Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful mamas out there! Given that I don't have children yet, I am utterly mystified by the transformation I see my friends undergo when they become mothers. Girls I've known for years, who were all about leisurely brunches and late-night dinners, shopping trips and spontaneous weekend getaways, are now happily chasing toddlers, changing diapers, and playing make-believe games–all before 8 a.m. on a Saturday. Their love for their children knows no bounds. Not to say that it's easy going through that dramatic change. I know there's exhaustion and questions of "What am I doing?" and "Am I still me?!" but somehow that incredible bond that's created between mother and child makes giving come naturally.

To be honest, I am equal parts awe-struck and terrified at the prospect of motherhood. Do I have what it takes? Will I ever sleep/travel/have a moment of free time again?? (Not sure.) But the one thing that makes me absolutely certain that I want to become a mother one day is the relationship I have with my own mom.

I am so richly blessed to have a mom who loves me dearly, who's wise, fun-loving, adventurous, and who has taught me what it means to be a strong, independent woman. Though we live about 886 miles apart (she's in Brentwood, TN and I'm in New York, NY) we still share our lives daily through phone calls and emails. She's not on Facebook and she doesn't text (still trying to teach her!), but I look forward to her letters, magazine clippings, and care packages on birthdays. We love to travel together and try and see each other as often as possible.

So much of who I am today is because of my mom. My love for mealtimes and community around the table comes from her. As I described in my post A Return to the Table, my mom prepared three meals a day for us growing up. We ate breakfast before school as a family, took homemade lunches to school (often with little love notes tucked inside), and had dinner around the yellow table at night. Those meals were highlights of my childhood. Not only did we connect as a family, but we learned so much about the world. We regularly had friends or extended family join us for dinner, along with a steady stream of international students that my parents hosted from local universities and study abroad programs. As I child, I listened in amazement at their stories about life in France, Japan, England, and India. We had three French girls stay with us over the years, which resulted in my lifelong love of France.

(Left: My mom, a young Martha Stewart; Right: My early culinary experimentation, age 4)

My mom let me into the kitchen at a young age to "help" her cook. I'm sure I made gigantic messes, but I loved spending the time with her. I also began to love the process of preparing food. The kitchen was the center of our home, so even if I wasn't actually helping her cook, I was sitting at the table talking to her or reading a book. Reading was a huge part of our childhood. My brother, sister, and I didn't watch much TV, but we devoured books, built forts outside, and played dress up with her old clothes. The phrase "I'm bored" wasn't allowed in our home, and honestly, I don't think it would have occurred to us to say it!

Mom has constantly shared her deep faith in God with us, certainly in words, but most of all through her actions. She loves deeply and gives without any concern of reciprocation. In fact, her life has been devoted to giving–to her family, to her church, to her friends. Though she left her professional career (she's got a Masters degree in Counseling & Psychology) when she became a mom, she's never stopped learning. She's voracious reader, a student of the Bible, as well as philosophy, history, and psychology. She started a women's theology study that she leads at home and (I have to brag!) recently got accepted into the highly selective Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. She gets to spend six weeks this summer studying apologetics and theology at Oxford University, in England. I am so proud of her.

But perhaps the greatest gift my mom gave me was the gift of independence. Mom always taught me to dream big. She told me I could do anything I set my mind to, and I believed her. Thanks to the encouragement of her and my dad, I've been able to spread my wings and fly. Ever since I headed to Pennsylvania for college 14 years ago, I've been on the go: to Paris to study abroad, to Aix-en-Provence for post-college study, back to Paris to teach English for a year, and six years ago, to Burgundy for cooking school. There were Nashville interludes in between, but I was always plotting my next stint overseas. Mom was always there to send me off with a hug, a smile, and an "I love you," knowing she'd be over to visit me (she did every time!), and that I'd be home before long.

(The fateful train ride into NYC, March 2007)

But five years ago, I told her I was moving to NYC and that I probably wouldn't be coming home. I felt called to the city, and I was ready to put down roots there. She said, "OK, let's go!"

We packed up my bags, headed up to NYC together (in the midst of a huge blizzard, which left us stranded in Boston overnight) and arrived by train to nearly two feet of snow in the middle of March. I had no apartment, no job, and 3 big suitcases full of stuff. But like always, mom made it into an adventure. We had rented a little studio in the West Village for a few days, and crisscrossed the city in the snow looking at dingy apartments I'd found on Craigslist. We finally found a sunny little spot out in Astoria and mom helped me move in. There was no closet so we bought a hanging clothes rack and made the little room look as homey as possible. The day after I moved in, mom headed home and I was left to start living out those big dreams of mine. I'm pretty sure I asked myself "What am I doing?!" at that moment. I had left a good job, great apartment, and amazing family and friends behind in Nashville to move, alone, to a big city with no guarantees. But mom supported me in my decision. I'm sure she did a lot of praying, but she let me go, like she always has.

In the end, it was the best decision I could have ever made. Job(s) came, I found an amazing church, deep friendships, and the most wonderful husband I could have imagined. Mom taught me to spread my wings and fly, and even though she has had to let me go, she knows I love her all the more for it. She's a constant source of joy and encouragement and inspiration, and I only hope that I can be the same for my children one day. And it's nice knowing that when I do take that leap into motherhood one day, she's just a phone call away. I love you, Mom!!

(Opening shot: my beautiful mom and me on my wedding day, September 2010; photo by Eric Ryan Anderson.)