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I taught journalism at Deer Valley High School in Antioch from 2008 to 2013 and every May, I gave my students a particular assignment.
I didn't tell them what it was about. I gave no background or set-up. They figured it was journalism-related, so they would just dive right in without question.
Centered at the top of the whiteboard, in large, thick letters, I wrote “My mom is ...”.
I could hear the muffled giggles and jokes as the students made their way towards their seats – dropping backpacks on the floor and booting up their computers.
Once the intercom announcements were finished, the assignment began.
I had each student – one at a time – write a word or expression on the whiteboard to finish the sentence about their mom or their relationship with their mom (or primary caregiver).
I gave the freedom to write whatever they wanted about their mom, sans vulgar language.
Each year, their words and expressions covered a variety of sentiments, from “my best friend” and “thoughtful” to “controlling” and “overbearing.” These were teenagers, so understandably, the bulk of their words leaned towards annoyance and irritation.
We'd go over the words, one-by-one. Some required more context and explanation, to which the students readily gave, while others would laugh or concur their mom was the same.
Once we discussed all the words, I gave my take on my mother. She died in 2007. The students didn't know this.
“Today, I wish I could say my mom annoys me. I wish I could say she upset me. Today I wish I could say she doesn't understand me. But I can't say those words today. I know I'm an adult now, but I miss her so much. She was my best friend. I truly wish I could have one more day with my mom on Earth and walk up to this whiteboard and write the words you have written on the board, but I can't,” I said.
By this time, about half the students would tear up, while some fought back the tears to stay cool in front of their classmates and teacher.
That's when I would ask them to get out a piece of paper and pen or pencil. Now for the writing assignment. Each student had to write a letter to their mom.
They could write whatever they wanted. Afterwards, they could read the letter out loud to the class and publish it in the next issue of our student newspaper. Or it could be kept personal and private – but the one requirement was to give it to their mom or caregiver.
Many students came to me later to say they had never written a letter to their mom before and how thankful they were for this assignment. Later, I received emails from parents, stating the same gratitude.
If you've never written a letter to you mom or you haven’t written one in a long time, write her a letter – I bet she will cherish your words forever.
NOTE: For those whose moms have passed, consider writing a letter to her and reading it at her gravesite, or read it to your family on mother's day, or for a more personal setting, read it to her phone with a wonderfully scented candle burning.