Archived Story

Mom knows best

Published 6:58pm Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Writing a column about my mother is one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever put on myself.
As most anyone would say when writing about their mothers, my mom, Barbara Anne Spears, is an incredible, amazing person.
How am I supposed to encompass the personality of one of the most important people in my life into a single column?
What follows will probably seem a winding, unconnected journey, a mishmash of memories that help to culminate in a somewhat adequate description of my mom.
Every night when I was very small – before I learned to read myself – both of my parents would take turns reading books to me. My eyes would follow along with the words as they pointed to them, and as soon as I was able to read on my own, you could hardly find a time when my nose wasn’t stuck in a book.
While Dad enjoys reading news articles, magazines and historical nonfiction, Mom has always enjoyed fiction – Anne Tyler, Patricia Cornwell, Michael Crichton and many more filled the bookshelves in my childhood home.
After plucking that first Michael Crichton book off the shelf, I was hooked. Soon I found my own favorite novelists, but several of mine still aligned with Mom’s favorites.
As I got older and purchased my own books, we’d trade books and talk about them once we finished. The discussion afterward – trading ideas, listening to her points about why she did or didn’t like a particular novel – has always (and will continue to be) one of the most cherished parts of reading books together.
Mom and I also share a love of movies and Broadway plays.
One particularly memorable break, I remember she and I debated about whether to see Matchstick Men or Under the Tuscan Sun. We chose Matchstick Men, watched the movie, walked out of the theatre and then walked right back to the ticket line and bought tickets to Under the Tuscan Sun.
The “movie day” was spontaneous. Girly. Perfect. If we have more than a couple of days to spend together, even now, we’ll eventually head to the movies or at least sit down and watch a movie together on TV.
Mom and I share a particularly nerdy brand of humor, giggling at puns, wordplay, subtle sarcasm and general situational humor. Mom, my brother and I are known to randomly send pun-filled texts or tweets (yes, my mom is on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook) each other’s way, met with equal amounts of laughter and eye-rolling.
In my pre-teens, I was gawky and awkward; I was all elbows and knees and a foot and a half taller than my peers, covered in bruises from bumping into things, unfamiliar with this body that had seemingly sprouted overnight.
Mom, growing up as the daughter of a ballet dancer herself, was the one who encouraged me to enroll in dance classes in sixth grade. Even today I could never call myself a graceful person, but what grace I have – being 5’10” and able to walk proudly in heels, holding my shoulders back instead of slumping to be less noticeable, as I did in sixth grade – I can credit to my mother for her continuous encouragement.
By eighth grade, I was invited to become a part of the Barbara Yates Company Dancers. Mom once again encouraged me to join, and I did.
For Mom and me, this meant a lot of long road trips, a lot of singing to Broadway tunes in the car and very little sleep. Mom was always ready in the dressing rooms with plenty of hairspray, bobby pins and makeup to help me get ready between dance numbers.
We traveled (and got lost on the way, at times) to Birmingham, Atlanta, New Orleans, Mobile, Nashville, Memphis and plenty of other places around the Southeast with BYCD. We also got to go to New York City once, which culminated in one of the coldest mornings of my life as we waited to get a picture with Katie Couric on the Today Show. All of those opportunities never would have been open to me if I had rebelled against the idea of taking dance lessons.
When I was getting ready to go to college, Mom was also the one who encouraged me to go through sorority recruitment. I was dubious – I’d seen the movies about college where sororities were full of girls who only cared about partying and drinking. But again, I trusted her judgment, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
In my sorority, I met a diverse group of girls who shared a lot of my same goals – being studious, bettering ourselves and helping the community around us – and changed my ideas about what sisterhood meant. So many of my friends from college were girls who were Chi Omegas with me; I can’t imagine my college experience without them.
Again, this was a good decision I can only credit to my mother.
And yet, none of that even comes close to explaining to the readers what has made her amazing.
She is the hardest working person I have ever met, able to juggle more tasks at work than I can fathom while still finding balance and good family life at home.
She is a much more talented writer than I’ll ever be – a trait I’ve envied many times as she has proofed my school essays and articles.
She is thoughtful and often gives random gifts to her friends and family, simply because she saw the item and it made her think of that person.
Anytime I have faced a crisis – such as when my computer died three days before final projects were due my senior year of college, or when I overdrew from my checking account for the first time – my first instinct is to call Mom.
I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who can handle as much stress as she can; in her selflessness, she will take more on herself in order to make the lives of those around her easier.
She is my sounding board, my best friend and a constant source of life advice – even the hard stuff that I don’t want to hear, the things that make me angry because I know she is right.
I’ve come to realize that my mother is my moral compass. She, for all intents and purposes, is the voice in my head.
And anytime I’ve made a mistake in my life, it’s because I didn’t listen to that voice she has instilled in me, telling me what the right path is.
She has shown her infinite love to me in ways both great and small. And if one day I can manage to be even half-competent at all of the things at which she excels, I’ll consider myself a success as a parent.
I love you, Mom, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without your constant support and unfailing generosity. You have influenced so much of who I am – and I am a better person for it.
And for all of those times I may have said otherwise – you were right.
Spears is general manager for The Outlook.

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