You Never Know What You’re Going to Get: A Mother’s Day Story

Amber and mom

Young Amber Hester Kuehn and her mother.

I was born on July 17 in 1974. My young parents were concerned about the hard lumps on my arms and legs. The doctor laughed and said, “Those are her muscles. She has been very active in the womb.” I have been strong and strong-willed since conception, and it hasn’t always served me well.

Always intrigued by nature, challenges that scare me a little bit and adventure, I am the polar opposite of my mom:

• My mom is a shining example of always looking her best. I am content to be hygienically clean with acceptable clothes and shoes on.
• As a child, my mom wore dresses and white gloves when she went shopping on Broughton Street in Savannah. In  second  grade, I wore the same pink velour pants outfit every day of the week—I insisted on it.
• My mom is a great cook. I am in charge of bringing rolls to family gatherings—brown and serve.
• My mom is an artist and reads romantic novels. I am a scientist who reads textbooks.
• My mom has leftovers in her fridge. I have vials with formalin and tissue samples.
•My mom drives a Mercedes sedan. I drive a Ford F-250 service truck.
• My mom married a Southern boy. I married an Oregonian who almost failed to adjust to the culture shock.

treasuresI don’t think my mom expected her only female child to be more interested in treasures from the ocean floor than china sets and diamond rings. She wouldn’t have hoped for me to pursue a career as a professional boat captain or marine biologist, but I definitely would say she knew I’d try things I wasn’t sure I could achieve….just to see if I could. Some were accomplished and some were not. Since my interests had emerged from an unfamiliar source, I had to prove to myself they weren’t just plaguing my imagination. For example, when I decided to learn to scuba dive for fossils in the dark on the May River floor, my mom’s eyes got really wide and round. I’m almost certain she thought I had lost it, but she never said a word. I became a scuba instructor.

When I decided to attend graduate school for marine biology in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, she warned me that it was a horrible place. It was the only other place she had ever lived, a one-year departure from the Lowcountry. However, she knew I would have it my way and, for three years, I LOVED living in South Florida.

When I moved to Hawaii with $200 in my pocket, my mom helped me ship my clothes. Having seen the depths of the Pacific, I feel like I have expanded the reaches of my mind and I am so grateful. She was not envious of my close encounters with manta rays, sharks and humpback whales. She knew that I would eventually come home in debt, and she bailed me out.

Last spring, when I asked her to watch the dogs while I visited Peru to hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, she just smiled and said, “Have fun! But why wouldn’t you just take the bus?”

My mom never told me I should be like her. Her suggestions were mild, or maybe I was too distracted to notice: “Honey, your hair would look so cute with a stylish cut” or “I bought this dress for you to try on, but I can take it back if you don’t like it.”

The older I get, the less time I have for myself. Rather than shopping, I look forward to catching a glimpse of fiddler crabs silently marching across the mud flat, a newborn dolphin awkwardly breaching beside its graceful mother or Spanish moss swaying in a light breeze at sunset. These things encourage and move me. They also remind me of wonderful childhood memories in Bluffton. My mom let me take the motor boat out on my own when I was 13 and unknowingly let the May River speak to an impressionable girl who would always be drawn home…or maybe that was her plan all along.

Although we could not be more different, I know my mom is proud of me. I am proud of her for letting me be daring without making it difficult. My mom, although ladylike and VERY Southern, is tough as nails. I know this, because she raised ME!

Happy Mother’s Day!

By Amber Hester Kuehn, Marine Biologist, Owner of Spartina Marine Education Charters