It’s International Women’s Day! We’ve been celebrating the strides women make as early as 1909. There are a lot of incredible women out there, but today my thoughts are with the strongest woman I know, the one who raised me and my sisters.

I can remember the night I realized that my Mom would be the best friend I ever had. I was in college, lying on my apartment floor talking through a tough day on the phone. She can talk me through the tallest mountains and the deepest valleys. It dawned on me then, that my Momma was the strongest, kindest person I knew. I’ve found that it’s such a difficult balance to keep, soft yet unapologetic. But, Mom was that, all the time. And now, years later, I’m still mystified by how this incredible balance she keeps in her life.

She’s unapologetic about being soft. In fact, she’s never made me feel like being emotional is a negative thing – ever. My Dad’s favorite story to tell revolves around it – my Grandpa told him when they started dating that “she cries in the cartoons”. I’m not sure she’s ever made it through an episode of Ellen without tears. But, that has never been stigmatized in our house. Feel it, feel it all, then figure it out.

She wakes up every day and gives herself to others. She pours her heart and energy into her classroom and it shows. She was out sick last week for a few days and her kids were over the moon when she came back. She gets invited to birthday parties and goes to watch their soccer games. She shows them the same firm love I got growing up and I know her thoughts are with them long after the bell rings.

Kent and I talk about how lucky we were to have Moms who were so devoted. In high school I would work nights at a restaurant and she’d be in the parking lot, like clockwork, at 9:45 PM. Even if I didn’t get out until 10:45, she’d be there.  From kindergarten to my senior year, she made my lunch every single day and she’d pack extra pumpkin bread for my friends. In college, she’d insist on driving me to a gas station so the person driving me back to UCF didn’t have to go out of their way. Then she’d cry, cry, cry as I drove away.

I realize now that there are very few people in life you can count on. Even fewer are the people you can count on implicitly. She could be anywhere and she would drop it in a second if I needed her. I had my moments as a bitchy teenager and I can remember the moments I tried my hardest to test her. Sometimes she’d get upset, but mostly I remember unwavering, sarcastic sass. She still is sassy as hell and I undoubtedly get my sarcasm from her.

My family has this incredible bond and it’s the labor of her love. People get paid huge money to build the kind of culture my Mom has built in our family. We ate dinner together every night and when my Dad worked the night shift, we’d bring him dinner and spend his dinner hour with him. Our best times are simply when we’re together. We could do anything and it would be the better than the most extravagant day apart. My parents have sacrificed so much to give my sisters and I the life we have and they do it with such grace. She is undoubtedly the most selfless person I know, and I can’t put into words how much I love her.

I got a note in the mail from my family today, the bit from my Mom read, “Please know I carry you around in my heart. You are always with me