In honor of my mother, I'm going to write this post right now. And everything is going to be ok--even it's not perfect. At least that's what she kept trying to tell me. [Five days later: Ok, I tried to do it in one sitting, but that's just not how writing works!]
Mother's Day is huge. Mothers are huge. And I'm not just referring to the "miracle" that transforms a 5'6" 120 lb. woman into a 200-plus-pound miserable creature for whom even the idea of giving birth begins to sound like a welcome relief. I'm referring to the size of the impact that they have on your life for better or for worse.
My own mother is far from perfect. The wonderful thing about her is that she is honest about it. Do you know how resentful children can become when their parents won't acknowledge their failures? Luckily for me, my parents, and my mom in particular, owned right up. My mom's life was not what she'd thought it would be. There were surprises, disappointments, and difficulties along the way. But she refused to be dishonest about these things. She called a spade a spade. Then, her children and friends had the privilege of looking on as she relied on her relationship with God to get her through the times that she found herself simply "getting through" and to celebrate the times she found herself able to truly celebrate along life's way. When honesty is acceptable, then real communication, healing, and love is possible. And the opposite is true as well. With her honesty, my mom made it possible for her children to love her and to be loved by her in a meaningful, life-shaping way. Without her brave and often costly honesty, I'm not sure who I'd be. I know I'd be much, much less.
Not only was she capable of profound transparency and honest living, she also happened to be full of practical advice. I remember as a little girl, laying underneath the covers on my bed feeling hot. Then, I'd kick off the covers, and I'd get cold. I distinctly remember telling my mom my dilemma, and almost daily, I fondly remember her reply. "Put one leg out and one leg in." Brilliance.
Unfortunately for her, I expected this brilliance to be unilaterally applied to every life-situation. I knew her to be the keeper of wisdom concerning every day issues, but I suspected that wisdom to be existent across the board. I knew that she must also be fluent and accomplished in each and every technical and academic discipline. And so, I came to her every day, hour, or minute with some of life's most difficult questions, and she would tell me me all she knew. I'd look at her, disappointed, and she'd admit that some questions don't have good answers--I would have to ask God when I got to heaven. (What would YOU say if your preschooler asked you, "If God loves us and He created everything, then whey did he create Satan?")
I typically under-appreciated her attempts, and as I grew up, I determined to find better. So, I pursued a Bachelor's of Biblical Studies with an emphasis in Theology, and imagine my surprise as I realized that most of her answers were pretty much "correct." Not that it wasn't worth learning the nuances to the arguments, debates, and centuries' worth of philosophic and theologic thought, but the same questions she couldn't answer to my satisfaction then, cannot be answered "definitively" (read: to my satisfaction) now. However, now I know for sure that she wasn't just holding out on me!
My mother wouldn't keep peanut butter in the house, because she knew it would be all we would want to eat. I didn't know that white bread existed until I got to preschool and saw everyone else DIDN'T have smoked turkey on pumpernickel. She never peeled our fruit, because she said the peel contained "all the stuff that's good for you." At the time, I had no idea how "counter-cultural" all of this was. It was so ingrained that a few months ago, someone had to suggest to me that I peel the apple for Spencer if he was having trouble chewing it up. Ha! An apple without a peel just didn't exist to me.
We were never allowed to have a Nintendo--not even if we "saved up our own money." On pretty days, my mom would send us outside and then lock the screen door. She said we needed to play outside. She didn't tell us that Santa Clause was a real person who would bring us stuff, because she remembered being devastated when she found out "the truth." Now, I am aware that neither the sum nor the parts of the random minutia I've listed are in any way a formula for being a "good mother." I am simply citing them as examples of how thoroughly my mom thought out and followed though with how she believed she should raise her children.
As if withholding white bread and peeled apples wasn't enough, she slathered us in sunscreen and then made us wear t-shirts over our bathing suits to swim. Yeah, obviously we were the "cool kids." But, you know what? Now I don't care if doing what I believe to be right is "cool," and that's not a characteristic that you can instill by lecturing. It has to be lived to be owned.
And live it we did. No PG-13 movies 'til we were 18 and could decide for ourselves. I saw a few at that point (and decided they weren't for me). She wouldn't let me ride around with my friends on the day they turned 16--or for months following. Did most of them have wrecks? Yes. Was I in any of them? No. Did I moan and complain ALL THE TIME about these rules? Yes. Am I indescribably thankful they were enforced ruthlessly with total disregard for my feelings? Yes.
Now, lest you believe I was a sad little girl, locked outside without any peanut better and denied the joy of imagining it to be in next years' stocking, I must emphasize that much of what she did for us as children provided time and space for us to play and bond as sisters. For example, Mom routinely let us fill a bowl with water and put it on the kitchen floor so that Natalie could lap it up and be our "dog," the only rule being that we were NOT allowed to tie a leash around her neck (another important life lesson). We found Natalie's wrist to be a suitable substitute. Without a Nintendo to play for hours on end, we built tents in the living room with sheets and sofa cushions and lots of stacks of heavy books for stabilization. I personally removed the training wheels from my bicycle and hammered random pieces of lumber on the top of one corner of our privacy fence to build a "fort" (and then let Natalie fall off of it--Natalie was often involved in the learning of life lessons). I could go on, but you get the idea.
People need honest, thoughtful, persevering mothers. It's how they learn to live. And it's hard to do anything in life that doesn't involve living.
Thanks, Mom. I love you.