My mom, Kathy McRea, at her May 1973 wedding with her mom, Jeanie (left), and mother-in-law, Pat. I was born five months later.
In honor of all moms out there this Mother's Day, who are brave (or dumb) enough to take on this role, here are four reasons my mom is my hero. Thank you, Mom, for lighting the way for me to become one too.
1. Surviving teen motherhood.
Growing up in a small, Catholic farm community in Northeastern Colorado, I can't imagine the anxiety and fear of discovering you were pregnant with me at 19. I've often joked in adulthood that I could barely tie my own shoes at that age, when my toughest decision was choosing a college major and which party I'd be attending each weekend.
You, on the other hand, sacrificed all of those experiences to abide by your traditional parents' wishes, marrying your high school sweetheart, my father, when you both were only 19 and 20. I know it wasn't your first choice to become a mother so young, to negotiate parenthood with few resources or life experiences to guide you.
But because of your sacrifices, during my 20s I got to attend college and be carefree, thinking only of myself and pursuing my own goals. I got to wait until my 30s to have my children, long after marrying, establishing a career and traveling to faraway lands. And I credit much of my good fortune to your dedication to us girls, even as a young mom.
2. Showing a strong work ethic.
You want a standout employee? Hire a farmer's kid. Because when you're raised from an early age to "fix fence," feed animals and take care of your younger siblings, you learn the discipline to work hard and efficiently. That, in a nutshell, is you, Mom.
But how you managed to finish beauty school and continue cutting hair while raising two daughters? That I'll never know. You always worked full-time while managing our home, and attending our school activities and sports events. Our house wasn't always spotless, but when it was clean, it was clean.
Now as a stay-at-home mom of two boys, I know how challenging it is simply to keep my house marginally clean while writing or editing a story now and again. I am lucky I can volunteer in my boys' classrooms, drive them to activities and help them with homework because I don't work outside the home. Yet, I often find myself asking, "Why is my house such a mess when I stay at home?" Because no one works harder than you, Mom.
3. Making tough decisions.
I know it wasn't easy to move away from your small farming community -- leaving your family, friends and everything you'd known -- to start a new life in suburbia with a husband and two kids. I also know it wasn't easy for you when your marriage to our father failed, when you realized he might never conquer his alcoholism, might never be the father to us you'd hoped.
Now as a mom myself, it pains me even to imagine leaving the house I've raised my kids in, uprooting the life I've given them, in hopes of finding something better. I don't know how you had the courage to leave our father, to take us somewhere safe to live until we could return to a new normal without him in our home. If I were in the same situation, I'm not sure I could be that strong.
Then as life went on, you made the tough decision to love again, this time with a man who could be the dad we craved. Because of your decisions, we had stability with our step-dad, Scott, who played basketball with me for hours and taught me to drive. Who demonstrated love to me so that I could find a loving husband myself.
And even though that marriage ended, I'm forever grateful you chose to leave a dysfunctional relationship to find a healthier one for your daughters. Because of your bravery and willingness to find a better life for the three of us, Mom, I can have a stable life for my children.
4. Loving us no matter what.
It seems so trite even to mention this point because parents are naturally supposed to love their children. But now that I'm a mom, I can appreciate the love you have for us because, frankly, now I understand it's often the only weapon in a parent's arsenal.
Bottom line: This parenting gig is haaaaaard, not only because kids don't come with an operating manual. But also because parents don't always know the right answers in life, even for our children.
As a friend of mine said about parenting years ago, "It's not like we take a baby home from the hospital and say, 'How can I screw this kid up?'" The fact is that we're going to make mistakes in child-rearing.
I know you didn't always have the right answers, Mom, because I don't either. I know I can't prevent or fix my kids' hurt or hardship any more than you could for me. I see my youngest child crying because a friend at school hurt his feelings or watch my oldest son suffering from anxiety, and I wish could just make it all better.
But I realize I can't. Like you, all I can do is listen and love, be the safe haven for them in the eye of a storm. I know you weren't perfect. And know that because I'm not a perfect mom either.
But like you, I'll keep loving my kids and try my best to guide them. And if I follow your lead, parenting with determination, pluck and humor, maybe, just maybe, someday my kids will have the courage to do the same.