Justin Ricklefs


Tough as a Mother

“You would have been a terrible girl,” our 15-year-old not-so-lovingly informed me yesterday morning, as I complained about a cramp I had in my sleep the night before.

She’s not wrong.

Brooke didn’t have to say anything, she just smiled over her coffee, as we sat on the back porch, finishing up some meditation time.

17 years ago, we celebrated her first Mother’s Day. I did what any 23-year-old dad of a 4-month old would do. I loaded up the baby early that morning, ran to the convenience store, grabbed a last minute card and Brooke’s favorite candy.


Understandably so, my procrastination, and lame gift-giving, wasn’t met with the same smile that morning.

I learned my lesson the hard way that Mother’s Day, but she’s been teaching me all these years.

About grit and grace.

About patience and perseverance.

About empathy and emotional connection.

About dreaming after despair.

About being fierce, feisty, and fearless.

About toughness and tenacity.

About love being a choice, not just a feeling.

For 17 straight years, on a Sunday in May, we’ve woken up, had some coffee, and stopped long enough to celebrate her. Of course, she, like all mothers, deserves much more than some flowers, gifts from school, and coffee mugs once a year.

Our homes in Columbia, Memphis, Kansas City, Palm City, and back to Kansas City hold the stories of these mornings inside their walls.

In between those Sundays were her countless stories of sacrifice, bedtimes, school lunches, sleepless nights, boatloads of coffee and wine, the same amount of worries, boyfriend problems, carpools, real pools, play dates, clothes changes, get back to bed’s, I’m sorry I yelled at you’s, you can’t post that’s, you can’t wear that’s, it’s going to be ok’s, let’s talk about your feelings, and loads of I love you’s to cover it all.

Stories that didn’t get her promoted, or celebrated, or frankly, even noticed outside of our four walls.

But she never asked them to. She was just ok being mom.

I think back 17 years ago, it was so innocent and cute to send out a birth announcement. Telling the world about our beautiful baby. Life looked so good, quiet, and peaceful.

But no matter what anyone told us, we could only experience the joys, challenges, heartbreaks, and hopes ourselves.

Parenting is much more like an unfinished basement, than a perfectly manicured front yard. No matter what Instagram may show you.

Primed for possibilities, yet tattered with the bumps and bruises of real life.

Comfy enough to feel at home, yet messy enough to feel like you should keep parts of it hidden.

Tender enough to feel safe, yet tough enough to feel like you might need to protect yourself.

It’s in this toughness, the worn knuckles from working, the weak knees from praying, the weary heart from wearing the burdens of those around her, and the resolute character from staying true, where I’ve had been given the wonderful privilege to witness her strength.

Strength that weathers storms.

Strength that heals hearts.

Strength that offers care.

Strength that asks for help.

Strength that is brave enough to pave the way, even when it’s really damn scary.

And five humans are the direct beneficiaries.

Happy Mother’s Day, Brooke.

Thanks for showing me how to be tough as a mother.

PS – to my own mother – tough as nails, and full of grace, thank you for your display of tenacity, wisdom, care, and love these last 40 years. You have three direct beneficiaries, each of whom are grateful to have such a tremendously tough mother.


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