Growing up, I was afraid of snakes. I would make elaborate plans to avoid going outside during the summer and tried to convince my mother that reading stacks of library books and playing with my chemistry set was a better use of my time. But my mother loved the woods and the lake and marveled at wildflowers and vines that climbed up trees and would force me out of the house and into nature most days.

Once, as we walked through the woods, we came to a bridge over a stream and there was a snake coiled in the sun. I grabbed my mother’s hand, pulled her to a stop and said, “We have to turn around.” She laughed, dropped my hand, walked onto the bridge and nudged the snake with her foot. It unfurled and she looked back at me, smiled, and picked it up with her foot, holding it in the air for a beat before dropping it over the side of the bridge. In that moment, I thought she was the bravest person in the whole world.

There were many moments like that throughout my childhood. My mother became my hero because she seemed confident and fearless in ways that I was not.

When I became a mother, I vowed to be more nurturing and kind than my own but, deep down, I also wanted to appear as legendary in my kids’ eyes as my mother was in mine.

I’ve been a mother for over 14 years now and I don’t know if my kids will ever think of me as a hero. I don’t fight spiders and kick snakes. I’m squeamish about dealing with fish that have swallowed the hook and have a fear of getting finned. They know that I will keep them safe but I am not one to fight those everyday backyard dragons.

When my daughter was turning two, she asked for a pink cake for her birthday and I was determined to make it myself — a chocolate layer cake with buttercream frosting from scratch. Everything was going well until I forgot to do a crumb coat. I stood in the kitchen and stared at the chocolate crumbs wrecking my perfect pink frosting and I cried. My daughter came in and said, “Mama, why you cry the cake?” There were other things going on in my life that had me emotionally vulnerable and I knew crying over a cake was ridiculous but I was disappointed that this simple thing wasn’t so simple. I laughed and said, “I wanted it to be perfect but it’s a mess.” Of course, I rallied and fixed the cake and it was delicious but every now and then, my daughter will laugh and say, “Remember the time you cried the cake?”

Yesterday was my birthday and both kids made me cards and filled them with beautiful words. They described me as thoughtful, compassionate and as a great mom. And with those words, I know I have become the mother I hoped to be. I am confident but am more likely to show vulnerability than fearlessness. I am the mom who cried the cake, my own kind of legend.  


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