My Mom Defied the American Dream

Thanks, Mom

Along with most movie-going Americans, I recently reread The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald opens the book with a philosophy that has had me pondering life and its luxuries this week: “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one…just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

A girl sitting next to me at Starbucks today, Emily, confirmed my Fitzgeraldesque philosophy. She was elatedly describing to her friend the new Audi her parents just gave her for a high school graduation gift. My first reaction was, gently put, critical; and then I remembered Fitzgerald’s statement.

People don’t typically look at my life (or my 1996 Honda) and covet the advantages I’ve had. I’m here to tell you though, that I am, above all, to be envied.

As is the case with many of the advantaged (such as Emily), the life I enjoy is largely because of the hard work my parents did to provide for me. Those provisions don’t look like the ones that the American Dream implores parents to pass on to their kids. Fortunately for me, my dad was raised in South Africa, and was therefore oblivious to the American Dream. Equally as fortunate for me, my mom is a rebel. She was raised in America (welllllll….Wisconsin), but she was (is) defiant.

Mother’s Day is this Sunday. I get a little sentimental about Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day will mark the one year anniversary of this blog. This adventure. This creative outlet that really began as a result of my mom‘s incessantly annoying encouragement. Exhibit A: Here’s a quote she sent me a while back.

“If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” –Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country

That’s right. My mom sent me this. Instructions on how to hurt her. She is the (craziest) most consistent cheerleader and challenger I’ve had. She gets me.

My mom is largely to credit (and blame) for the following:

  • My love of reading and writing

  • My adventurous spirit

  • My love for God and people

  • My love for music

  • My appreciation for a perfectly roasted coffee bean

  • My stubborn will

  • My understanding of grace (coupled with how to fall gracefully)

  • My scatterbrainedness (and ability to make up words)

  • My resolve to never settle

  • My bravery

  • My desire to change the world with a pen and paper

I may not drive an Audi, but as you see from this list, I’ve had life served to me on a (dented/tarnished/stainless steel…read: perfect) platter.

I recently told Brock that the two things in life that require the most bravery are loving and writing. Love demands our utmost bravery (both in tangible and intangible relationships). I believe that writing requires the second highest level of bravery, because it commits our intangible world to tangible words. There is something permanent in the translation process–something binding about letting our words permeate the void spaces on a blank page.

My mom gifted me with the greatest advantages (that are found nowhere in the American Dream)–writing and loving.

Happy Mother’s Day to the bravest, most tenaciously loving (and crazy) mom I know. Thank you for this privileged life of mine.

(Evidence of the life I wouldn’t trade.)



  1. you are SO right.. you had the BEST mom ever. She inspired me as a single adult and is a role model for me as I parent. What a blessing to have crossed her path those many years ago.

  2. Oh my, I read this on Thursday and was speechless. For days. You give me more credit than I deserve, but thank you! I have to say, though, that I feel it takes less courage to haul my wee ones overseas than to stay in America, look decadence in the face and defy the dream in favor of being a world citizen, which you and my other girls have done. Raising your children to see the value of people and culture, beauty and need is harder when surrounded by luxury than when surrounded by ….earth. Thank you for this tribute, Celeste, and thank you for being a mom who will pass on the the courage to love. Keep writing!

  3. i was trying to decide which post to comment on – i’ve read maybe 8 in the last 1/2 hour and love them all. but this one was special! i love your writing, your love of family, the fact that you always seem to be having coffee when you write and how much AMAZING looking food shows up on here!! 🙂 i’m certainly coming back for more reading!! ps – i’m jess, one of jadah’s friends from mpls. and i believe we met very briefly at one of her shows … she has a bazzilion friends so i realize that description probably doesn’t narrow it down much 🙂 anyways – the point is that i love your blog and i hope you keep writing!

    1. Haha thank you for your kind words, Jess. Of course I remember you! 🙂 I’ve thought of you (and your own adventures) often. Hope you are well, and that your recent journey has brought with it peace and an appreciation for fresh starts, as my adventure being a single mom has 🙂

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