Gifts from My Mother

September 8, 2016

My mom was ill for much of my childhood and died two months before I turned 17. Though she’d tried to prepare me for life without her, her death shattered me into a pile of broken bits. If you’d have asked then, I’d have said there’d be no putting me back together. In the days immediately following her transition, I looked at my life and saw only what wasn’t.

In time, though, I allowed myself to be mended. If you look closely, you can see the seams. They’re pale and smooth where they once were red-rimmed and jagged, but they’ve never fully faded away. I doubt they will. I’m okay with that; to be honest, I find them rather lovely. The scarred spots are proof of living—of both hurting and healing. They’re made of long car rides, midnight kisses, squiggly newborns, baby smiles, chubby fistfuls of dandelions, games of hopscotch, pans of bread pudding, snorty laughter, and freshly fallen snow. No gaping wounds remain.

As I healed, I started to see beyond what wasn’t and began to reopen the gifts she’d given me. They’d been with me all along, of course, but it took a willingness on my part to acknowledge their existence before they manifested into the treasures they are.

Life is too short (and too long) to spend it fighting. Acutely aware of the time crunch, neither of us engaged in the tug-of-war common between parents and their kids. I felt no desire to dish out teenage bullshit and my mom not only allowed, but encouraged my desire to choose my own path.

Good enough is plenty good. I’m prone to holding myself to a higher standard than I would expect of anyone else and then beating myself up for falling short. I’ve never managed to achieve perfection in any area, but it sure wasn’t for lack of trying. Only in recent years have I come to terms with the notion that my house needn’t be completely dust-free, my bed can remain unmade, and the size tag on my jeans doesn’t say a damn thing about my value. My mom happily let dirty dishes wait while we built snowmen, played word games, or painted pictures. Thank goodness. I’d hate to look back and remember a spotless house filled only with busy little worker bees.

You totally can. There was no such thing as impossible in the house where I grew up. If you wanted to have it, do it, or be it, my mom was there to cheer you on.

Enjoy the ride. My mom was inclined to judge the value of an activity on its ability to bring joy. On rainy days, she’d move the furniture out of the way and we’d roller skate in the dining room. The surest way to suck the fun out of life is to turn it into line-lists of tasks, and though it took me a while to learn to really stay present, I’m so much happier for following her lead.

Spend wisely. She was generous with her money, but my mom spent only on what she considered valuable. The worth of items was never based on their resale value or their ability to keep up with the Joneses, but on how much pleasure they’d bring. My living room couches are in terrible shape, but I always have a tall stack of books and a container (or three) of ice cream in the freezer. I’m good with that.

Love with abandon. My mom loved with such depth that I carry it (and her) with me to this day. Beautiful.

Words are beautiful things. Okay, I might have been a word nerd with or without my mom’s influence, but her love of the written word is a gift for which I’ve always been grateful. She also passed along this giant forehead, oversized chin, and the gap between my front teeth, but I like the word thing more.

 Age is just a number. When she was 49, my mom got a Camaro. Ragtop, SS, and totally badass. My friends’ mothers drove station wagons, and never over the speed limit. My mom drag raced with teenagers and the local cops.

 Make your own rules. It wasn’t just the drag racing thing. My mom ran her life her way. I started kindergarten knowing how to read, which didn’t sit well with educators in the ’60s, who made it clear to her and other renegade parents that they believed teaching kids should be left to professionals. Her take on it? My kid, my way. They also didn’t like it when she’d show up at school midday and sign me out of class so we could picnic in the park. Again, a shrug. She didn’t concern herself with what other people thought of her. Her life, her call.

Celebrate your tribe. Not everyone will love you. Some won’t even like you. Some will and then will change their minds. That’s okay. There will be those who will love you for exactly who you are. Embrace those people and hold them close. When my mom died, she was deeply mourned by family, her women friends who were my honorary aunties, her drag racing cop buddies, and even by my friends. All of those people had been part of her heart and they knew it. She allowed people to walk away when they wanted to and didn’t fault them for it, knowing they simply weren’t part of her tribe. But for those who were, her life was a celebration of connectedness.

Feed the fire in your belly. I remember my mom expressing her disdain for mediocrity. At the time, my little worrier self took it to mean that it was okay to excel at something, but not okay to fall short of excellence. In retrospect, I realize two things: 1) My interpretation of her words reflected my own perfectionist tendencies—she suffered no such foolishness. 2) Mediocrity, in my mother’s view, was the practice of being purposefully bland so as not to upset anyone’s comfortable little world. She was a lot of things, but bland wasn’t one of them.

 It doesn’t end here. When I was in my mid-forties, my hormones went completely apeshit. I’d anticipated a pretty seamless midlife transition, but instead I found myself on a nasty bitch of a roller coaster that just wouldn’t let up. I was a physical and emotional wreck.  At the worst point, I was pretty sure the transition was going to kill me, but only after dragging me down into the depths of madness. Then one night when I was at my lowest point, my mom came to me as I slept. I knew then and believe still that it was a visit, not a dream. She did what good mothers do when their children are hurting. She sat with me, held my hand, and comforted me. She showed me, through words and visuals, that she had suffered similarly. She assured me I would neither go mad nor die, and that once I’d walked through it, I’d be better, stronger, and more fully myself than I’d ever been before. I woke in tears, relieved and refilled. Her visit not only gave me the strength to push forward, but confirmed what I’d always believed: She is with me still and it doesn’t end here.

 

I was truly blessed in the mom department. My hope is that you too have someone who has lovingly tended you. I know that’s not always the case and for those of you who didn’t start out with anyone in your corner, I’m happy to share my mom. She loved large enough for all of us.

Warmly,

Beth

 

 

 

New Year's Eve at the hospital, two days after I was born. Only my mother could convince the nuns at a Catholic hospital to allow the new parents a party, complete with booze.
New Year’s Eve at the hospital, two days after I was born. Only my mother could convince the nuns at a Catholic hospital to allow the new parents a party, complete with booze.

 

 

~*~ Today’s first image courtesy of pixabay ~ free and fabulous. ~*~

 

19 Comments

  1. Reply

    Jay Lawson

    You told me a little bit about your mom, but quite in this much detail. She sounds like a wonderful woman, and if I may, quite similar to mine. It also sounds like you and I have also learned many of the same lessons. No news there though. 😉

    Though, I am curious if you also inherited the same spiritual beliefs as your mother (e.g., the voice within, and the idea you can have, be, or do anything you choose)?

    1. Reply

      Jay Lawson

      Forgot to check “Notify me of follow-up comments by email.” Done.

    2. Reply

      Beth

      You and I tend to see almost everything in the same way, Jay. I’m not at all surprised that our moms share similarities. 🙂

      My mom was Christian, but not at all church-going. She read the Bible and her faith was important to her, but she never felt the need to seek counsel or interpretation from clergy. And she recognized and respected that others have their paths to walk and never acted as though her path should be anyone else’s. She also interpreted Bible stories in much the same way I do–important messages built into stories. She had a strong sense of right and wrong that definitely came from within and encouraged me to ‘trust my gut’, but she never really voiced it the way I do.

      She and I had many conversations about faith and spirituality (we had many conversations about pretty much everything) and she was wonderfully open to ideas from all sources. Good is good. As far as the being, having, and doing anything, I think her dedication to that was pretty much about her belief that she’d birthed rather extraordinary people who could set their sights on anything, rather than how I see it, which is as a natural law as true and trustworthy as gravity.

      Thank you so much for coming by to read and comment. You know how it makes my day!

      1. Reply

        Jay Lawson

        I think I see: she was religious but confident in her own relationship with god and didn’t need an outside mediator. And her belief in other people’s abilities had everything to do with their abilities and motivation.

        I was curious as to how your belief system formed. I’ve probably asked you that before. And it’s probably a conversation for another time and place.

        For the record, I enjoy reading your blog posts because 1) the content is usually something I can relate to, and 2) you write better than most. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

        1. Reply

          Beth

          I think my belief system was fairly firmly in place from, well, from birth. I remember even as a very little kid having conversations about what I believed. Maybe we all come into the world with beliefs/knowledge of who we know we are and why we’re here, but not every child is allowed/encouraged to speak openly about such things. Many big people seem to have an uncontrollable urge to correct/redirect little people. I don’t know. I only know that my mom never discounted my wisdom, which was, after her deep love, perhaps her most important gift.

          I vividly remember one particular conversation–I was about 5ish. We were talking about how different people believe different things and even pray to different deities. I said I thought it was silly to pray to Jesus since God was always right inside me. I recall calling Jesus a “middle man” and my mom laughing, delighted. I also remember saying it didn’t matter what anyone called God since it was all the same and inside everyone. She agreed. Those moments when she’d both speak and listen with an open heart were instrumental to my spiritual life and growth. She never once said or even hinted that my beliefs were any less valid than anyone else’s.

          It’s funny to me that when asked, I say my mom was Christian. I know she would have described herself that way, but the very fact of her belief that there isn’t one “right” way to believe and worship (and a few of her other beliefs) are not at all Christian. I suppose the reality is that she was a Christ-loving non-Christian, if that makes sense.

          And thank you again for reading, and especially for always being open to interesting conversations. 🙂

  2. Reply

    Ileene m Pickett

    Oh Gosh Beth…I’m crying….thank you, this touched me.. I love you

    1. Reply

      Beth

      Aww Ileene, your loss is still so fresh. Your mom will always be a part of you, just as you are a part of her. Sending you lots of love and hugs. ♥

  3. Reply

    Malcolm Campbell

    Damn, this’ll make the most callous people I know shed a tear. I do know I would have liked your mom. Maybe we’ll meet some day.

    1. Reply

      Beth

      She’d like you too, Malcolm. She was a great judge of character.

  4. Reply

    Julie

    The pain in my heart from losing my Mother is still way to fresh, it visits me daily still and sometimes I feel as though it will crush the life from me, Mom was just this amazing bundle of love, light and laughter, she was my best friend and her being gone is a huge reminder that we do not get to keep the ones we want forever, or at least until we pass over together. I seen such a huge difference in her when my younger sister passed unexpectedly on Christmas day in 1991, was almost like watching a light that had always shined bright for all to see just dim down to the barest glow before going out. She lived that way for 24 years, was like something came along and took every bit of joy out of her life, yet she was forced to carry on for all those years. She encouraged everyone to dream the dreams they wanted and to shoot for the stars, even at times scared that those dreams or stars might take us from her. So I am always torn, I know she is where she wanted/needed to be, but I miss her daily presence in my life, some days just not sure how to go on without her. I love this tribute to your Mom, speaks volumes of the lady you have become, where those roots got the start to the exceptional person you have become. Excellent job my friend.

    1. Reply

      Beth

      Aww Jul, I hope your pain lessens with time. That punched in the gut feeling of grief can be overwhelming and can knock the air right out of us. I love that your mom encouraged hers to be who they dreamed of being, even while understanding the possibility that those dreams could carry them to faraway places. You and I are both mothers–we know exactly what that feels like. We want our kids to live wonderfully full-hearted lives, knowing that they can have, be, and do absolutely anything, yet we ache at the idea of not remaining close to them. Bittersweet, this parenting thing.

      I can’t imagine how difficult it was for your mom to lose your sister. We all suffer losses in our lives, but I don’t think any could be as painful as the loss of one of our children. I’ve seen some of the pics you’ve shared of your family–your sweet mom standing with hers. She must have felt so blessed to have that time with you.

      One last thing, I love that you describe your mom as your best friend. I had that with my mom and now have it with my oldest daughter. I have many blessings, but none more precious to me than those relationships.

  5. Reply

    Jo Heroux

    Ready to comment now as I have nearly gotten through this day. I love your story of your relationship and your mom’s parenting style. I feel as though I kind of knew her. Your words brought her to me and I know we would have been friends. After all, she raised her little girl into this woman that I admire and cherish.
    My own mom was not always warm and fuzzy. She had her edge. She never failed to say what she felt needed to be said. With me, though, the words were nearly always softer than with others. The meaning clear, but softer and conversation would solve the issue. She wasn’t that open with others. More likely to say her parting piece than to begin a dialogue.
    I never wondered if she loved me, if she was proud of me anymore than I wondered in her later years if she appreciated me. She told me and she showed me. I am very much like her. I am willing to test a friendship with my truth because a the end of the day, unsaid words can tear you up. Unsaid feelings can eat away a good friendship. Differences of opinions only enhance friendship as far as I am concerned, while she thought they tainted a relationship. I love diversity. That would be the biggest struggle she had with me. I accepted people who had nothing in common with us as being okay people to know and I would be kind to them while she would ignore them. She did tell me once that she envied by ability to find people’s souls. I told her that I didn’t “find” them, they are glowing from people I meet, I just “see” them. She laughed and said something like I was always a weird, but wonderful child.
    My life now and your life now are filled with good mom memories and likely some memories we’d like to just throw away. It doesn’t work like that, but I am still working daily toward all the wonderful to just overpower the loss.
    It gives me hope to see you are there. Your mom did a bang up job at this mothering thing. Just like I’m pretty sure her little girl did.
    Love this. Love you.

    1. Reply

      Beth

      Jo, maybe the best thing mothers can do is to be themselves and let their children know just how cherished they are. You mom did that, my mom did that. The details of how each mother shows her love matters less than that she does, and when mothers are comfortable to be themselves, they gives their children permission to do the same. That’s huge. HUGE.

      I ached yesterday when you shared that this piece posted on the second anniversary of your mother’s death. You said not to feel bad about that, but I know you read my blog (and I SO appreciate that!), so had I known, I would’ve held this piece for a little bit before making it go live. Those days are hard enough without reading things that dig into an already tender heart. I’m so sorry.

      Here’s to weird, wonderful children and the fabulous, loving mothers who raise them. Lots of love to you.

  6. Reply

    Just Jane

    “2) Mediocrity, in my mother’s view, was the practice of being purposefully bland so as not to upset anyone’s comfortable little world. She was a lot of things, but bland wasn’t one of them.”

    I think I just fell a little bit in love with your mom.

    1. Reply

      Beth

      Jane! One of my favorite people! My mom would have ADORED you! ♥

  7. Reply

    Vanessa

    So much wisdom in that special soul that is your mom, because she still is… I learn so much from everybody around me, even my children. Much love, Beth!

    1. Reply

      Beth

      Love to you, too! ♥

  8. Reply

    Tammy Minnis

    Your mom sounded like she was an incredible woman.

    I hope when my son reflects back he will feel the same about me as you do about your mom.

    Again, another wonderful read.

    1. Reply

      Beth

      She was, and thank you. My guess is that Sam will absolutely look back and feel wonderful. It’s clear how much you love him and that’s the very thing we take with us.

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