Saturday, May 10, 2014
Lessons from my Mother
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.