Saturday, May 10, 2014

Lessons from my Mother

I only had 18 years to learn from my mother, and I worried when we lost her so suddenly one May day, that maybe her mothering of me might not "stick." These life lessons were not ever spoken aloud; they were "caught" not "taught." In many ways I am more closed than she was, more insular, more grasping and fearful. Yet in the 26 years since her death, I know that we are more alike than we are different, and that I'm still learning from her.

1. People matter. Whether you are talking to the bus driver, the garbage man, the head pastor, or an eight year old child, show that you are interested in them as people, not because of their status or what they can do for you. My mom was a cheerleader. Homecoming queen. She married an oral surgeon and lived in a big house. She could have been exclusive, a Queen Bee, but she wasn't.  She was down to earth, consistent, and genuine.

2. You are enough on your own, and there's enough of you to go around. Even though I'm sure she had the usual doubts and insecurities, my mother operated with a level of security in herself that snuffed out drama before it had the chance to flame up. She cultivated her own interests. She had no thirst or time for soul-sucking friendships or possessiveness.

3. Operate out of abundance, not lack. Widening a circle and opening up our house (to her teenage kids' friends, the 80 year old former babysitter who decided she needed a break from her husband, the exchange student stuck in an unhealthy living situation) did not mean there was LESS for our family, but MORE.

4. Laugh. Be silly. Let your high school boy and his friends try to eat spaghetti through their noses and play tunes with their farts. Break into song now and then. Play Pictionary with a table full of teenagers. Let your kids make big messes and medium-sized mistakes.

5. Small gestures mean a lot. Whether she was dropping off armfuls of pussy willow branches at a friend's house ("Hi! I have some nice pussies for you!" Oh dear Lord, kill my 13 year old self right now, please)-- writing notes to our friends when they were away at college, or making a tiny flower arrangement in a teacup for my bedside table-- Mom knew that it's the little things, not the grand gestures, that make people feel loved.

6. Who needs a purse when you have a bra? Keys? Metro tickets? No telling what she would pull out of her generous bosom. I'm not as well endowed  she was, but my bra still serves as a  good storage area in a pinch.

7. You will love your kids equally, but they don't have to be the same. When I vied desperately to secure the most favored daughter status by trying to put down my sister, my mother would have none of it, "Quit trying so hard. Nothing you can do will make me love you more, and nothing your sister does can make me love her less." She got a kick out of our individual personalities, strengths and weaknesses, and did not compare us or play us against each other.

8. Life doesn't have to be BIG to be meaningful. She never held a high-powered job. She never went on a single exotic vacation, traveled the world, or met famous people, but she is still remembered all of these years later for how she made people feel.

9. Take the high road, but also be real. She could have pulled us in many times with bitterness, gossip and negativity, but she didn't. She was judicious with her words. But even in her restraint, she didn't act fake. She was known for speaking hard truths in church meetings, calling out bullshit, and cutting to the chase.

10. Be a friendly mom, but be a MOM not a friend. Don't try to be cool by buying your kids alcohol or hosting keg parties at your house. Just be present, accessible, and ready to listen. Being flexible, safe, and non-judgmental, NOT COOL, is why teenagers wanted to be around her.

11. Your friends don't have to look like you or act exactly like you.  Sure, it was mortifying when my mom would drop a line like, "Well Sheila, my lesbian friend, got a new job." Ugh. So embarrassing, Mom, you know you can leave off the lesbian part, right? But she wanted us to know she had friends from all races, religions, sexual orientations, and political persuasions.

12. Putting people down does not build you up. Ever.

13. Trust God. When you put your trust in God, you are not led to catastrophize when your kids aren't behaving the way you want them to. Each report card, curse word, and ugly sneer doesn't lead you down the path of picturing your children in Juvie or beyond. There is freedom in trusting God with our kids.

14. Don't try to be perfect. She was known for her great taste in clothes and her decorating sense, but our house was often chaotic with papers and pets and sports equipment everywhere. She eventually learned how to just pull our bedroom doors shut and have a good exterminator on call. Acting perfect doesn't do anyone any favors.

15. The most important things in life aren't things. Mom loved beautiful things, but when they broke, we never got the idea that she cared more about them than about us. Instead of screaming at us when the STERLING SILVER teaspoons started to disappear out of the china cabinet, she challenged us to go on a treasure hunt in the sandbox and offered us and our friends a dollar for each one that we found. Stainless steel only got a quarter.

16. Wear comfortable shoes. Her long, gorgeous legs looked stunning in heels. But high heels can make you cranky after a while, so why not have a pair of comfy shoes on hand? p.s. Nothing beats a cozy pair of knee socks in winter.  

17. Teenage girls are a wreck. Let the sputum and venom roll off of you. Don't engage, don't pout about it, and don't let them define you. One day they will grow up and realize how smart you were.

18. You don't have to be good at everything as an adult, so why feel like you must as a kid? My mother was a self-professed Spanish and typing drop-out. Her spelling wasn't so hot either. There were so many things she was good at, but it wasn't EVERYTHING, and that gave us permission to be mediocre (or worse) at a lot things too.

19. Life is scary, but try anyway. Starting her own small business, taking us to NYC on the train and figuring out how to get tickets to a Broadway show, convincing a bank executive to give her a credit card in her own name, may seem like small things to us now, but they were scary at the time. Mom got scared. She faced challenges. Her life in her 40's most likely didn't look like she'd pictured it in her 20's, but she didn't give up.

38 comments:

Maggie May said...

This is one of the best lists of this kind I've ever read. It's unique but deeply true and meaningful. Your mom was awesome.

tracy@sellabitmum said...

Oh Anna - Happy Mother's Day - all of these are fabulous - and yep - even my 32AA bra holds important things like keys and money. xoxoxo

A Speckled Trout said...

#1 is SO my mom. I once waited in the car while she went into a very sketch liquor store for a bottle of Gallo. After fifteen minutes I started to go in as I was sure she had been shot. Out she comes with her brown paper bag saying, "I just met the nicest gal in there." Everywhere she goes she meets somebody. My grandma was the same way, now me. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Loved this.....so many things like my own mom. Always authentic and EVERYONE gravitates to that. xoxo

Suburban Correspondent said...

I'm almost crying with laughter at "Teenage girls are a wreck." Yes, they are, and you are much better off if you accept that at the start, instead of thinking things can be different.

Joyce said...

How special your mother was Anna. I had goosebumps reading it. Thank you for sharing it with us! Happy Mother's day! <3

LauraBeth said...

Anna...

A beautiful list... Your mom truly was an amazing woman! You are her fabulous legacy. Wishing you a peace-filled Mother's Day.

With love, hugs, and prayers from the other side of town...

Cate said...

Happy Mother's Day. Your mom sounds awesome. And she would be so proud of you.

Anonymous said...

What a great mom. I'm moved and inspired by how she lived her life and what she taught you. And you know why it's so great to write these kinds of lists? ... because some of us (ahem) did not have this kind of mom. (Mother's day is a bit fraught for me.) Some of us did not get taught a single one of these lessons, and so I need to learn it from people other than my mother and I appreciate the opportunity to see a good example. I love every single item on this list. I love my mom! And she tried her best. But I have to get my guidance and example elsewhere. (And I find my life is better when I am honest about who she is and develop compassion for her.) So thanks, sincerely. It helps to read these things.

Happy mother's day.
E. in VT.
P.S. My mom also married a surgeon but sadly that's the only similarity I can come up with. But I'll end on one very endearing memory. My mother fell so in love with a tree once (yes, a tree), that when I came home for a visit (in my early 30s) she drove me AN HOUR to see it. A tree. It was a great tree, I have to admit, but uh.....

Alison said...

Your Mom was a truly special lady, Anna! I especially love, "operate out of abundance, not lack". So wise.

Happy Mother's Day to you!

Jill Carroll said...

I wish I had a mom like that! I can drool over your list and learn from it. Bookmarking for future reference. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

she sounds like an AMAZING mom!! Thanks so much for sharing this list - I know it's one I'll remember. I want to be like your mom :-)

I will be thinking about you tomorrow. I had the strangest thought go through my head about your Jack, months ago, and I'm sorry I'm just sharing it now. The thought was, "Jack leads meetings in heaven." It came out of nowhere, and I've thought about heaven so many times over the years, but I'd never thought about meetings being held there. But now, I can't think about heaven without thinking of your sweet boy standing & leading a meeting. Can't you just picture it? Sending lots of love to you and your family.

Margaret Miltenberger said...

Enjoyed reading this Mother's Day morning and remembering your mom. One special women. You never forget how she made you feel.

Katie said...

This is the best Mother's Day list I have read. Your mom sounds like a beautiful, wonderful person. No wonder you are such a phenomenal woman. xxoo

eleanor b said...

You surely captured the essence of your mother, Anna. After all these years I still think about her and miss her. It was truly a blessing to have known her.

Rach said...

Beautiful lessons learned, Anna.

Happy Mother's Day.

Anonymous said...

I loved this post! How much of our raising we simply "catch"! I've read all of your posts. I've laughed and cried. I can't wait for your book! I wish you and your family the very best. Happy Mother's Day to you Anna.


Noah's Mom said...

Love the list...thank-you for sharing it. And I hope you were able to feel joy on this Mother's Day. Your Mother did a great job & taught you well! Sending love from one Mother to another.

Jill said...

This is right up there as a best list. Awesome. And a great testament to your mom.

IrishRN07 said...

What a beautiful post, Anna. I have only vague memories of your mom: Beautiful, kind and friendly and willing to have an entire field hockey team over for dinner! I also remember how talented she was with flowers and how it was impressive to hear "Margaret Whiston did the flowers for the wedding."
How incredibly proud she must be of you and Liz!
xoxox
Maureen

Anonymous said...

Your mom sounds wonderful. This is such a fantastic list!! I can only hope to leave this type of legacy for my kids. NoVa Mom Jen

Debby@Just Breathe said...

Thank you Anna for sharing your list. I lost my mother 32 years ago at the age of 30. My mother was a troubled soul. I did learn compassion from her but I really appreciate all that you learned from your mother....((HUGS))

Dina Ochs said...

What an amazing piece of love to your Mom, I am sure she would be very very proud of you. I bet she would be what you have needed these last few years. Just maybe she is walking with Jack now.

Anonymous said...

Of course I didn't know your mom, but this list makes me miss her. You seem like you are a lot like her, Anna. Hope you had a good mother's day yesterday.

love,
jbhat

purejoy said...

Best list ever. You mom was a gem, and I'd say you were an awesome student to take so many notes in such a short amount of time. She would be so proud of the awesome mom you are.

Lisa C said...

Your mom sounds like a gem. Great reminders...all of them!

Kara Shepherd said...

I hope my kids can make a list like this about me. Thanks for sharing about your mom. Still chuckling about the pussy willows.

Sherri Newman said...

This is an awesome list! Timeless! I'm so glad you are able to remember her words and share her legacy!

Hugs!
Sherri

Anonymous said...

I had 22 years with my mom and there is not a day that goes by that I am not reminded of her in some way. I can only hope and pray that I got some of the grace, courage, and wisdom she had!

Sarah said...

Wow - for a mom with young kids this is incredibly inspiring. My mom taught my sister and me many of the same lessons although she was at a loss during the teen years! Your mom certainly left an amazing legacy. Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like she was a very wise and wonderful woman! I wish I had met her before I started out on the Road of Motherhood - might have done things a little differently (read: better). Thank you so much for sharing her with us.

sk said...

This is really great! Thanks for sharing.

luv2run said...

really really loved this!!!

HUGS

Elaine Alguire said...

I really like #7. And number one.

You sure learned a lot from her in those 18 years, Anna! She sounds like a wonderful woman.

Thank you for sharing these with us...

LisaAR said...

I love this motherly advice. I'm so glad you shared with us. I must admit I am envious of the relationship you describe with your mom. I just need to strive to be what you've written here for my son.

Vodka Mom said...

xoxoxox


I admire you every single day.


Lady Jennie said...

I want to be more like your mom.

GrahamForeverInMyHeart said...

Great list!!

Andrea Mowery said...

This is great. We can all learn a lot from your mom's example. The lessons she had to teach were many, and she is still being so generous with all of us through you.

Thank you for sharing this.