There are moments when I am struck by just how incredible my mother is. These realizations have happened since I was very young, but only in the last few months have they landed with the kind of profound impact that I have to take a moment and thank the universe for Julie Kennedy Hazan. Sure, Mother’s Day is our institutionalized Day of Thanks for Maternal Units Everywhere™, but these moments remind me that those hastily-bought cards and breakfasts in bed are not nearly enough.
When I was in elementary school, I had three idols: Helen Keller, J.K. Rowling, and my mother. Even at the age of six—when I’m sure most daughters and many sons also idolized their mothers—I knew that there was something truly special about my mom. Perhaps it was her patience. In fact, I’m quite sure that it was her patience that I particularly valued in elementary school.
During first grade, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Much of my stress was centered around school, so the mornings were especially difficult. I would beg for her to let me stay home and to just home school me instead. But she firmly and patiently made sure that I walked into the front doors of Riverside Elementary School every single day. Additionally, when I would call home multiple times a morning and beg her to pick me up, she would stop whatever she was doing and talk with me just long enough to remind me that I was much stronger than the monsters inside my head. She’d tell me, “Just get to lunch. If you still feel sick and want me to pick you up, then just give me another call and I will.”
I never did.
Her voice—the soft, firm confident tone that read to us every single night—would fill me with the strength I needed to get through the rest of the day. In fact, I still call her when anxiety starts nibbling away at my self-confidence. After only a few minutes of conversation about any little part of our lives, I can hang up and feel infinitely better about the world.
Naturally, the two of us grew incredibly close during those early years. She was a pillar of strength that I could lean on when I needed a reminder that I could do anything I wanted. She listened to my tears, to my irrational thoughts, to my mumblings and shouts and sobs, and she helped me stand back up again.
When we moved to North Carolina in 2009, my family only had each other. To say that we grew close was an understatement—I am one of those people who will talk about her family ad infinitum to anyone that will listen. In those years when teenagers normally distanced themselves from their parents, we grew closer to one another. And as my brothers and I have continued to mature, we’ve gotten to know our parents on a much more familiar, level. In these last five or six years, I have grown not only to respect her as a wonderful mother but also as a truly incredible woman.
A staunch feminist, my mother used to wear suits and ties to work, and when she was pregnant with triplets (another feat in itself), she decided that her two little daughters would have gender-neutral names so that they wouldn’t be discriminated against on their job applications. When she lost one of those two daughters three weeks after she was born, my mother did not lose her faith or let herself slide into grief. She raised Jack and I—and then our younger brother Alex a year-and-a-half later—with her incredible mix of strength and tenderness.
We’ve faced quite a few crises growing up, yet my mother has remained strong and kind and level-headed through it all. Through car accidents, big moves, and a handful of major surgeries, my mother has handled each of those moments so incredibly well. In addition, she also quit smoking after thirty years, picked up running, and currently plays on four different tennis teams. Just last week, she drove eight-and-a-half hours to visit me at Kenyon so that I wouldn’t have to meet with a surgeon about post-op complications all by myself.
When I received her text that she had arrived, I inhaled the rest of my dinner and literally ran across campus to find her. She was leaning against her car in downtown Gambier when I found her, and I sprinted straight into her arms. Her hugs are almost as lovely as her voice: strong, yet so full of love and confidence and softness. She’d brought me almonds, a shirt she’d found that she’d thought I’d like (I did) and that constant reminder that I am stronger than I think.
So this one’s for you, Mom. These paragraphs are my attempt at telling the world just how incredible you are. Your story is infinitely more complex, has a much better sense of humor, and is filled with so much love that I can’t even think of a comparable metaphor, but I hope that this does you at least some justice. I cannot tell you enough how proud I am of your accomplishments. I cannot thank you enough for your constant strength, loyalty, and compassion. I cannot remind you enough how truly, infinitely incredible you are. Names will come and go on that list of idols I started in first grade, but yours will always be there.
Love you. Keep your fingers crossed.
Image credits: Taylor Hazan