Sunday, May 13, 2007

Lessons Learned

When I was in kindergarten, I was allowed to walk to the creamery where my mother worked as a bookkeeper after school. My mother’s office was on the second floor of the building and a large metal grate in the floor allowed heated air to reach her in the winter and cool air to reach her in the summer. Wafting on the air, no matter the season, was the pungent scent of raw milk, masking the slightest hint of spoilage.

Along with bottling milk, the creamery produced a variety of dairy products including cottage cheese, ice cream and ice cream novelties; my mom always gave me a treat of some sort as soon as I arrived and I enjoyed it quietly while waiting for her to finish her work and take me home.

On my birthday that year, rather than bringing cupcakes to my classroom like all the other mothers, my mother brought chocolate-coated ice cream bars and, I was skeptical; the five-year old me wanted my mom to bring cupcakes, just like the other kids’ moms. The ice cream bars, however, were different and this unique treat made me quite popular with my peers. Of course, my mother was bathed in a most flattering light as well and I learned something that day; different can be good. Also, my mom was cool.

When I was a teenager, as my girlfriends declared their bitter and undying hatred of their mothers, their embarrassment at having to be seen with them, I told funny stories about how my mom, while in Hawaii on a vacation, completely humbled my sister and me by donning a snorkel mask and fins and tearing up the reef in Hanauma Bay even though she was-and still is-petrified of water. Had she not taken the initiative, we would have missed a truly memorable experience while sitting on our butts complaining about the taste of the salty water and the scratches the coral left on our skin when we swam too close to the reef.

This taught me that a good mom always takes one for the team and that some experiences are worth a little pain.

Later, in the face of a breast-cancer diagnosis, my mother met fear and uncertainty with faith and humor. While I know in my heart of hearts that she was terrified, she never let it show, instead choosing to calm our fears and raise our spirits. She maintained a positive outlook and a cheery demeanor while she kicked cancer’s ass to the curb and in doing so, taught me that attitude is 99% of any battle and how you choose to fight defines you as a person.

That said; my mother has never met a challenge that she has not overcome. She never left a job undone or allowed a good deed to go unnoticed or unappreciated. She instilled in me a deep and profound sense of duty and more than a smidgen of self-pride.

She also taught me not to take life too seriously and, especially, not to take myself too seriously after all, if you cannot make fun of yourself, whom can you make fun of? And, what is life without joy?

And, during times of great pain and sorrow, she reminded me that, without the rain, there would be no rainbow; within the pain, there was the promise of happiness.

As one of ten kids, she was forever hosting one or another of her siblings and their assorted families at our home. As a result, I have an abiding love for family and a secure sense of belonging. Our household ran on an open door policy; all were welcome and there was more than enough of everything to go around. My friends loved the chaos and warmth they found in our home and my mother was generous to a fault when it came to hosting them as well. These days, my own home is base-camp for the neighborhood’s children; if we are home, chances are good we have company. Chaos does not faze me in the least and, as in my mother’s house, there is always enough of everything to go around.

Most importantly, she taught me how to be a mother. She taught by example with grace and quiet dignity. She taught with humor and wisdom but above all, she taught with love. The people that my children eventually become, owe a great deal to my mother.

Often, people comment on my good cheer and unflagging optimism and it is with great pride that I reply; I get that from my mother*.

Happy mother’s day, Mom.

*I have also been accused of being stubborn but she would tell you that I get that from my father.


  1. What a wonderful tribute to your mother. She seems like an amazing woman!

  2. That was beautiful.

    I just found your blog yesterday, and I can't stop reading.