One of the nicest things my mother has ever done for me–and this is an ongoing, lifelong thing–is that she’s never made me feel guilty about finding my own path. When I howled in high school about the possibility of having to stay in Maine for college, she didn’t seem to take it personally. When I wanted to move to Hawaii, then to Europe, or when I publicly declared on a widely-read website that I had no desire to ever live in Florida, she never made me feel bad. And it never was personal; it was never anything my parents did wrong. Quite the contrary–without them I wouldn’t be as curious and excited to explore the world around me. My mom has always had an encouraging word and has never once called me out for taking my life and her grandchild(ren) out of her daily sphere. Because of this, I know that when Maggie finds her own wings and takes off for parts unknown without so much as a backward glance, I will be able to find the strength to smile and say “Enjoy. Remember to floss.”
In that way and in others, my mother taught me grace.
She also gave me a near-perfect role model as a mother (I say near-perfect because I had to learn that white bra + white shirt = ugly thing on my own). My mother was a Sunday school teacher, Girl Scout troop leader and cookie mother, track team fundraiser, chaperone on every field trip from kindergarten to junior high, classroom volunteer, plus kept a clean home and held a full-time office job. If you’re tired reading that list, you may understand why she was usually asleep on the couch by no later than 9pm.
I also don’t want to give the impression that she was an over-involved, over-achieving scheduler of our time, either. We were allowed to roam. We got kicked outside and away from the TV. She let us be bored and come up with our own games. Moreover, she maintained her own athletic interests–golf, racquetball, and running–and is still an accomplished crafter. I write because it’s my outlet, and I don’t write as much as I might like, but my mother is the reason that I write at all–she made the time for creativity in her life, be it in complicated knitting patterns, woodcrafting, cross-stitch, or various other pursuits. I grew up knowing that it’s not only okay, it’s essential to take time for yourself to keep your mind active and growing creatively, and it’s made me a better mother. She did her own thing, and let me know it was okay to do mine.
And she taught me how to discipline and pick my battles with Maggie. Like one of her nieces said recently “Your mom used to terrify me, even though I know she’s a sweetheart. She just doesn’t take any bullshit.” And she doesn’t. She didn’t come down hard on us often, but she didn’t mind telling us when we needed to cut the crap and act right. And when I decided I wanted to paint my nails black and pierce umpteen billion holes in my ears, she shrugged and let me do it. She knew it wasn’t worth the battle it would cause, because if she was doing her job right, I’d figure it out on my own. For the record, I rarely wear earrings at all anymore and I have a fundamentalist Christian’s view of which colors are appropriate for fingernails. So, she was right. She almost always was, a fact which has meant more to me and my world view and my ability to raise my daughter than I think either of us can fully understand. But if I had to boil those things down to their essence, it would be these tenets:
Pick your battles. Be involved, but don’t smother. Be gracious. Don’t tolerate crap. And most of all, know that letting them fly means you’re doing your job right.
Thanks, Mom. I love you.