The Secret Life of Mommy Dearest

Many years must pass before our children can really know us. For them, our lives begin with their first memories of us. There was no before. They don’t think about how we came to be the people we are–our moments of joy and pain, failure and success, love and hate, even rebelliousness. We are the moon circling their earth. We are bland and nearly nondescript; they are filled with discovery and possibility.

As parents, we are the greatest contributors to this grand ruse. We select and embody an identity we find suitable–or one we think the world will find suitable. The purpose isn’t malicious, of course. We simply hope to lead by example—a good example, that is. (If they only knew, right?)

Some day, when I can’t hide the truth any longer or when I decide Finley has developed enough wisdom and self-control, Finley will meet a me he’s never fully known before. Or maybe someone will out me and my past.

That’s the way it happened with my mom. Bits of her story began trickling out during my high school years. And let me tell you—I was shocked to learn that she wasn’t the goody-two-shoes she’d led me to believe she was.

Just look at this photo taken when she was in the first grade. I know what I see in her eyes; they’re saying, “I’m gonna raise some hell someday!”

First grade school photograph

Mom portrays herself as serious, not mischievous, in her first grade school photograph.

And her eyes didn’t lie. While in high school, Mom regularly stole borrowed the car at night to go cruising. After graduating from high school, she rode the bus into New Orleans every day and pretended to go to vocational school. Instead, she window shopped and saw movies. Oh, when her parents found out that she had been ditching, they really taught her a lesson…. They packed her off to LSU where she earned her teaching degree (and attended many wild parties, I’m sure.)

After Mom married Dad and he completed his PhD, they finally settled in Memphis, where they had my brother, Brian, and me. Their fun didn’t stop, though. Some of my earliest memories were of Mom and Dad playing cards with their friends. My brother and I watched TV while the adults played nickel, dime, quarter; we always knew it was almost time to go home when we heard the adults singing “Amazing Grace” with more soul than a Sunday service.

Over the years that followed, Mom was…well…a great mom. And as I got older, we became dear friends–the kind with whom you can travel across Europe three times.

Me, Mom and my friend Amy at the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, 1996.

Mom and I riding the London Eye in London, England, 2001.

Altitude 95 restaurant at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Mom, me, my cousin Jennifer and my grandma Noelle (my mom’s mom) eating dinner at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, 2002.

We also became the kind of friends who commit shameless acts, like openly photographing people who make major fashion mistakes.
Cruise ship formal night leads fellow passenger to wear tuxedo shorts

A passenger aboard the Oasis of the Seas is cited by the fashion police (Mom and I) for wearing tuxedo shorts.

And sometimes, Mom was more than a friend could ever be. When I flew home from Washington, DC, for Thanksgiving, just months after 9/11, I sprinted when I saw her face beyond security check-in. In a reaction I hadn’t anticipated, tears still raw with fear and anguish—tears I thought had been fully purged by then—exploded. I guess those tears were waiting to find a home in the only person who could bring an ounce of solace to my broken heart.

And when Finley was born….I. Would. Not. Have. Survived. Without. Mom.

My mom with Finley at the hospital the day he was born

Mom, now a proud grandma, holds Finley on his birth day.

In honor of Mom’s birthday this month, I want her to know that I’m so glad to really know her. She has given so much to this world, and she’s helped create some of the best memories of my life. She is my best friend, my biggest supporter and a loving and guiding hand in Finley’s life. I couldn’t ask for more—well maybe just one thing…that she doesn’t tell Finley that his mom used to be a real hell-raiser.

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