She was not the kind of mom who wore an apron and baked cookies. She didn't sign up to run the classroom fundraiser or volunteer to head up the PTA. She didn't meet other moms for coffee, arrange playdates, or gossip at the school pick-up line. She was different. She worked, full-time, maybe more, when you consider that she was a business owner, and she was usually doing the bulk of the parenting alone. She always appeared happiest by herself with a book. 

When there was a potluck in my classroom, I would always raise my hand first, and as I had been coached, say, "My mom will bring the plates and napkins."

And she always did. 

But when there were five first graders on the Girl Scout Troop "wait list" she stepped up and became a troop leader. When my little sister's soccer team was about to be dropped off the roster, she stepped up, and coached the team. When it mattered, she always stepped up and she stepped out of her comfort zone, for us. 

I was a weird kid, a strange and awkward little person who didn't read social cues well. My mom convinced me that weird was beautiful, that the acceptance of my peers was no great prize, and that my uniqueness was something to cherish.  She made me her partner in crime, and we laughed our way through my childhood, on the same team, howling at the moon, us against the world. 

My mom is a fiercely independent, dancing-to-her-own-drummer, lone-wolf kind of woman. She knows me better than I care to admit and I know her too, in a way that no one else does. I know that when she loves, she loves fiercely and without reservation. I know that she wears her beauty like a shield, clinging to it for protection. I know that she has made tough choices and tremendous sacrifices, and that she bears those weights everyday. 

She has taught me lessons that she might not have intended to teach, about independence and self-sufficiency, about being a woman, about being a mother, and about stepping up. We appear to be very different, and I don't know if she realizes how much she has shaped who I am today, how so much of my desire to move through the world with compassion has grown out of things I have learned from her. I am a wacky, wide-eyed optimist about humanity because of her, even if she isn't anymore. 

I began this months ago, to wish her a happy birthday, but found I couldn't write it then. Something kept getting stuck. I'm glad it got unstuck. Thank you mom. Thank you for always stepping up.