Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

Matthew 10:24 (NIV)

“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. …”
I wrote last night about the desire to keep learning as long as I keep breathing. And while I wasn’t thinking along these lines at the time, I should have drawn the very obvious connection to Mother’s Day. Because who is a person’s first teacher if not their mother? The very lessons that sustain life are indeed an education. Perhaps not in the classical sense, and mothers for countless generations have simply done what comes naturally. But it is teaching regardless, and it continues day after day, year after year.

I am blessed beyond words to be able to see my mom almost every day of the week. It would be embellishment to say she teaches me something each day, but neither do I think I’ve stopped learning from her. Surely I, the son as student, am not above the teacher. Maybe she’d me kind and say she has learned something from me. Heck, I wrote last night how much our children teach us about ourselves, and I can’t be the only one who thinks that way. But I’m always going to consider my parents in some degree to be my teachers.

The first inclination is to run off a laundry list of life skills my parents have passed down, and highlighting the topics I’ve not bothered to learn simply because I know mom and dad can do the job better. The second inclination is to get philosophical, to think less about practical skills and more about big-picture life lessons. In truth, both categories are important. For what good is ability without understanding — and what good is depth of mind with no way to contribute to society or care for oneself?

Perceiving correctly I would not get a chance to start today’s writing until fairly late, O preemptively took to social media to ask people to share the best advice they received from their mothers or grandmothers. That I got responses from people who remember lessons from long departed relatives gives credence to my theory that we’re always able to learn from our parents — not as long as they live, but as long as we live, too.

But that also calls to mind the realization this is the first Mother’s Day when neither of my parents has a mother to call. And just because my mom has been living in that reality for 15 years doesn’t make it any easier. I also can’t escape, as I wrote last year, the challenges facing two of my younger cousins whose mothers are gone, whose losses were terribly sad. For them, and others dealing with loss, I feel immense sadness that nothing anyone can do can give them the kind of fullness I feel today. That emptiness must be devastating.

I also know it is a deeply difficult day for those who long to be mothers but have not been blessed with the opportunity. I try to be respectful of everyone for whom Mother’s Day brings sadness and give full thanks for my blessings of a mother, mother-in-law and the mother of my children who all enrich my life in so many ways. It is in the spirit of those women, without whom I would in no way be the person I am today, I look at the collected advice of a few other folks I know who really love the moms in their lives, too:
  • She always said: “Travel, enjoy life and don’t take things too seriously.”
  • Use your brain. My mom took stickers and put that saying on the rearview mirror of my first car.
  • Nothing good happens after midnight.
  • No babies, no diseases.
  • Learn Spanish.
  • “Friends will come and go, but your sisters will always be your friends.”- told to us kids while we were fighting with each other as kids or got upset when we lost a friend.
  • Fight nicely. Whatever that meant...
  • I learned from her to love music.
  • Try something at least once before deciding whether or not you like it.
  • From my grandmother: 1. Learn to like coffee. It’s a social drink! 2. If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything. 3. Dress like you belong in first class and maybe you’ll get upgraded.
  • Any time I take a road trip my mom tells me to watch out for the (jerks). I feel like it applies to more than just driving. Also she told me it’s good to be weird. She says it’s the people who are not weird who you really have to watch out for.
  • You’re a catch, you’re good looking, smart, you can cook and you’re tidy, any woman would be lucky to have you. Not sure if it’s advice, but it always made me feel good, AND I use it as my go to story to get out of trouble with the wife…
  • She always told me to stop and smell the roses.
  • Grandma always said if you don’t laugh you cry. It’s been a go to for years!
  • “Don’t get divorced, okay?”
  • From my Scottish grandmother: don’t use the sugar spoon to stir your tea!
  • Freeze candles before a dinner party. They drip much less wax. It works!
  • Whenever I had boy issues, (my mom) would say, “You know, honey, we’re all pretty much fully formed at this point.” At the time, it was not exactly comforting but it did get me out of some reaaaaally crappy relationships. And Nana Estelle’s best advice? Make the matzo balls from the Manieschewitz boxed mix. “We alllll use the box these days, my dear.”
  • If you make that face too much it’ll stay that way… I should have listened!
For someone who likes to collect such lists, I’m not sure what I’d contribute from my own experience. My mom doesn’t tend to speak in proverbs, adages or fortune cookie wisdom. But I do know she worked very, very hard to make sure each of us knew we were valued as full members of the family even from our earliest days, that our opinions mattered and that we should be free to learn who we really are and not what society might dictate we should pretend to be.

That kind of freedom, oddly enough, is what led me to end up a lot like my parents. But it’s because of that freedom I know this very familiar lifestyle (churchgoing parents raise three kids in northern suburbs with a single-income household) is not the default option, but something I sought intentionally because it became clear to me this is what God intended for my life. This, right now, is where I can best use the skills and experience accumulated going back to day one from my first teacher.

I love this day because so many mothers have been so very special to me, and because I’m blessed with the opportunity to tell most of them so in person. I wish it could be that way for everyone. As many wonderful moms as there are in this world, we could always use a few more. You can never have too much of that kind of love.

A prayer for May 12:

Lord, I thank you for mothers. I thank you for my mother, who loves me as much as anything on this planet and who continues to be a daily presence in my life. I thank you for my mother-in-law, who from the first day accepted me and made me feel as if I were her own son. I thank you for my grandmothers, whom I miss dearly. I thank you for those mothers no longer with us and the love they shared when we were together. And I thank you for my wife, my angel, my all, my very self. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen.

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