What our mothers give us is too complicated to fit on a greeting card. It’s too essential to fit into a perfunctory holiday one day out of the year.
Your mom is unlike anyone else’s (even your siblings’ experience of the same mom). And what she gave you has a great deal to do with what you have accepted as a gift.
I asked a few friends to share a glimpse of what they got from their mothers. I’m eager to read your stories in the comment section.
I am strong and determined, as was my mother and my mother’s mother. All three of us were the first-born and blessed with considerable energy. I once stumbled upon my 76-year-old grandmother on scaffolding as she painted the exterior of her house. My mother worked day and night to paint murals in her grandchild’s bedroom, determined to finish before she drove three hours back to Cleveland late into the night. I also throw myself into projects with great energy, and I believe that one day I will have something lasting to show for all of the effort as it is in my blood.
Brains, toughness, and no tolerance for excuses. She’s a single mom still raising my two younger brothers and a superhero as far as I’m concerned.
The assurance that, whatever the issue, there was always one person on my side
Her drug problems and lockup blistered what time I might have had with her. Now I see the fire she was putting out all the while. She kept me from burning in it by leaving me with her sister. Her gifts to me are staying clean seven years now and being one hell of a fun 53-year-old grandma to my kids.
My Mom turns 96 in a couple of weeks. Here’s something of what I’ve learned from her – so far.
Trust God. Things will get better, or they won’t. Either way, trust God.
Tithe; in other words, give away 10% of your income to church and/or charities.The way to get through today, is to do what worked yesterday. Get up, get dressed, say a prayer, eat breakfast; assume you can do what you did yesterday unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.Of course, she also passed along her excessive fear of thunderstorms and tornadoes. But even at that, all of the above still applies.Now with her failing memory and frustrating limitations, Mom is showing me how to age with grace. I’m grateful we still have her with us.
A love of talking: to her babies, to her children, to every stranger in the grocery store. My New England husband is just amazed at this in me. (Not in a good way, when we are in Maine.)
A love of her family’s stories and songs: her grandparents’, her parents’, her children’s and grandchildren’s. Welsh folk sayings, train engineer tunes and lullabies. I know them all.
A love of preparing a simple meal with great joy. Her last journal records making macaroni and cheese and setting out flowers to go with it. Me too. We sit down together for every meal.
A love of taking in the stranger. She didn’t love to travel so much, but every missionary visiting our church and many foreign doctors at the hospital ended up at our table. She was raised in a neighborhood of immigrants– mostly Eastern European– and from the age of 10, helped them learn English and study for the citizenship test, then remembered all their stories and songs and passed those and the love of immigrants on to me. She would be so sad at the immigrant conversation plaguing our country just now. It makes me want to weep.
She hated injustice, prejudice, and the Republican party (though many of her friends were Republican). She loved, loved, loved unions, social organizations, and the Democratic party. I have to say, she handed all those down to me, too. And she got them all from her mother, who was once challenged by a son-in-law, “Mom, if Jesus Christ were running as a Republican, you’d still vote Democrat,” to which she replied, “Why would Jesus change parties now?”
Here is a thought communicated often to us from my mom (Clementine – everyone called her Clem ). “The Bible says you have to love your neighbor. It doesn’t say you have to like them! Some people are just not like-able. Treat ’em with respect but keep them at a distance.”Wise mom! And that’s the way she acted too!
An appreciation of home gardening and the joy it brings into our lives. From early spring blooms to the changing beauty of the flowers and vines we plant in the spring and appreciate all summer – I share this love of life-giving planting and tending. It’s one of life’s little pleasures to walk slowly and look at what’s growing with my Mom.
A passion for reading. She read aloud to us in the strangest places when we were little, like on the bus and while we were taking baths. Her favorite books always leaned towards horror like Christopher Pike and Stephen King. She didn’t know I had so many bad dreams because I’d stay up late reading her books after she’d finished them.
Love of family. She would do anything for her children or her grandchildren. Anything. Every sacrifice was worth it to her. I can remember something as silly as maybe something we had for dinner. My dad would get the choice piece, then it was split up between us kids. IF there was anything left she got it and if we said anything, she’d say she wasn’t all that hungry. I feel like I do the same thing. And the funny thing I learned is that it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice at all. It just “is.”
Hard work and doing a job to the best of your ability. My mom didn’t believe in doing a job halfway. You put your heart and soul into it. When you were done, you could be proud of it, even if no one else noticed. I may not do some things as good as professionals, but I’ve learned to do my very best, even in the little things.
And my mom taught me never, ever, EVER to use her good fabric scissors on anything but fabric! If I did, I somehow ruined the scissors for eternity and I also learned that I would hear about it that long as well.
My mom, who had a high school education but was second in her class, was very smart although completely untrained psychologically. She anticipated the 50 years of research on positive psychology and was always saying to me when I would talk myself down, Honey you have to gear your thinking.
I’m not even sure what that meant because gear isn’t really a verb but she said it with such conviction that I was totally persuaded. And of course the gist was what you’re telling yourself is not going to get you where you want to go so pick another frame for this event, tell yourself a different thing. In other words gear your thinking and you have a better chance of coming through this in a growth-full way. Since she became a single parent in 1955, supported me, and got me through Catholic high school and college on a secretary’s salary I’m guessing she had a lot of practice at gearing her thinking. Probably part of the force behind it was I knew she was walking the talk.
That phrase became kind of an in-joke with my own children who also needed that advice, as we all do from time to time, but I chose not to put it in any more sophisticated language because hers was so powerful and we still all say it to each other half-laughing/half-serious to this very day. And I’m sure we’re all still trying to practice it.
My mom sang in clubs when I was growing up. In the mornings she was tired and her hair smelled like cigarette smoke. After a long night of singing covers she sang whatever she liked at home, mostly traditional Mexican songs and her own music. She made sure I took lessons and stayed in school music programs. She used to say she’d be singing till her last day. That turned out to be true. Every time I think of her, I hear her singing in my mind.
I’ve always felt that I have an amazing mom. She always seemed tireless and always had time for us. My goal has always been to try and just come close to the example she set.
One thing I got from her is my love of all things Christmas. She always made the season so special, starting the day after Thanksgiving when we would brave the crowds and shop with my aunt and cousins to the traditional family cookie baking, to the beautiful huge Christmas tree that we would all decorate together.
When my two kids were young she would take off work every Wednesday in the summer. We called them “Grandma’s Days” and we would go on adventures. Some days we would start at 10 in the morning and not get home until 10 or 11 at night. It was exhausting but fun. I had trouble keeping up with her!
When my mother was in the ICU, shortly before she died, she told me she learned a lot about being a mom by watching me with my kids. She had been comatose, and I had been there daily My kids were six and nine, and I didn’t know where I should be: I was a mom, a daughter, a wife, a sister. She woke up, looked at me, and said, “Go home, with my blessing.”Gifts come in all kinds of packages, and only some of them are tied with a ribbon and a bow.
I knew that my mother cared about my perspective even if she disagreed with me, because she always listened. When I attempted comic impersonations of my teachers she laughed. When I disputed her edicts she gave credence to my protests. And when I listened back she often surprised me. Yes, she gave me her straight hair, weak knees, and fear of heights. She also gave my voice a reason to exist.
13 thoughts on “What Did Your Mother Give You?”
The knowledge that it’s OK to be different, the ability to hold forth in the kitchen without a recipe book and make a meal from nothing, a preference for compromise and harmony in reaction to her preferred conflict and need to always be right, and the gene for breast cancer.
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Talk about a mixed blessing. I’m glad you are who you are Kate, because of and in reaction to your mom. Not glad about that damn gene.
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The damn gene has also helped to make me who I am. It wasn’t fun, but it sure was character-forming, like all the rest of it!
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My mother was bipolar long before there was any help for the disease, and killed herself when I was only 16. One thing she taught me was when to run for my life, and when to accept odd behavior, which has occasionally proved very useful. When she was more or less “normal” she bought and sold ancient books and manuscripts which definitely sparked my love of historical source material as well as my love of reading. She might forget me at her favorite bookstore — but she never objected to buying books I wanted to read, love, and cherish (many of which were more or less rare books, and quite expensive.) I wish I’d had the chance to know her when I was an adult, since the adults always said she was one of the most intelligent women they had ever known. I guess I inherited that too.
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Oh Meg, what a powerful and complicated legacy.
Thank you for collecting these Laura. They were a joy to read!
Love of words and poetry that turned me into a writer.
One gave me life and, much later, an inspiring view of mature graceful simplicity. The other gave me values, a work ethic, a love of land and home, a love of family and the truth that it should be defined broadly–a set of gifts well-suited to complement the genetic contributions of the first.
From my mother I learned the joy of reading. At an early age I was allowed to choose what books I read but I had to tell her what the choices were. Often she would read the same book do we could talk about it
I also learned a great appreciation for all kinds of music. She had a beautiful voice and played the piano well. It was a great sacrifice to sell her piano so my father could go to college.
If you haven’t already, I hope you write about your mother’s musical talent and the choice to sell her piano. I suspect there’s a lot to that story.
Beautifully shared by you, your friends and commenters ♥ Reading, which I have done, contemplatively, several times, is a lovely gift for me as it draws out memories of my mother, which is pretty much all I have, scrapbook-like as they are. I have written elsewhere about her gift to me of a love of Saturday mornings, appreciation that economical meals like canned tomato soup, pancakes and toasted cheese sandwiches are priceless. She also taught me how to make my bed and the sense of well-being that comes from domestic order. There are a few more, not enough, but sufficient to make the memories real, and I am grateful for that. These are my tribute to her, and all mothers and daughters.