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Kristin Armstrong Headshot

99 Reasons

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I didn't have high expectations for Mother's Day. I mean, my kids can't drive, they don't have any money to speak of and they pay more attention to updates on their phones than to upcoming dates on the calendar.

So when I walked in the kitchen and saw items carefully arranged on the island, the way I do on birthdays and other special occasions, I was floored. When did they manage to do this?

There were love letters from my daughters, homemade candles and a ceramic tile that says, "Love you to the moon and back." Back when the kids were little and we separated for Daddy weekends or trips, I always told the kids to look at the moon (and I would, too) and we would be looking at the same thing no matter how far apart we were. And as far as the moon is up in the sky, well I would say, that's how much I love you, all the way there, all the way back, again and again. We say I love you all the time, the standard "loveyoubye" when we hang up the phone or hop out of the car, but "to the moon and back" is for moments that need emphasis.

The highlight of my Mother's Day, in fact the finest gift I have ever received in my entire 42 years, was a plastic cylinder, painted hastily in a coat of pink paint, with a red construction paper label stuck on it that says, "99 Reasons."

The cylinder is stuffed with folded slips of white paper. Each of my three children wrote 33 reasons why they love me.

I had the kitchen all to myself, and once I started pulling out papers and realized what my gift was, my hands started to shake and I could feel my heartbeat. I pulled one paper out at a time, knowing each author instantly and intimately by the handwriting. Isabelle, 12, has perfectly neat letters written in straight lines. Her twin sister Grace, has messy pencil scrawl. And Luke, my oldest at 14, the kid with dysgraphia who has to be forced at gunpoint to write a paragraph for English, has tiny, cramped writing only a mother can decipher. Days later I am still marveling at the fact that he participated in this project at all.

My treasure pile of papers started to amass to my right on the counter. And an equal pile of wet, wadded Kleenexes piled up to my left. I could not help myself, I sobbed openly. It was as if, for the first time, I understood to my core that my kids see me.

It wasn't merely the thank you for the standard mom things, though that was nice. Thank you for cooking for us, cleaning up after us, buying us stuff, helping with homework and driving us around.

It was the deeper things that burned with awareness inside me. The things that I know sprung from moments I mishandled and had to go back and redo, the family seasons that were so hard they made us all ache and I wondered how we were going to hold it together, the situations beyond my experience when all I could do was pray for the skills to lead. The moments when we clashed and had to work together when we wanted to push each other away. The compromises. The difficult conversations. The silence of solidarity; sitting with someone else's sadness and not pretending to know how to fix it. The gut wrenching honesty about my own mistakes, offered up for the sake of a life lesson. The trust deposits made over years that later earn the respectful right to say it like it is. The day in, day out endurance of mothering, consistently showing up. Learning the difference between hearing and listening, finally understanding that the latter means stopping and looking someone in the eyes. Being present. Making something meaningful out of the ordinary.

You love me unconditionally. You make me feel special. You protect me. You can be crazy and serious when needed. You make memories wherever we go. You give up things for my benefit. You surprise me. You inspire me. You care about my friends. You know me. You put up with my sh*t. You accept mess-ups. You always listen. You forgive me. You show up. You make me laugh. You are not afraid to cry. You help me see the good in a bad situation. You are not afraid to put yourself out there. You help me stop and thank God. You look for me. You push me to do things (in a good way). You forgive my friends. You give up your time for us. You are adventurous. You never give up.

There has never been a report card, a job review, a book endorsement or a love letter in my life that has meant more to me than these scribbled pieces of paper.

I am reminded that we are all perfectly imperfect, shaped and suited for our people just as they are for us. We are purposefully placed together to help each other grow, that is the essence of family. God whispered "You are enough" into each of these folded papers, quieting the questioning voice inside me, constantly wondering if I will have what it takes when they need to take what I have. And I pass that whisper onto you.

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