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For my mama, on Mother's Day

My mom is 10,000 pounds of strength, opinions, and ferocity packed into a tiny little 90-pound body. She is the most intimidating person I've ever met, even though a strong wind would flatten her. She buried both her parents when she was seven months pregnant with me and still managed to carry on and take care of her seven children. She has subsequently buried two sons and her husband and gets up every morning with a smile on her face, bakes cookies for her grandchildren and the little children of the drug dealers next door, who call to her, "Hi, Ms. Swan!" when she walks out her back door. She is the strongest person I've ever met.

When I was a little girl, I was often embarrased by her unabashed expression of her beliefs. She took me to pro-life marches when I was barely big enough to walk. Though I was pretty freaked out at the time and more than a little traumatized by the graphic depictions of aborted fetuses on other marchers' signs, I now am proud that she stood up for her beliefs.

Also, when I was a little girl, after Vatican II revamped the church she loved so dearly, I hid my face in shame as we arrived at church every week. Why? Because my mother insisted on dressing all in black and sporting a sign on her back that said, "God save the church." When they offered the peace sign, and most other Catholics shook hands and said, "Peace be with you," she offered, "God save the church." I think I had an ulcer by the time I was five. At the time, I didn't understand what a radical was, but now I'm proud of my radical little mom.

She always told me, "It's the squeaky wheel that gets the oil," and she practiced that theory religiously. She got herself elected to the school board and went to battle against textbooks that she felt were unfit for children. She won. And I spent my public school years with people whispering, "That's Catherine Swan's daughter." It even followed me into college, when one of my professors happened to be a journalist from the local newspaper my mom detested and had done battle repeatedly. Great, I thought. I got an A, but he never made eye contact with me the whole semester.

Once, after getting hauled into the principal's office for drunk and disorderly conduct at a choir concert, my mom went to battle on my behalf with the high school administration. She had done so on many occasions with my brothers to the point that teachers really didn't mess with the Swan kids. Mostly, we were good kids, and on the occasions that we weren't, the hell that rained down on us at home was far worse than any the school could dish out. I never had the heart to tell her that I was 100% guilty on the occasion she took on the administration. She would kill me. Even today, though I tower over her and outweigh her significantly, she still scares the crap out of me.

My mom is not a warm, fuzzy, compassionate person. I've only seen her cry a handful of times. And out of that handful, once was over my sister's goat and once was over our orange cat, Dante. Seems as if animal deaths bring out her soft side though she often can't distinguish a dog from a horse. My kids found that hilarious over the years: "How does Nanny not know what a goat is?" But speaking of my kids, they brought out a side of her that made me love her on a whole new dimension. The way she loves them, encourages them, gets right on their level and plays silly games with them. The way she brags about them to anyone who will listen. I never had grandparents, but she, in my opinion, is exactly what a grandma should be.

When Peyton went through a Spiderman phase at 3, he would only wear his Spiderman costume and we could only refer to him as Spiderman--or Peter Parker. Despite my threats and protests, she would let him wear his Spiderman costume everywhere. "Don't tell Mommy; she will yell at me," she'd warn him. But of course as soon as I picked him up he'd mockingly tell me, "Nanny let me wear my Spiderman suit to the library." She'd roll her eyes, and say, "Pay-Pay...that was supposed to be a secret." I wasn't ever really mad. If anything, I admonished myself for being so insecure.

So as my little mama gets littler (osteoporosis sucks) and older, I think of her with kinder and kinder regard. Losing my brothers and my dad showed me that once they're gone, they're gone: Don't leave anything unsaid. So, I try, in little ways here and there to tell her all the things I've never said. It's not easy. And I hope she sticks around for awhile because I've got a lot left to say. I said some of it in her mother's day card. You know what she said, "You almost made me cry." Almost :)


  1. What a strong woman she is on so many levels! Amazing. I let out a big " Awwwww " at the end that she almost cried. I hope that you both had a wonderful and blessed Mother's Day. I see where some of the fire cracker in you come from my beautiful friend!



  2. You are a doll, Terra :) I love you and hope you had a beautiful Mother's Day as well!

  3. For all her attributes, I must point out that she makes a piss poor shillelagh. I didn't even swing her at you very hard that one time and her ribs snapped like freakin' kindling!


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