I was very little when my mother broke the news to me: One day I’d grow up and leave her and my dad. I’d move out of the house and no longer live with them. It was a horrifying prospect, and even her assurance that when the time came, I would be happy to do so in order to become a mommy myself, was no consolation. Even so, the day arrived when her prediction came true. With my first Mother’s Day approaching, I’ve thought back over the years and considered which parts of my mother’s parenting I will incorporate into raising my child.
- Do the holidays, and do them big.
The Decembers of my childhood came with a Nat King Cole/Manheim Steamroller soundtrack and the ubiquitous aroma of fresh evergreen. (Because, let’s face it, fake trees cannot compete.) Each night ended with a Christmas story and a mug of hot cocoa. Every Easter incited the hunt for a well-hidden, copiously stuffed basket, a tradition that did not end until the impending arrival of my son, wherein I enjoyed my final basket (filled with the fruity candies I craved) as a married, pregnant, thirty-year-old. Halloween meant a hand-sewn costume of our choosing, whether it was the silver-threaded cape of a fairy princess, a teenybopper’s poodle skirt, or the pantaloons of a prairie girl. Every opportunity to infuse our lives with holiday oomph was taken to the fullest, and because of it, I have no shortage of magical memories.
- Don’t let it rattle you.
My mother is unflinchingly even-keeled. It takes a lot to ruffle her feathers, which would create some mystery as to why I am the polar opposite, except I have only to look as far as my dad for explanation on where my streaks of what we’ll call “enthusiasm” come from. The value of inheriting this quality of hers is not lost on me. My mom is able to see the positives in almost everything. Labeling unforeseen circumstances “adventures,” she’s able to shrug off the very things that create mountains of anxiety in me. So in the effort to see that my son inherits more of the easy-peasy genes than say, the wound-tighter-than-a-spring kind, it’s my mission to take more emotional cues from her.
- Show kindness to all of God’s creatures.
It’s not hard to trace the root of my heart for animals. Growing up, it was unacceptable—and unconscionable—to pass up a stray dog on the side of the road, or any animal in need, for that matter. From the neighbor’s schnauzer who unwittingly stumbled upon antifreeze, to water left out for a toad stuck in our garage during a heat wave, my mother was never short on mercy for any creature, big or small. It was a lesson in compassion, starting with the humblest four-legged animals, that would teach me to have greater mercy on the two-legged variety as an adult.
- Put a little thought into a lot of things.
Whether it was a note tucked in with my sandwich at lunch time or a book about something that interested me (from ages 12-16 this comprised only one topic: The Beatles), my mother was (and still is) constant at demonstrating her thought for her children. Moving into a new apartment produced such practical but overlooked items as a fly swatter, step stool and lifetime supply of trash bags. Packing for a trip meant gifts of travel toilet paper, beach totes and reading material for the plane. And it was impossible to return from a visit to my parents’ house without a collection of items she’d been saving for me: a pair of angora socks, a bottle of hand lotion, a newspaper clipping about someone I’d gone to school with. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized how much more difficult—and meaningful—it is to think of others not during life’s obvious occasions, but, simply, for no reason at all.
As I reflect on my experiences as a child, at what I learned and how I’ve been shaped by the lessons imparted to me, I am grateful to my mom for an entirely new, second reason. Not only for teaching me the things she did when I was so little and in need of the right kinds of lessons—but for giving me so many to pull from, now that it’s my turn to do the teaching.