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(Galina Barskaya/iStockphoto)
(Galina Barskaya/iStockphoto)

Facts & Arguments Essay

The best Mother's Day presents are free Add to ...

Afew days ago, I did a voice-over for a Mother's Day commercial. I listed good motherly qualities in a loving tone, and prompted the masses to give their mothers what they really deserve.

It's the most I've done for Mother's Day since I made a shrunken Styrofoam cup planter for my mom in kindergarten. When people I know hear this, two questions come up: the first inevitably involves the possibly toxic effects of placing Styrofoam in an oven. The second asks, since my mom and I are very close, 'why wouldn't I honour her on Mother's Day?'

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I would like to say it's not my fault. Neither of my parents favour what they term 'Hallmark Holidays.'

"Buy me flowers when you feel like it," Mom says.

"Not when someone else tells you that you should."

Mom and I have been close most of my life. She was my first teacher and mentor, and forgave me for the hell I put her though in my 16th year, so I don't see how it could have turned out any differently.

In kindergarten, she helped me learn to read with stories about Miffy the Bunny, and I'm sure that's what set me on the road to earning a degree in English literature.

Something else that put me on that road was my mother telling me from an early age to "be sure to go to university. Just get a bachelor's in anything. It will help you even if you go on to do something else." She was right, of course.

My brother and I rode in a 1965 blue Valiant to school, listening to talk radio or my mom. Both proved informative, but Mom held my attention more because she wasn't an anonymous voice and I loved her and thought her interesting.

She always read, primarily about religion, philosophy and death. Well, about death and the dying and their families - she used to volunteer as a grief support worker for the terminally ill. It taught me about approaching faith with an open mind, how to question my actions and reactions, and how to talk comfortably to someone who isn't long for this world. After elementary school, I graduated from Valiant Philosophy 101 and went on to Big Yellow Bus from Hell 200.

To put this stage in perspective, I must admit one thing: I was a nerd. Heavy, with thick glasses and long frizzy hair, I dressed, er, creatively, read all the time, loved talking to my teachers and played the baritone sax.

Any ex-nerds out there who have ever boarded a crowded school bus with a large instrument can identify with my experience: desperately trying to exude calmness while inwardly panicking about finding a free seat for me and my instrument, feeling watched, judged, and highly uncool.

Yet, in spite of how I felt, my mom thought I was beautiful and always remembered to tell me so. She knew I had a hard time, and to help me battle the awkward stages she instructed me on quick wit and comebacks. I now perform as an improviser regularly, but she was my first comedic professor, offering suggestions for timing and choice words. She helped build my sense of humour. As a serious, studious child struggling to fit in, I can only think that her efforts to bring my inner clown out helped me all the way to adulthood.

Throughout my youth, Mom instructed my brother and I in a number of other important areas: how to bake and how to wrestle being but two of them. Mom hated baking and would rather we did it. I took over when she started putting sunflower seeds in her chocolate-chip cookies, a not-so-subtle ploy that allowed her to wipe her floury hands free of baking for good.

The sunflower seeds had a greater impact than we first suspected; after I completed my literature degree, I put on kitchen whites and landed up to my elbows in cake batter as a pastry cook.

Wrestling also tops the list of childhood favourites. She would take on my brother and I and beat us both. I can only assume that this led me to a later interest in judo, which I eventually had to quit because my work in pastry had brought on tendinitis. With the demise of that career I entered the film industry and Mom said, "Oh, I always saw you doing something in film." She could have told me that earlier, I think, as a time-saving measure.

Additionally, Mom frequently "suggested" I return to studying French.

"You've put so much time in," she'd say. "You should stick with it. It will be useful."

I always fought this. I hated French. I liked almost every other language, and tongue-tested several of them before I caved and enrolled in a five-week French immersion class.

I did it because, you see, she was right. I do find it useful, and though I'm far from perfect at it, I use it while travelling, on government job applications, and in my attempts to be a better global citizen.

Last year, following my French class, I admitted to Mom that she was right. I'd oft suspected she was, and had already said it in my head. But I finally reached that certain age, which for me was near 30, when I could say it to my mother out loud: "You were right."

And I can't think of a better Mother's Day present than that.

Briana Rayner lives in North Vancouver

facts@globeandmail.com

 

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