My mom doesn’t live close by. She lives about 600 miles away and comes by airplane, yet somehow she is handing out gifts to her grandchildren from her magic handbag the minute she walks through the door.

Yesterday, while I worked, she emptied my dishwasher and cleaned off my counters. Then she started opening boxes that arrived at my house three months back and started wrapping Christmas presents. She even mailed her own gift boxes so she wouldn’t need mine.

And she just had a full hip replacement 7 weeks ago. Nothing, not even a major surgery, was going to stop her from spending Christmas with her grandkids.

Everything I learned about being a mom I learned from my mother.

She taught me that the most important work happens behind the scenes. It’s the work that nobody sees, that you often don’t get credit for. A happy family is the reward.

She taught me that it’s easier to get along, but you never take anyone’s crap who starts taking advantage of your kindness–not even your husband or your kids.

She taught me nothing is ever wasteful that goes into your stomach or on your feet.

And she taught me how to take care of a family and always lead with love.

But now, I’m starting to realize she’s teaching me to be a grandmother and a mother-in-law one day, too.

It’s the way she putters around my house doing small tasks like folding the laundry to make my life so much easier.

It’s the way she always knows when my husband and I need some time together, and she offers to watch the kids.

It’s the way she senses when my daughters are feeling down about themselves—or when I’m feeling down about myself as a mom—and she builds us back up with a funny text, a phone call, or a card in the mail.

It’s how she can pull whatever you need—tweezers or gum or Advil or a sweater—out of her magic handbag.

Everything I ever learned about being a mother I learned from my mom. I just hope she one day she tells me how she fits all that stuff in her purse.

This article originally appeared on Playdates on Fridays with Whitney Fleming

Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a communications consultant, and blogger. She tries to dispel the myth of being a typical suburban mom although she is often driving her minivan to soccer practices and attending PTA meetings. She writes about parenting, relationships, and w(h)ine on her blog Playdates on Fridays.