Today is my mother’s birthday. I think she sometimes wonders if she “got it right,” like all good mothers do. She’ll periodically ask me, “What do you remember about your childhood?” and I feel a little bad because I think my memory has been eroded by too many study sessions, and too much solvent, and heaven knows what else. Some people seem to remember their entire lives right down to the day, but I’m not one of those people. Sometimes I think my mother might interpret this as me not thinking my childhood was that memorable, but that is not the case. My memory seems to function like one of those tanks where you bob for apples. I have to reach in and fish around for a while, and when I pull one out, I have a clear flash of memory–sometimes it’s a brief moment, like a still shot in a movie, and sometimes if plays out like a whole scene.

But as I think about the part my mother has played in my life, here are some things I do remember:

Vacations where she went horseback riding and we went hiking to find a green sand beach. Recitals, and plays, art shows, and book signings where I never felt like I was in a room full of strangers because her face was in the crowd. Learning to bake cookies and cakes because she made it look so magical. Being the only kid in school with a corduroy alligator costume for Halloween, specially made by her mother. Having her to always make chicken soup for me when I was sick. Her letting me go away to horseback riding camp, even though I came home smelling like a barn. Convincing me that life really would get better after high school, and that bullies are stupid and not worth your time. Her car turning the corner as she picked me up from school every day, while my friends all took the bus. Driving 800 miles to help me move into a dorm, and coming back to take me home in the summer, our car so full of my stuff that she could barely see out the back. Having birthday parties for me at the bowling alley with a magician. Taking brownies and cakes to all of my teachers at the end of the school year, and telling them how much she appreciated them.

She’s taught me more than I can say, but here are just a few:

1. You really can do anything you set your mind to. And you’re capable of more than you think you are.

2. The difference between a size 12 and a size 14 is a seam of 3/8″. Going up a size to wear that pencil skirt really shouldn’t ruin your day. If you look good, you look good. Size means nothing.

3. If you put a cake in the oven and then slam the kitchen door, that cake will fall. But everyone will still eat it, because it will taste just as delicious, no matter the state it’s in.

4. You have to stand up for yourself in this world because if you don’t, no one else will either. You really do teach people how to treat you.

5. The best things really are worth waiting for.

6. The secret to the world’s best cornbread is sour cream.

7. Real friendships span decades and thousands of miles. But you have to be willing to pick up the phone.

8. The fastest way to meet your neighbors is to set your chimney on fire. The easiest way to accomplish this is to toss all of your dried Christmas greenery into the fireplace at once.

9. You are your own worst enemy, and you should really give yourself a break. That way you can get on with accomplishing all those incredible things you’re capable of.

10. Don’t buy shoes a half size too small, no matter how cute they are. You’ll only wear them once, and they’ll make the nail on your pinky toes fall off.

11. It’s better to regret something that you did than something you were afraid to do.

12. Happiness shared is doubled. Sadness shared is halved.

13. Do nice things for people–no matter how small you think those things might be. They matter more than you think.

14. It’s never too late to improve your quality of life.

15. Try something new once in a while. See # 11.

16. Those things that seem so hopeless late at night…they won’t seem as bad in the morning.

17. Don’t go to bed angry at someone you love.

18. A little Motown heals a lot. Chicken soup heals the rest.

19. Don’t let anybody tease your hair. Even for a wedding.

20. Be grateful. And every so often, make lists of the things you’re thankful for. It makes a difference.