I remember like it was yesterday: our little boombox radio blasting music as we danced. Her hair bouncing as she grabbed my hands and spun me around in the living room of our little apartment. I remember throwing my head back and laughing until I was dizzy. Being without a care in the world.

Well, I was without a care in the world. Was she? Back then, I was blissfully unaware of her selflessness. Unaware of all she went without so I could have my fond memories. She tells me, now, that we BOTH sacrificed. Did we? I don’t feel like I gave up much, but to her, we were a package deal.

She was a single mom and a college student, all while working two jobs. I wonder now how she managed it all. Looking back, I’m reminded that what kids crave most of all is TIME with their mamas. Not the stuff we tend to let cloud our minds and our playrooms.

When I think of my childhood, I remember the good stuff.

I remember that little radio and my Rainbow Brite sleeping bag we used to share at night. I think about all the giggles we had when she told the big-mouthed bullfrog joke and the times we played pat-a-cake like it was a race. She taught me how to look forward to Friday with her silly TGIF song. I remember her calling out my spelling words while cooking up a box of mac and cheese at the stove. I remember her being present in my day and tucking me in at night.

Does she see on the good when she looks back on that time? Or is her memory clouded by the struggle, too? The part I didn’t notice? I fear she felt that strong pull in a mama’s heart along with the knots in our gut when we think we’re not giving our kids all we wish we could.

I cannot imagine how defeated and tired she must have felt, working a late shift just so she could have five dollars in her pocket after paying my babysitter. I didn’t see it then. She shielded and protected me from the worry I know now she must have felt. Instead of letting her worry and fear overcome her, she let it be her motivation. She believed that hard work paid off and she led me to believe that, too. She showed me that a woman could be strong and independent and extremely successful—traits I now possess that I’m proud to say are mirrored from her. She led by example with a smile and a whole lot of grace. With determination and perseverance.

This is a mother’s job, isn’t it? To shield our babies at all costs. Even if it means we bear the weight of the burden so our babies don’t have to.

I didn’t realize the things we did without. All I cared about was right there in that apartment. I had music, a cozy sleeping bag, and my mama.

I’ve never really told her how proud I was of her accomplishments. I posed for a picture with her and her freshly-earned college diploma, not realizing all the hours she poured into earning that piece of paper. I see it now. I still remember her curled hair touching the top of my head as she squeezed me. Beaming with all she had accomplished as a single mom. We walked out of that auditorium, hand in hand, ready to face the world together, my mama and I. Those hours spent highlighting textbooks long after my bedtime and the extra shifts she picked up at the restaurant finally paid off.

All that hard work was not just for her, but for me, too. It was for us.

To her, we’ve always been a package deal. She wasn’t just building a future for herself—she wanted greatness for me, too. And she taught me how to work for it, earn it, and never give up on big dreams.

I still have that Rainbow Brite sleeping bag we shared back then and I still think of her when certain songs come on the radio. To me, those little things symbolize our bond, our memories, and our strength—together.

You may also like:

Dear Single Mom

To My Mom: I Get It Now

Dear Mom, I’ve Never Wondered About Your Love

Michelle Tate

A native Texan, born and raised, I married my college sweetheart, and now spend my days raising our three young boys. In another life, I was an elementary school teacher, before diving deep in my true passion for my own babies and writing. My new children’s book, “Be” encourages kids to be the best versions of themselves while being accepting and kind to everyone they meet. Follow me on Facebook at Raising Humble Humans