Friday, February 12, 2010

What I Said Today About Mom

Describing mom is no easy task. She is unique. One of a kind. Truly, in a word, indescribable. My husband plays hockey, and at his game this past week, his teammates offered condolences. When he relayed that to me, I asked him if he told them anything about her and he replied quite honestly, “I would have no idea where to start.”

And this is my challenge today. To tell you something about this woman who defies description. To reminisce over a life that was incredibly full, incredibly busy, and incredibly generous.

So when attempting to meet a challenge like this, it’s best to break it into smaller pieces. Maybe I could speak to you about one or two aspects of her life. But what do I pick? Over her life she has accomplished so much and her talents are so numerous, it is difficult to choose one area to talk about. However, anyone who knows her knows that of all the roles she has had – Garden Council President, DAR Regent, Forest Oaks Community Association newsletter editor – (the list is really too huge), the one she valued most… and the one that is dearest to me, is the role she played as “mom.”

As a child, I had no idea how impressive mom’s juggling act was. After all, she was mom, and that’s what moms do, right? So the fact that over the first 18 years of our lives she managed the household, dealt with our school work and associated activites, got us to music lessons, swim team practice, Girl Scout meetings and activities, art lessons, dance lessons, and theater practice while still managing to feed us, get our hair cut, and get us to the doctor and the dentist just seemed effortless to me. Let’s then throw in that during that time she painted hundreds of ceramic pieces, made dozens of beaded Christmas trees, designed, created and furnished over 25 shadow boxes, played tennis regularly, and stayed active in garden clubs and the DAR (among other things), it’s enough to set any reasonable adult’s head spinning. And she did all of this without mobile phones and computers to keep her organized. She kept it all in her head and on a little paper calendar.

But she didn’t just shuffle us from activity to activity either. She took on important roles in our activities. She became a Girl Scout leader despite the fact that she really had never had any previous interest in the Girl Scouts or the activities associated with it. She freely admitted that her idea of roughing it was a Holiday Inn with no room service and a b/w television. But she was a good Girl Scout leader. She was an instant hit with the troop. She didn’t do it only halfway either. We earned dozens of merit badges under her leadership, and I picked up skills and hobbies I carry with me to this day. And she did take us camping. I am not making this up. She forded the stream to get to the campground in her Cadillac DeVille and she wore her mink coat to keep warm.

When I was a younger child, mom would hint at those upcoming “teenage” years. Every now and then, she’d express that fear that I now understand all mothers have… that once their children hit the magic age of 13 (or maybe 12 or 11, realistically), they will suddenly hate their mothers and turn into rebellious little demons. I actually became anxious about my 13th birthday. What sort of evil monster would I become? Would I get ugly and hunched over? More importantly, would it hurt?

But the weirdest thing happened. I woke up on my thirteenth birthday, and lo and behold, I thought mom was just as cool as I always did. Maybe even a little bit cooler. Other kids could go hate their moms if they wanted (and in fact, some of my friends did choose to go that route.) I, on the other hand, got to bond with my mom during my most emotionally turbulent and physically awkward years. And I wasn’t the only one…

My friends loved my mom too. Even the ones that didn’t like their own moms so much. They loved to hang out at my house and chat with her. They loved to eat her magically amazing grilled cheese sandwiches. They loved to admire her dollhouse and shadow boxes. And they loved to just chat with her. My mom was, dare I say it… HIP! And again, I’m not making this up… one of our neighbors sent me a note this week that said ever since he met her in 1976, he always thought of her and my dad as “hipsters of the day.” Who knew?!

She supported me through every difficult time in my life. Even when I made choices she wasn’t so sure were best for me, she would support me. She would offer me her opinion and advice, of course, but there was never any pressure from her to change my mind or behave differently. She let me learn my own lessons. And to her surprise and delight, once or twice it turned out that I was actually right.

I must say that when I was 27 and I announced to mom and Linda that I was planning to get married, they were shocked. And had good reason to be. After all, up until then, I had not been great at maintaining a meaningful relationship more than a few months, and my intended was a man whom I had known for about two months and had only been dating for about two weeks. I put myself in her shoes and imagine she must have been, for lack of a better word, completely freaking out inside.

But she remained outwardly calm, asked me some questions (including the ever-reasonable, “Can I perhaps MEET this young man?”) and expressed her nervousness over the short courtship. However, by the end of the conversation (and assurances that she COULD meet him, absolutely), she told me that she supported any decision I made and that her main interest is that I should be happy.

She remained cautious and nervous through the whole engagement and wedding planning, although she never really shared that with me. Linda got an earful, as I understand it, but she was sure to always show me strong support and love. It wasn’t until my wedding reception eight months later that mom pulled me aside and said, “I wasn’t sure about this whole thing… it was all terribly fast, but it is clear to me that Chris loves you very much and he is a wonderful match for you.”

And then, over the last ten years, she frequently took his side in any disagreement he and I would have. When I would call her on it, she would say, “What? He is right!”

Now I’m a mom. And I hold myself up to the “mom” standard constantly. When I talk to my children, I am almost always simultaneously thinking “Is this how mom would handle this situation?” She has set the bar very high. But she raised me to get it right.

When my father passed away, I read a passage from a children’s book that spoke quite eloquently about the circle of life and how death works into it. For mom, I felt it more appropriate to simply read you the lines of one of her favorite songs. It was sung at her high school graduation, and it remained special to her throughout her life. I believe it also speaks well about her death:

When you walk through a storm

Hold your head up high

And don’t be afraid of the dark

At the end of the storm is a golden sky

And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind

Walk on through the rain

Tho your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on walk on with hope in your heart

And you’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone.

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