Bright Lights, Big City

Bright Lights, Big City

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

Bright Lights, Big City

There is nothing wrong with today’s teenager that twenty years won’t cure.
~Author Unknown

In so many ways my mom was a saint. Maybe she wasn’t unique compared to most moms, but she meant the world to us. She was someone who would always give up the last piece of cake for her kids. She would always make a special effort to make each of her six children feel like they were the most important person in her world. And her strength of character and compassion are attributes I have strived to emulate my entire life.

She came from meager means and endeavored to raise six children with even greater financial duress, never straying from her values. She proved time and again that she loved each of us to the depths of her caring soul. Nothing etched that in my mind more than an incident along the shores of scenic Lake Tahoe when I was fifteen.

There we stood atop the mountain amidst the pine-scented air, toe-to-toe in the light of a full moon, verbally duking it out over my future like so many mothers and sons through the ages. It is incredible how my mom’s wisdom in those volatile moments would impact me for decades, and define my measure of success for a lifetime.

We had been living in a small town on the northern Great Plains for a couple of years. Financial struggles, and being newcomers, made us big targets for bullying in a little school. A summer road trip to visit family at Lake Tahoe was a welcomed opportunity to get away from an unpleasant situation. Growing up in rural Michigan, and then the Grain Belt, I had never seen a major city—much less one that was active twenty-four hours a day. I was absolutely mesmerized by the lights and sounds, and especially the money. There were millions of dollars changing hands within those glittery buildings. Coming from nothing, I desperately wanted a piece of it.

We enjoyed a glorious week of adventure visiting family and taking in the breathtaking beauty that is Lake Tahoe and its surrounding attractions. And then it was time to leave. I was utterly crushed at the prospect of going back to what I considered an insignificant town with mostly insignificant (and cruel) people. In my mind, there was no way I would consider returning, and I was willing to do virtually anything to avoid it. It was that conversation with Mama that gave me a permanent sense of her maternal devotion.

After explaining my feelings to her with conviction, she let me know that not returning home with the family wasn’t really an option.

“I’m not going back, and there’s nothing you can do to make me,” I said, grossly naïve to the fact that millions of teens have uttered the same sentiment.

“You don’t have a choice,” she said, raising her voice. “You’re part of this family whether you like it or not, and that’s where home is. Besides, how do you think you would survive?”

“I’m tired of being poor. I’ll find a way to fend for myself.” And then I had one of those moments that seem to pass in slow motion, when you wish you could stop the hurtful words from leaving your mouth, but they just keep rolling. “I’m not going to be like you. I’m not going to be a fail....” I didn’t finish the word, but she knew what it was and I knew I had hurt her. I felt bad immediately.

I expected her to lash out at the hurtful remark, but she remained composed. She looked me in the eye with a gaze that pierced my soul.

“You think I am a failure? Not even close!” she said. “I have six children who I love dearly. I take care of a husband who I love, and each one of you. I have what I want in life, and by that standard I am every bit a success... and it has nothing to do with money.”

In the heat of the moment, I didn’t believe her, but in my heart I knew she was right. It was a conversation that has stuck with me for more than a third of a century, and her words have always reverberated in my mind whenever I’ve been tempted to base my success on material measures. As it turned out, my sister and I were able to stay with Grandma at the lake for a couple of months and work to pay rent. The family moved to the nearby desert later in the summer. In the end, I never did have to go back.

My heart still aches from my mother’s death, but whenever I pause to soak in the light from a full moon, her words come back to me and refresh my perspective on life. No matter where I am, I can close my eyes and see clearly across the lake to where her remains sit atop a mountain, and I feel the warmth of her love. I am no less determined to achieve financial security than I was standing at the lakeshore so many years ago, but as a Godly man and devoted husband and father, I thank my mother for her wisdom, and pray that I achieve a fraction of the success she measured with her heart.

~Tom LaPointe

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