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Amy Donaldson
Enjoying a morning of pickleball with my parents and aunt and uncle. From left to right. Dan Donaldson, Jeanne Donaldson, Kathy Johnson (aunt) and Ray Johnson (uncle).

Just seeing her on the sideline gave me confidence.

My first two years of softball, I spent more time worrying about whether the ball would hit me in the face or if I would get yelled for some mistake I didn’t realize I was making than celebrating any kind of personal or team victory.

I was not unusually gifted or gritty, but for some reason, I loved softball enough to endure two years of very little playing time and marginal success.

When I was 11, my younger sister and I were thrilled when our mother decided to leave the stands and join us on the field. We’d grown up watching her play softball with our aunt. They hauled us and our cousins (eight children) to practices and games all over Salt Lake County. Admittedly, playgrounds, trees and irrigation ditches captured the bulk of our attention, but we watched enough to noticed how much fun they had.

Some aspects of that 38-year-old season are so vivid in my mind, I feel like it was yesterday. Like her advice that I prevent the ball from hitting my face by keeping my eye on it. Or her endless patience with our torturous batting practices, in which everyone wanted to hit, but no one wanted to shag balls, especially on those 90-degree days.

Mostly I just remember feeling some inexplicable confidence in seeing her on the sideline. She was beautiful and happy and, in my mind, the keeper of all wisdom.

That year I made my first all-star team.

It was the season where I understood why players enjoyed practice. It was the year I realized why players hoped the ball found them on the field. It was the year I learned the allure and pain of competition.

It is difficult for me to write about my mother. Once I start contemplating the realities of Lora Jean Curtis Donaldson, I realize there are not words to adequately describe who she is or how I feel about her.

My mother is like a foundation that moves with you, allowing you to feel grounded and somehow also free to take risks.

Her love is unconditional, but she will always give you her truth. I know, down to my core, she loves me, even as I acknowledge that she would make different choices for my life.

She is an example of unyielding faith without a hint of piety. We talk, almost daily, about faith, politics and family, and while we disagree, fundamentally, on certain truths, her commitment to what she believes is what I aspire to with my own convictions.

She reminds me that life is about reveling in joy, while also somehow managing to put other people first. Even as she worked full-time, raised six children, embraced constant church duties and earned her college and master’s degree after 50, she has never stopped finding ways to play.

From softball to bowling to beating most of her children in a foot race until she was in her late 40s, she is always looking for the next challenge. Last year, we began our obsession with pickleball, and I have no doubt, she’ll be winning tournaments against women half her age this summer.

When my own children were younger, they loved a ride at Lagoon that I found unbearable - the Rocket. Their grandmother rode with them, laughing and unafraid, until they tired of it. She’s always up for a wrestling match or water fight, and heaven help you if you challenge her to a game of checkers.

She is, and has always been, the embodiment of joy.

Despite my many flaws and failures, my parents and I have marveled at my inherent confidence. I can tell you that it is rooted in her affection for me and her faith in my abilities. If she loves me, why wouldn’t the rest of the world?

Maybe the best lesson I learned from my mom wasn’t how to patiently wait for a strike or that being competitive didn’t mean abandoning affection for my opponents. It was a more expansive view of motherhood.

Her life has been a lesson in how to bring mom-ness to just about everything you do. It has helped me see the many mothers in my life who have only added to that armour a mom’s faith can provide against a cruel and fickle world.

The pieces of herself she’s given to me would have been enough.

But I was lucky enough to have benefited from grandmothers, aunts, sisters, cousins, friends, co-workers and neighbors who’ve offered me mom-like love and support.

They helped me get settled in my college dorm, helped me plan my wedding, threw baby showers for me, kept me company through surgeries, cried with me during heartbreak, helped me raise my daughters, introduced me to new challenges and adventures, expanded my mind and my heart, showed me what determined, smart women could accomplish, even in a so-called man’s world, and over and over they just showed up when I needed a hug.

They believed in me when I did not believe in myself. They brag for me, offer me wisdom, and remind what’s most important.

Today I stood on a dirt trail, and for a moment, I saw her there, Jeanne Donaldson. She had long brown hair, parted down the middle, and that movie-star smile, that made a scared little girl feel like Wonder Woman. Behind her were my granite-minded, soft-hearted grandmothers and aunts, and all my blessed, beautiful, mother-like friends. Under my breath, and to the sound of birds singing, I whisper to all of them, and all of you, who mother or are mothered, Happy Mom’s Day.

May you always have a game to look forward to, laughter on your lips and love in your heart.