Thursday, December 8, 2016

Caught not Taught: More Lessons from My Mother

One day I was a young college student, thinking that my mother would always be there to pick me up if I fell down; the next I was a motherless daughter.

In the decade between when I lost her and when I began having children of my own, I had plenty of time to consider what her mothering meant to me. In realizing that only 18 years of memories had to last a lifetime, I soon became aware of what stood out as important, and what would most influence me as a mother. 

Rather than any grand gestures, the secure gift of her presence impacted me the most, and I try to give that to my children despite a distraction-filled life. 

You see, she was the mom who would stop what she was doing to play board games with rowdy teenagers, or cut our boyfriends’ hair on a tall stool in the kitchen. That’s also where we’d find her when we wanted to talk. Speaking of kitchens, ours was a messy one, papers piled high the counters, yet there was always room for one more person at the table at dinnertime. 

Remembering her generosity with her time and her heart made me want to parent the way she did, in a loving and relaxed way. When I became a parent, and my own competitiveness and perfectionism threatened to sink me, I’d remember my mother. If I got wrapped around the axel about my daughter not sleeping in her crib, I’d remember the comfort folding myself into my mother’s soft body in bed when I didn’t feel well. When I’d get embarrassed that my son acted silly in class, I’d remember a mother who never made me feel bad for the low marks on my own report card under the heading, “Exhibits Self Control.”

I could remind myself that sleep methods would come and go, and report cards would end up tucked away in a folder somewhere, but being a present mom, not a perfect one, could last a lifetime, even after I was gone.

What she gave me most, in life and in death, I believe, is perspective. The perspective to realize that a child in the bed now and then, does not lead to an adult in the bed. That, like me, my kids would someday learn to exhibit self control. And that while I felt much calmer with clutter-free countertops, clutter wouldn’t detract one bit from my kids’ childhood. 

And, unlike my friends who still had their mothers. I knew that it could all vanish in an instant. 

Sad as that sounds, those who experience loss are often given this unsought gift of knowing what is important. Instead of running myself ragged trying to construct for my children the “perfect childhood,” lest it all be ripped away in an instant, perspective gave me permission to create tiny rituals and play to my strengths, which is what my mother did.

Mom would pull a large jar of Peter Pan peanut butter out of a brown paper grocery bag and place it wordlessly on the counter. It was a silent challenge. Whichever kid noticed first would grab the jar, open it, and scoop a finger full of peanut butter out, earning bragging rights. Skiing in the alps, it wasn’t, but it taught me that the tiny rituals are what knit families together. I may be much less laid back than my mom was, but I can institute Ice Cream for Breakfast Day on the first snow day of the year, make up silly sayings as I drive around town with my kids, tell the same old stories as I unpack the Christmas ornaments each year, and stay up later than I want to if my teenager finally feels like talking.

Mom was a lackluster costume maker and a mediocre gift giver. But she could decorate the heck out of a house and patiently read the same chapter books over and over. She practiced hospitality in our home and wherever she went with her big smile and ready laugh.  Most importantly, she saw her three kids as distinct individuals, not just extensions of herself. 

I can't bake cookies worth a darn, and the family is much happier on nights when Daddy cooks dinner. I get grumpy when the house is a mess, and you wouldn't want to talk to me in the morning before I've had my 3rd cup of tea. My hair braiding skills are just as bad as my math ones. But I can find  humor in most circumstances, I apologize often, and I'm pretty good at seeing someone else's point of view. I am extremely loyal, will keep confidences, and am a generous ice cream scooper and snuggler. 

The way I remember my mom-- she was a flesh and blood person who loved hard and didn't try to do or be all things to all people. She was enough. 


The gift of her presence, and the impact of tiny rituals, not grand gestures, whether they were based on her religious faith or even a silly jar of peanut butter are what I remember most, and what helped me formulate my own To Do/To Be list as a mom.


1) Be present
2) Have Perspective
3) Play to your strengths
4) LOVE

Of course, some days are easier than others.

What would your To Do/To Be list look like?

21 comments:

Margaret said...

As a young mom of one (and one on the way), I am grateful to have read this post. Puts things into perspective in the best way. You sound like a wonderful mother, just like yours. <3

Kate Coveny Hood said...

My to do list is pretty much the same. My mother was alway my "safe person" (or in Grey's Anatomy speak, "my person"). I try to be that for my kids. And I think it's working because they always come to me with their confessions. Those are the moments I feel like I'm doing something right.

Denise said...

Beautifully said. I lost my mom in September, and a lot of what you described about your mom resonated with me. Thank you.

Sharon in Indy said...

Lovely, Anna. I know you miss her a lot.

Jennifer Carr said...

I love you and have always admired the way you parent.

Andrea Mowery said...

Beautiful, friend. You have learned so much from your mom, and that you live out these lessons is her legacy. It's a great one. Thank you for sharing. xo

Anonymous said...

I'm pregnant with my first baby. Thanks for writing this, Anna. I hope I can be like you and your mom.

Coastal Farmgirl said...

Awesome words...even better legacy!! oxo

Laura said...

Love love love! The best advice for a mother at any stage but especially around the holidays. I'm trying to remember that whatever traditions that develop will be our family's and that will be just fine even if they are a bit weird. Thanks for sharing. These are things I remember from my own childhood. I don't remember ever thinking my mom was perfect but I completely love her anyway.

Ann Imig said...

You are a gift, Anna, to parents and readers everywhere.

Tracy Robinson said...

Such an awesome read. I lost my mother at age 26 before I had my two daughters. As an only child, she was my everything. Every word that you said hit me right in the heart. I am so thankful for the lessons that my mother taught me about being present. It's my most important work in this world. And that stack of papers on the counter can wait for another time!!!

Tracy Robinson said...

Beautifully said, every word hit straight in my heart. I lost my mother at age 26 almost 20 years ago before I became a mother to two wonderful daughters, and I still ache for her especially this time of year as it was her favorite. As an only child, she was my everything and I felt that I was hers every single day of my life. I am so thankful for the example that she set for me, and I am forever changed by the opportunity to be present with my girls. Thank you for writing!

Anonymous said...

I love the four points at the end. There is no perfect mothering, but if you do these you're doing a pretty good job.

1) Be present

2) Have Perspective

3) Play to your strengths

4) LOVE

Elaine Alguire said...

Thank you for this, for so many reasons. <3 Your words are a reminder we all need. Just like mothers.

julie gardner said...

This is just perfect. (Not that perfection is the goal. But you did it. ;-)

Anonymous said...

" Most importantly, she saw her three kids as distinct individuals, not just extensions of herself." Nothing more important than that. Combined with respect (for little tiny ones too), showing up and warmth, that's about the sum total of it.

katrynka said...

Fabulous! Your ability to put things into words is amazing!

Melissa said...

Oh. Sitting next to my new little girl as she tries to sleep. She has been sick since the day she was born and I am so so stressed out. But I felt a sense of calm as I read your words. I've been searching for that feeling since she entered the world. Thank you, thank you.

Kendra HeadlessMom said...

A lifetime wouldn't be long enough, would it?

This post is wonderful. Have a very Merry Christmas, Friend!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your beautiful writing. You have a gift for capturing the nuances of life. My eyes welled up reading this post. You put into words what I have always desired from my mother, but to this day continues to elude me and creates strife in our relationship. Not having received it from my mother, everyday I strive to give my children "the secure gift of (my) presence". I keep your "To be/To do" list with me always for those not so easy days.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your beautiful writing. You have a gift for capturing the nuances of life. My eyes welled up reading this post. You put into words what I have always desired from my mother, but to this day eludes me and creates strife in our relationship. Not having received it from my mother, everyday I strive to give my children the secure gift of my presence. I keep your "To be/To do" list with me always for those not so easy days.