It’s only been over the past few years that I started seeing my parents as people – mostly out of self-defense, I think. I’m a 35-year-old daughter, living at home with my parents and trying to raise three kids. I’ve had to learn to bite my tongue where my parents and I disagree. In the process, I’ve also had to learn that… wow… my parents are people, too.
They have their own set of insecurities and fears, their own strengths and weaknesses. It’s amazing, really, that I never noticed these things before.
I talk about my dad a lot. I mean, anyone who walks into our house automatically knows who rules the roost. He is the ultimate king of the castle, without a doubt. I’ve looked up to my dad for years. He’s been my teacher through much of life’s difficulties; I’ve learned a lot from him, both good and bad. I think it’s natural, then, that when I started seeing my parents as people, my dad was the first one I learned more about.
Lately, however, I’ve been much more interested in my mother. We never talked much when I was younger, so learning about my mom has been a surprising experience. Looking into the past and “meeting” the person she is now, I’m realizing that much of what I learned about being a mom and a wife has come from her. I’m a lot more like my mother than I’ve ever admitted… and I’m okay with that.
Love Is In the Time You Spend
My mom isn’t a patient woman. That’s what I’ve always felt. Yet, even as I type those words, I’m reminded of the many, many times she sat with a young girl and poured over math problems.
When I was five, while riding a Ferris wheel, a hornet stung me right between the eyes. I remember that. I even remember that I was riding a pretty white horse. My mother pulled me on to her lap and held me against her. She rocked me back and forth, loved on me and gave me bites of fudge until the pain went away.
She worked with me to learn a song and dance routine, and spent hours on a ladybug costume for me in elementary. In middle school, she spent hours making a beautiful Greek costume so I could play Circe in Homer’s Iliad, and let me practice my lines on her.
When I was fourteen, I came home sobbing because my high school sweetheart dumped me. I ran through the house and dramatically threw myself on my bed to sob away my broken heart. It was mom who came in and rubbed my back until I’d quieted down, and then listened as I told her the horrible, horrible story that had destroyed my life.
She didn’t give me words of wisdom. She didn’t give me platitudes. She said, “Oh, honey…” See, she didn’t try to talk the pain away. She accepted that it hurt, knew that it hurt, and showed her love by doing the one thing I really needed… she felt my pain and shared it.
During the springs and summers, we’d go into our small kitchen almost every Sunday. We’d clean and scrub, then open the windows wide so the sun and breeze could tease over sparkling countertops and shiny floors.
It wasn’t spring-cleaning, though. We were going to mess it up again, because mom and I were making bread. We’d knead the dough and laugh, talking about nothing really important, and just enjoy the smell of yeast in the air, the feel of the dough under our hands and the shared camaraderie. Making bread was the only time I ever got my mother to myself, and it’s become one of those special memories I keep packed away in my mind so I can look it over every once in a while and smile.
At sixteen, she spent days trying to teach me how to walk like a woman in heels. Days. It wasn’t easy. I’m 5’10”, broad shouldered, and life was something you stalked your way through. In the end, she threw her hands up in the air, gave a helpless little laugh and said, “Never mind. Take them off.” She giggled and hugged me. “You walk like a football player.”
Later in life, when I started working as a grounds man for a tree service throwing 300-pound logs around, she’s the one who started calling me “Man Mountain”.
People show love in many different ways. Mom shows love through the time she spends on us, and with us.
Love Is In the Details
I can remember, on countless occasions, mom and dad arguing about what we were bringing on our annual vacation. Mom always wanted to pack enough stuff to fill another van. For years, I thought it was silly. Now I know I completely misunderstood her actions.
When we packed for a road trip, mom made sure we had snacks to eat so we wouldn’t be hungry. Yet, that also helped save money on the road, because we didn’t have to stop for food as often. She packed clothes for every occasion; we were seldom caught off guard by either a heat wave or a cold front. She packed pillows and blankets and jackets and extra shoes, nuts and trail mix and cheese sticks and little cracker sandwiches.
Understanding finally came to me a few years ago, as I watched my mother in the kitchen. She was making lunch for the kids. She carefully quartered the sandwich meat and cheese to fit nicely between the crackers. She carefully coated each cracker with just the right amount of mayo so the sandwich wouldn’t be too dry. She carefully counted out grapes so everyone had the same amount.
I wanted to cry. I finally realized why mom spent so much time and energy packing, and put up with dad’s grousing in (mostly) silence. She cared about our comfort. She made sure of the “little” things that we didn’t really appreciate at the time, like making sure:
- There were pillows and blankets in the van in case someone got tired on the road.
- Each kid had the same amount so no one felt slighted.
- There was enough mayo on a sandwich so it wasn’t dry.
- No one was cold if there’s a cold front, or hot if we had a heat wave.
She cares so much that the only way she can really express it, I think, is through the details.
I Have a Wonderful Mother
She’ll disagree, but it’s true. Sadly, I realize now that I’ve never fully appreciated the person my mother is. I’ve spent so much of my life trailing after dad that I missed many lessons I could have been learning from my mother.
She loves numbers; she can spend hours staring at spreadsheets and come out of it with a fantastic way to squeeze every penny out of a dime plus some. Nobody can stretch a dollar like my mom.
She’ll say she doesn’t have an artistic bone in her body, but I once watched her trace Winnie the Pooh onto another sheet of paper. I say trace; she had the two pages (original and blank) next to each other and, free hand, copied Winnie the Pooh onto the other sheet. It looked as if she’d actually traced it. If you’ve ever tried to do that, you know it takes talent. If you haven’t, just try it; it’s not near as easy as it sounds.
She can take a pattern in a book and change it almost any way she wants, and have the clothing come out looking professional.
Most importantly, my mother is one of the best listeners I’ve ever met. It seems like it was born in her. The sad part is, she’s so good at listening people often forget to ask her what she thinks or listen to her speak (including myself). My mom is often passed over for my more gregarious dad, although she has as much experience and intelligence as he does – her experiences are just different.
Mom might say she’s a reflection of my dad. I’d be more inclined, after much thought and study, to say she’s a compliment. She makes my dad look good. She makes her kids look good. She makes her friends look good.
Often hidden behind her inherent introverted personality, she shows her love for others the best way she knows how – through support, caring, consideration and the comfort of others.
Now that I think about it… I’m not much like my mom at all… but I hope I can learn.