When Praise is Due

by Julie Sloane | 5/9/97 5:00am

I have a very unsettled feeling in my stomach. I can accept that the job world will hit me in T-minus two years. What I find more difficult to handle is that it's hitting me now -- my '97 friends are leaving my college world. Some I may never see again.

College can be a big pinball machine -- we're shot into the game, we bounce around for a few years, come in contact with new people in a new environment, then inevitable gravity pulls us past the last flipper and we exit the game. Once the silver ball rolls past the bottom flippers, where it goes is a bit of a mystery. The great annual friend diaspora is taking place.

Some of the people who are leaving have meant a lot to me. They have inspired me with their intelligence, kindness, humor and wisdom. Even some people who are not close friends of mine have shown me elements of character that shape who I am. I bet they don't even know it.

I regret that often we don't let people know how much they mean to us until it's too late. The time to praise someone is not as they are leaving, or worse yet, as they are dying. I've read beautifully touching obituaries and wondered if that person realized while they were alive just how special they were to others. We really ought to thank friends and loved ones while they're still a big part of our lives.

I'd like to take this opportunity to follow my own advice and praise one of the most important people in my life. I'm not going to sing her praises because she's sick, or because something out of the ordinary is happening. Or even because Sunday is Mother's Day. I want to tell you how wonderful my mom is because for 20 years of selfless devotion, she deserves it.

I feel so lucky to have Ann Wilderman Sloane as my mother. I know that raising my sister and I to be happy and well-adjusted people has been priority one in her life. She has had jobs, but being a mother is her career. Her devotion to us is incredible. I think of how calmly she dealt with the temper tantrums I threw as a kid, or the times I dragged her through the mall searching for the rare size 10 and a half shoes to fit my huge feet. She never missed an elementary school play, even the lame sixth grade chorus show where we sang corny songs about Thomas Edison. Even now, my mom is there for me. No matter what I do, I know she loves me. She tells me all the time. If anything, she suffers from compulsive "I love you" disorder.

Every year People Magazine makes the mistake of leaving my mom out of it's "50 most beautiful people" article. I'm proud of my stunning tall blonde mother and her impeccable fashion sense. If I have one complaint about my genetics, it's that I don't look more like her. (But for the record, Dad, I am honored to look like you. )

Mom also has a beautiful sense about people. In her quiet, delicate way, she instantly understands where a person is coming from. She's patient, caring and sees right to the heart of a problem. If you need someone to cry to, my mom is very absorbent.

My mom knows that I love her, but I don't know if she appreciates how much I look up to her. She's set my standard of "mother" so high that I don't know if I will ever live up to her. She's taught me the value of being kind, even with people to whom I'd rather not be. Her priorities place people ahead of possessions, giving ahead of getting. Never have I doubted her honesty or integrity -- she leads by example.

Mom, the lessons were not lost. I can't even begin to capture in words all that you mean to me. Thank you.

There is no sense in saving my praise for a momentous occasion. Knowing how much someone loves or admires you is so important to the way you feel about yourself. Objects come and go but good feelings never leave.

These words are what I'm giving my mom for Mother's Day. I could buy her a piece of jewelry or take her to dinner, but I won't. Years down the road when she's lost the earrings I've bought her, long since digested the meals, this editorial will still make her cry tears of joy.

In short, I'm certain there are people in your life who mean a lot to you. Don't let time go by without telling them how special they are.