Thanks for the greatest gift a mother can give

Of all the things she's grateful to her mom for this Mother's Day, there's one that's special.

This Mother's Day, the list of things I have to thank my mother for is seemingly endless. She deserves a big thank you for answering my midnight phone calls, for not laughing at me when I insisted on crimping my hair for my school photo, and for assuring me that there are certainly – even if she didn't know any of them personally – German majors who make good livings.

And I'd be remiss not to thank her for always cooking my favorite meals when I return home, for consistently offering good advice – but letting me ask for it before she gives it – and for good-naturedly storing the mementos of my childhood in her basement despite knowing that I'll probably never make good on my promise to come and get them one day.

It's recognized the world over that there's really no way to properly and fully thank our mothers for the lifetime of love, support, and guidance they provide. And it's just as impossible to conceive of all the things for which they deserve to be thanked.

So this year I'm bypassing all the details – the birthday cake castle she lovingly constructed, the Halloween dinosaur costume pieced together on her sewing machine, the dance recitals she endured without complaint, graciously piling on compliments despite my two left feet – and I'm just going to concentrate on the one thing that she has given me that is the greatest gift of them all.

Thank you, Mom, for my three brothers, for the gift of siblings. Oh, I certainly know that there have been times when I have been anything but thankful for them – when I've pondered what it might be like to be an only child, when I've wondered just what I did to deserve to be the sister of three younger brothers. But trust me, even when I haven't shown it, I've always known that they, while not perfect, are the perfect gift.

Because of them, I was never without a childhood playmate. They were the constant cohorts in my attempts to build a bike track behind our house, Polos to my Marco, and fellow back-seat travelers on that six-week trip across the country. They shared my Christmas Eve anxiety, gave me the most heartfelt birthday cards, and regularly caused me to laugh so hard my stomach hurt.

Now, though we've grown and scattered, they are no less vital to my everyday existence than they were when we were all gathered around one table, kicking one another under it.

My brothers provide a tangible connection to my past, reminding me of who I am and how I got where I am. They are the voice of reason when I'm being ridiculous and the "I dare you" when I need a push. They are the first ones I call to celebrate good news and to mourn over bad news.

There is no one else I would have let sleep on my couch for eight weeks, trusted to make sure the setup for my wedding was done properly, or traveled with on a middle-of-the-night flight to Egypt. If not always my travel companions, they are at least my life companions, and they have yet not to make me laugh.

Mom, I don't know if you had any way of knowing that this would be your greatest gift to me, but it is indeed. Because of you, I have three best friends. And I have a deep well of knowledge that comes from having grown up with them. I know how to compromise, cooperate, and sometimes coerce. I know how to fight fairly, how to forgive, and how to love someone unconditionally, even during the moments when you don't like them one bit.

And just to be clear, I'm not just saying thanks for choosing to be the mother of four, for bearing and giving birth to a whole brood of us. Comparatively, that must have been an easy task. My thanks aren't even for all the requisite chores of motherhood – the cleaning of faces with spit and a thumb, the refereeing of arguments, the preparation of meals, and the checking of homework.

My thanks are for something much less palpable, something that can't be seen or quantified but is instead a mystery of the profession of motherhood. What I am most thankful for – what I'm, in fact, completely astounded by – is the way you nurtured four individuals with four sets of dreams, cultivating us into people so profoundly different and yet, at the same time, so similar.

Matthew, Gregory, and Mark – your sons, my brothers – are the three people I most admire, the three people I care most deeply about, the three best friends I will ever have. I am constantly in awe of them, but perhaps I shouldn't be. After all, we are our mother's children.

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