there, paralyzed, as I came over to her and begged, begged, begged for forgiveness. I was broken. I had broken her.
My mother, of course, forgave me. I don’t know if she remembers this moment. So much happened that year, and the years that followed, that I don’t really know if that moment was as significant for her as it was for me. But I do know that she forgave me. That she held me, and kissed me and acknowledged that we were going through that horrible, life-shattering time together. She apologized, telling me that she’s the grown-up and I’m the kid, and that she should have been stronger.
My mother adores my sister, and I know she still cares for my father, but I have always felt that we are connected on a different level because it was the two of us who stayed in that house together—for far longer than anyone else did. Nobody else knew what it was like, nobody but us.
When I was working on my college applications, it was my mother who did the research with me. It was my mother who encouraged me, it was my mother who told me my writing was good—that it was great, that I should never talk myself down. It was my mother who told me I was beautiful, who constantly reminded me that I was smart and independent, and told me I’m far stronger than she ever was—something I have yet to prove.
My mother is the most amazing woman on this planet. And I am sure your mother is, as well. These women, these women who hand over their hearts to us, are the strongest people you will ever know. They play a hundred different roles throughout their lifetime—the role of a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a girlfriend, a friend, a woman; they are wives and partners, coaches and chefs. They are seamstresses, costume designers and party planners. They are there to witness the changes we don’t realize we’re going through; they notice the details in our faces, the shifts in our perspective, the flaws in our decisions. Our mothers see us from the outside, and they know us from the inside. That is what broke me that Sunday night—seeing my mother witness a part of me she didn’t know existed, a piece of me she didn’t recognize.
Over the past ten years, my relationship with my mother has grown. I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about—that moment when you see your parent as a human being, realizing that they don’t have all the answers. Discovering that they make mistakes. Finally seeing that once upon a time, they were just a kid, too. These realizations come in different ways and shapes for all of us, but our relationship with our mother grows as we do. As we become more educated, as we read and travel, as we move from place to place and meet new people and their mothers. Our relationship with our mother changes to a place of honesty and equality, a place of respect.
The night before I got married, my mother and I slept in the same bed. We talked in the dark, her hand holding mine. Our voices fading as we grew more tired, our words sharing the space between our pillows until we fell asleep.
Celebrate your mother today, celebrate her every day. She is the strongest person you will ever know, and she has the drive and love to make you better. And remember the moments in your relationship when you could have done something differently and forgive yourself, because she has already forgiven you. Then call her up and try again.