Dear Mom, I Made It To 40. Thanks.

Mom liked to dress me in suits for my birthday. I don't know why.

Mom, I’m 40 now. Obviously, you know that. I’m the only time you ever gave birth, so of course you remember it. You told me you had one contraction and that was all the pain you could take. Sorry for that, though I know you always had a low tolerance for pain… so maybe it wasn’t all my fault.

You used to do this thing when you were in the hospital while I sat by your bedside, and you would get this very serious face that I knew meant I was about to get a Very Serious Moment with Mom. I used to roll my eyes at these, and even laugh at you and say “Dramaaaaa.”

Sometimes I think about these moments and they seem so cinematic, like we were in a movie.

But you would say to me that “if I go, I at least know I saw you through the worst.”

I would then get into a lecture right back at you, telling you to stop talking as if you’re going away, and that you don’t need to be so dramatic.

But now you have been taken away from me. I no longer have the opportunity of seeing your beautiful face and your wonderful smile, which was no doubt among the first things I saw at the first moment I arrived here on Earth.

Me, when I was new and much cuter than I am now.

That was 40 years ago today, and as usual I have to make a concession: You were right.

You did see me through the worst. You made me the center of your entire life, rearranging your world to create mine. I used to tease you all the time, “Mom, you have an identity of your own. You can’t just refer to yourself as ‘Oliver’s Mother.’ You are Paulette. You’re somebody.”

Every time you would respond the same way: “But I AM Oliver’s Mother.”

Well, how could I possibly argue with such an airtight case?

As I told you and our family and friends as we told you goodbye, I am “Paulette’s son.” Or, as you used to say, “the one pickney weh God bless me with.”

Look at how I’m staring at that cake.

That means, in a concrete sense, that you taught me through love and toughness how to be a person. I try every day to be the person I know you want me to be. I obviously don’t succeed every day, but that I am even motivated in that direction is a testament to the job you did.

You were certainly never shy about what that direction should be. Arguably the greatest and simultaneously must infuriating part of you for me as your son was that you always told me truly and honestly what you were thinking. If I did right, you would shower me with praise. If I did wrong, I was in the dog house. I – and anyone who has ever met you – always knew exactly where you stood. There was no artifice, no phoniness. I am convinced that you never knew how to fake it. With you, Mom, what you saw was always what you got.

I try to do that too. I don’t always get it right. Sometimes when I do it, it’s meaner than it needs to be. While you had the good sense to be a softie, I don’t.

But that’s how it is, in my opinion, with all my good traits. They come from you, through the way you taught me to laugh and enjoy life, while also working hard and honestly to put more good into the world.

All the good stuff comes from you and what you taught me. The bad stuff, I’ll take responsibility for.

Well. Not all of it. Because I have always made a big deal out of my birthday. That’s a bad habit! On paper, it’s just the one-year anniversary of your birth. But because of you, it’s a big deal. You have always admitted that you spoiled me “rotten.” That was especially true on my birthday. You indulged me when I was a kid and December would roll around, then I would start loudly yammering “6 DAYS UNTIL MY BIRTHDAY!” And on and on and on.

You got me chocolate cake, because I love chocolate cake and who cares if everybody else doesn’t love it, that’s the cake you got. You got me cakes designed to look like Superman, because of course – I love Superman. You purchased me multiple presents, arranged a surprise party, worked yourself ragged to make December 6th the premiere date on the Oliver calendar.

Me, at 4, and this beautiful chocolate cake, oblivious to the entire world around me

I love my birthday because you loved me on my birthday. And that’s a bad habit I picked up from you and that’s okay.

I still have a very hard time, reconciling the fact that you’re not physically here with me on my birthday. When we weren’t physically near each other, you were always the first to call me and wish me happy birthday.

But I know, like every other day, that you’re actually here with me on my birthday. You’ll always be with me, and we both know that in our hearts forever.

This photo perfectly captures the dynamic between Mom and me

So, thanks Mom. I made it to 40. You saw me through the worst. You more than exceeded what a mother should do for their child, and I’m a better person for it.

I know we’ll have a lot to talk about on that day when I finally see you again.

I don’t need to say it, but I love you with all my heart.


(Who is 40 but still, as you liked to say, your “toddler” – I mean, really Mom?)