Things My Mother Taught Me
Growing up, we had a saying in our home: “You can’t _________ with mom without learning something.” That blank contained multitudes. “You can’t get picked up from school with mom without learning something”, “You can’t watch TV with mom without learning something”, “You can’t have a mental health day at home with mom without learning something”. It was always true— my mother’s passion for knowledge and appetite for learning is, to this day, insatiable. There’s no doubt that this is a trait cultivated by my great-grandfather— her grandpa. Some of my fondest memories of him and my great-grandmother are conversations around their kitchen table. The feeling of that thick, spongey tablecloth is burned into my memory along with the conversations, the eating of duplex cookies, and the many many hands of Rummy and Phase 10 that we’d play (despite my needing to have two butter lids stapled together to hold the cards that were too big for my hands). Those are times that I hold dear to me, not only because of what they meant for my relationship with my great-grandparents, but also because of what they taught me about my mom. She valued the stories and was eager to learn about anything her grandparents were willing to share. It’s an attitude and perspective that I’ve tried to model my own after. To this day, there’s truth to the fact that I can’t call my mom on the way home from work without learning something — and I love that.
Love -- yes, there was another saying in our home, growing up, that is the closest thing to a catchphrase that my mother ever had: “Love, Kindness, and Respect.” I have to hand it to her — I'm sure two boys is no easy feat but she wielded this phrase as if she were Captain America and this her shield. There’s something wonderfully grounding in these three words. Undoubtedly, they are the three virtues she hoped she could impart in my brother and me. Love, Kindness, and Respect (or the often-used shorthand of LKR) was the proverbial reminder that we had whenever questionable behavior took place. Call your brother a bad name? “LKR.”, Storm-off after he broke your hockey stick? “LKR.”, Whine because he wouldn’t play games with you? “LKR!” It built habits and enforced so much of the structure of my upbringing. It was compassionate scaffolding that allowed for emotional growth and self-awareness. In Middle School and High School, it would be frustrating (as so many boundaries are at that age) but it’d be a re-direct to examine the condition of my heart. Do my actions reflect these traits and if not, what do they reflect? This built my worldview and I think it’s what fuels my empathy, to this day.
Curiosity and empathy would be gifts enough — there’s no doubt about that. However, there was an additional piece of myself that I feel is primarily attributed to my mom: passion for art (specifically, appreciation of words). Is it a universal thing to appreciate the music your parents forced on you as a child? If not, I’m still hoping this lands with you. I find myself now, at 29, enjoying songs that I once found insufferable (or at the very least dated and cheesy). This — the soundtrack of running errands with mom — has become some of my favorite ways to unwind. Harry Chapin, Elton John, The Indigo Girls, James Taylor, and, of course, Billy Joel all were on regular rotation in the car rides to and from school and the grocery store. There’s patterns in the music that I never realized as a child: the mastery of lyrics and storytelling that is blatantly on display from these songwriters. (Side note: y’all are sleeping on the Indigo Girls if you’ve never paid attention to their lyrics. “And the Mississippi’s mighty but it starts in Minnesota at a place that you could walk across with five steps down. And I guess that’s how you started like a pinprick to my heart. But at this point you rush through me and I start to drown” — It’s beautiful. It’s crushing. It's all beside the point). The gravity of these stories and words is not lost on me (as it was when I was younger). It has sparked a passion for writing, music, narratives, film, and so many other things that I will never be able to separate from time shared with my mother. I’m so grateful for that — especially when considering that these things swell with importance and hold such meaning when infused with memories and nostalgia from my childhood. As an adult, finding out about the art that my parents hold as their favorites is something that I enjoy so much. A few months back, I watched one of my mom’s favorite films, The Big Chill, all the way through for the first time. First of all, what a great soundtrack. Second of all, I walked away feeling like I had met, just a fraction of who my mom was— well, is. As children there’s never going to be a day when we’re able to completely dissociate our parents identity from who they are as our parent. However, there’s value in doing so (even if merely as a thought experiment) — trying to honor them completely as a person and not just as what they represent to your own existence. I guess that’s part of why I wanted to sit down and put this all down on a page. I wanted to honor the aspects of my mom’s personality and ensure that there’s appreciation and consideration for who she is, above and beyond giving me life. So there it is — just a fraction of the things that I’ve learned from my mother. They’re things that live on and burn inside of me and that I try to pass on and impart to those in my life. I guess it just confirms the saying, though: You can't spend 29 years with such a great Mom and not learn a few things.