(originally published 4/4/2011)

You’ve read about my daughter, my sister, my father, my friends, my ex—even Viggo. But you have yet to read about one very special woman whom I lovingly (and sometimes not so lovingly) call, Mom.

And no one deserves it more.

I don’t think we really understand our parents until we become parents ourselves. At least, that has been the case for me.

As a child I had very little understanding, compassion or patience for my mother. We loved hard and fought harder. They were confusing years, filled with great highs and painful lows. Lots of it due to my mother’s alcoholism.

But through it all my mom always made one thing clear—my sister and I were the most important people in her life and she would  put her body in front of a bus for us without hesitation.

It’s only now as an adult and, and even more so, as a mother that I have the awareness of how difficult it must have been for her to raise my sister and me as a single mom (well, technically we had a stepfather for a while but he was more like a third kid in the house to take care of—and the most screwed-up one out of the group).

My mother abandoned her own dream of being a stage actress and director to raise us. She went from being one of the first women to direct an off-Broadway play (where she met my pop) to directing our elementary school plays for free so she could be near us during the day.

Money was always an enormous struggle growing up. My mom became a professional volunteer. I mean she volunteered her time for everything—any cause she believed in. I always said if Mom could’ve gotten paid to be a volunteer we would’ve been rich.

She organized fundraisers for Democrats, marched for pro-choice, helped put together the hospitality center and entertainment for the ’84 Olympics, taught acting for free, helped produce struggling playwrights get their shows up, answered phones for councilmen. She even was president of the Beverly Glen Association and ran a campaign to get stoplights placed in the canyon after one too many kids had been killed by speeding drivers. (There are now two stoplights in Beverly Glen because of her campaign).

Yes, the lady never stopped helping and she always did it with a smile, a laugh, and a great platter of food.

But, as a child, instead of appreciating my mom for all that she did I gave her a hard time about it because we were so poor. I only could see what we didn’t have, what she couldn’t do, what wasn’t good.

I have had to learn the long, hard way how to see that we did indeed have everything we needed. Hell, we had more than most.

I remember when my mom was putting together the school play in fourth grade and she decided to give the lead role to a boy who came from a pretty bad home. He could barely read, and he was one of the few African American kids in our class.

He struggled with learning the lines and where to stand and my mom worked with him endlessly, after school and during lunch, to help him.

For the record, she gave me a role that didn’t have a single line of dialogue (there’s nepotism for ya)—I was a bird for crying out loud. A mute bird. Didn’t even get to caw.

I remember saying to my mom, “Why did you give the lead to him? He’s never going to learn it. He’s going to ruin the play!”

Mom, in her gentle wisdom, softly smiled and said, “He needs it. He needs it more than the rest.”

Come the day of the show our lead still struggled with lines, still forgot certain stage directions, and sometimes needed a gentle push toward the next scene.

I, in my bird costume, was fuming because, after all, I was a professional! I was certain the audience was going to boo us off.

I was wrong. When the curtain closed and we took our bows… he got the biggest applause of all. And for the first time ever, I saw that boy smile.

Years later, when I was in college, I ran into a girl who had also been in that play and was the only other African American in our class.  She was now a grown-up, beautiful, and studying at the university.

The first thing she asked me was,

“How is your mom? She was the nicest lady at our school. I loved her so much.”

And I can honestly tell you  every single person who has known or knows my mother feels the exact same way.

My mom has touched the lives of so many with her generosity. She’s helped so many artists find their light. She’s helped so many Democrats find their seat. And, she’s helped so many children find their voice.

When my marriage ended and I was suddenly on my own with a baby, my mom was there. Through every single step. Every tearful night. Every panic attack.

I would not have been able to raise my daughter without her help.

So, I suppose at 80, she is still volunteering her time… only now it’s toward her greatest passion of all. Her grandchildren.

Just as she was there for every moment in my sister’s life and mine, so it is with our kids.

She has never missed a school event, a birthday, a holiday, a graduation, a dance, a game or even just a family meal thrown together at the last minute for no other reason than to see the kids.

She even shows up for our friends children.

And I still know that even at 80, she would place her body in front of a bus for any of us without hesitation.

Oh, and one other thing about my mom… at the ripe young age of 79 my mother got sober. She gives hope on a daily basis to so many.

So, this one’s for you, Mom. Happy birthday. I am so proud to be your daughter.  If you ever want to know if your life was a success simply look at the lives of every person who’s had the good fortune to know you.

You will find you are there.