An Open Letter to Moms

If you are a mother, I have a favor to ask of you this Mother’s Day weekend.

I ask that you will try to be like my own mother.  Heads up: It will not be easy

My own mother has never picked up a barbell (that I know of).  But it’s all the same to me, because she fostered my love for strength training, and she did it at a time in my life when I was a wretched, entitled, ungrateful teenager.  She didn’t really understand why I found solace among a bunch of dusty dumbbells and rusted-out plates at the age of 12, and I didn’t understand why she had to be so present all the time, when all I wanted to do was cause unsupervised mayhem.  But she saw something in me when I trained– what, I don’t know– and continued to support me as I continued to spend hours shirking homework to work on my bench press.  She repeatedly told me if I spent half as much time on homework as I did on my squat, I would get a full ride academic scholarship to Harvard.

I recall a day in the grocery store, I was maybe 13, and my mom was checking out with the cashier.  I grabbed all of the dozen or so plastic bags, because I could.  I already had biceps on my awkward teenage body.  An older woman approached, and chastised my mom for “forcing” a young girl to carry the heavy burden.  My mom always handles nosy people with such tact– I don’t recall exactly what she said, but she has a graceful way of telling people to mind their own fucking business in a such a way that they don’t realize they’ve been served until after she’s left the building.  When we got in the car, she turned to me and said, “Never depend on other people to carry your bags.”  I think of that day every time I do farmer’s walks.

My devotion to the weight room showed.  I was muscular, even as a unfortunately awkward teenager.  People did not hesitate to tell my mom what a freak I was, that it was basically child abuse to allow me to lift that much weight, it would stunt my growth, how could she let me spend all that time in the weight room with the boys— wasn’t she worried?  She was my biggest fan.  My parents never missed a game or track meet for my brother or I, despite having to spend the money and time to travel hundreds of miles (often in opposite directions on the same day) across Montana, and having full time jobs (plus part-time ones on the side).  On top of the travel expenses, my brother and I required the coolest, newest sneakers on the face of the planet for every sport, every season, because that’s what asshole teenagers do.  We also consumed about 4-6,000 calories daily–each.  How they didn’t go bankrupt, I will never know.

My mom was President of the Shelby High School Booster Club when I graduated and into the following year (while my little brother was still in school).  Her final act in that role was to bring together resources from all over our tiny town to create a brand new weight room, replace some of the old, donated, barely functional equipment, and host a lifting party for all the athletes in town.  I came home from college to see the new place in all its glory.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized what an act of love that was.  She fervently hoped that other high school kids might find themselves through strength training, like I did, and maybe stay out of trouble, like I did not.

After my brother and I left home, she finally had enough time to actually work out herself.  My mom has grown to cherish any time she can eke out to be at the gym, and we can finally see eye to eye on the fact that old 100% cotton shorts are a one-way street to chaffeville.  I can see her happiness parallel the increase of her fitness, and I’m so proud of her progress.

Moms, I ask that you will set an example for your daughters by reminding them that their worth lies in what they can do, not what they look like.  Despite a society that wants them to shrink, be smaller, be less… tell them to do the opposite, even when it’s not popular.  Even when it costs them dates.  Even when other people tell you they’re freaks.

Moms, I ask that you will take care of yourselves, because your kids are paying attention.  Taking time for your health might feel selfish, but your kids will model themselves after you.  As you age, they’ll be grateful for the extended, high-quality years of your life.

Moms, please be respectful of your body, and others’.  If you call yourself fat– they hear it, and they’ll think they are, too.  If you snark about someone else’s body, they think it’s normal to judge different body types.  Don’t raise another generation of girls who think they are not worthy of being loved because they don’t fit a mold created with arbitrary standards of beauty.

Moms, please raise daughters who are ready for the fight.  Let them learn the hard lessons about losing and winning, about getting hurt (emotionally and physically), about working your ass off for delayed gratification.  We need more people like that.

Lastly, Moms, I ask that you tell your sons to truly respect women, lest they someday be out-lifted by one.

I ask that you will try to be like my own mother, a woman whose boundless love I cannot even begin to comprehend.  A woman who has loved me enough to let me fail when I have needed to, has picked me up when I needed it, and truly takes delight in a life filled with wonderful people and experiences, not things.  I hope someday to be even a fraction of the woman she is.

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