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I’ve had the coolest mom ever since I was in kindergarten.

Kids would stare at her and whisper, “Is THAT your MOM?”

Why?

For one thing, she was always what used to be called a clotheshorse and what is now called a fashionista. When I was in grade school, she dressed like Goldie Hawn. When I was in junior high, I’m sure I was the only girl trying to convince her mother her hems needed to be lower.

Now that she’s older, she’s toned it down quite a bit but she still has a collection of Ferragamo boots that would make any woman envious. I’m afraid I’m a big disappointment to her in the glamour department. The stores I shop in are better left unmentioned.

She was fun to be around. I didn’t put words to it back then, but it seemed like she enjoyed my brother and me more than a lot of my friends’ parents enjoyed their kids. We hung out, we did projects, we had our rituals and our special jokes. Chores could wait, was her philosophy.

Now and then, she’d take us to a drive-in to get burgers for breakfast. We’d walk into school finishing the last of our milkshakes. It drove the staff CRAZY. Which made us love it even more.

She could make you feel a little better about yourself with just a few words. Sometimes I used to stop in at her office on my way home from school just to get that boost. I think all my friends felt that when they were around her.

We didn’t feel like there was this great generational gulf between her and us, or like we had to put on our best behavior. We could just be ourselves.

As a step-mother, I tried to think back to what it was that made us feel that way. Obviously, I wanted to recreate it, if possible.

I think one big thing was that she didn’t talk to us like kids. She just talked to us like people. And probably most importantly, listened to us like people. She didn’t make every moment a teaching moment. Or a discipline moment. They were just—moments. Like you’d have with a friend.

Along with that, she showered us with affection. Lots of special nicknames that would be way too embarrassing to include here! Even though you know it’s your mom saying them, I think they really helped with the teenage ‘dumb-and-uglies.’

Another important thing was that we were encouraged to be ourselves and any way we chose to live our lives—and I do mean ANY way—was O.K. with her.

I’ve tried to follow her lead in these three ways. So far it seems to be working out well, but we shall see!

I’m not saying things were perfect. We did the usual selfish, maddening kid behavior. And my mother would get overworked and frustrated and lose her temper sometimes.

How could she not? She was doing all this alone. That’s right. She was a single mom. A true hero. At a time when single moms were uncommon and often unaccepted.

But we kids didn’t know about the strange rules and nasty remarks of the adults. We just thought she was the coolest.

A couple of months ago, I ran into a woman from my old grade school neighborhood, someone I haven’t seen in years. We were talking about making a coffee date, and she said, “Hey, do you think your mom would come?”

See what I mean? Nothing’s changed. Everyone knows it. I still have the coolest mom!