To the Woman Who Taught Me to Wash Between My Toes

— I owe you so much. When I was younger, I thought the world began and ended with you. I would sit by the window, anticipating the first glimpse of headlights coming up the driveway. If you were a minute late, fear paralyzed me as I peered out the window, eyes glazed over as my vivid imagination played out the worst-case scenario. So, I sat and waited, mustering all the faith I had to believe that soon you would arrive, so my world would start spinning again. You always returned.

I felt that sometimes you were the only one who understood me.

It was apparent that I was different from other children, especially my brothers. You were so creative in how you built special bonds with each of us, never letting us feel neglected or favorited. You were so creative in how you made up songs before we went to bed. You were the leader of the family band as we sang in harmony and bopped our heads while riding in the car, radio tuned to the latest hit record.

I wasn’t always the smartest, the fastest, the strongest. You always made me feel like I won, even when I lost.

You never tricked me into thinking that winning and losing were the same.

You weren’t the one who told me Santa Claus wasn’t real. You let me think the Tooth Fairy was the one putting a dollar under my pillow. There must be some motherly magic that figured out how to slip the currency beneath a sleepy boy’s head, even though I had laid traps to catch you.

To the woman who taught me to wash between my toes — I owe you so much. I no longer think the world begins and ends with you. I don’t fret when I don’t hear from you, or when you forget to return my calls. I learned that there will eventually be a call that ends with “I love you” and “I love you, too.”

I learned that when you visit me, you’re not visiting, you’re making yourself at home. I learned that you show affection through the work of your hands. I get anxious when I return home and you are sitting still. I look around and wonder What has she cleaned? What has she rearranged? I never attain the full extent of your presence until you leave, and I find traces of you imprinted on my possessions. You’re a force of nature. You’re unable to go unnoticed.

You are sunshine that warms and burns simultaneously.

I get angry at how generous you are. You give so much when you have so little. You care too much about others — I wish I could be more like that. The world needs more painful sacrifice. People like you allow people like me to be great, and to feel better about not being as good.

To the woman who taught me to wash between my toes — I owe you so much. Your lips are always ready with a song and a smile; and you know how to sing and smile at the same time. Your feet are always ready to break out in spontaneous dance. Thank you for showing me that the meaning of life is found in love — and it is a choice. You choose to love deeply and broadly every single day. Thank you for loving me, too.

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