things i learned from my mother

It’s Mother’s Day today and I realized this morning that I very rarely write about my mother on my blog (except perhaps in passing), which is odd, since my mother is the single most influential person in my life. I love my mom. And the great thing is that when I say “I love my mom,” if I happen to be in conversation with anybody who knows her, the response is always “I love your mom too.” That’s because my mom is the coolest, hands down.

So, here are some of the things that I’ve learned by growing up with the coolest mom:

1. It’s not about how much it costs
Growing up, there wasn’t a lot of money, which is something I never really understood until I got old enough to work and pay bills and learn how far my paychecks do and do not go. We didn’t have fancy stuff, and we didn’t go on expensive vacations. I wasn’t cheated, though. I didn’t have clothes with designer labels on them, but I had stuff that my mother sewed just for me, that was tailored for my body. Some of those clothes were really fairly complex. I’ve never been to Disney World, but sometimes we’d drive 40 miles to get an ice cream cone, and we’d talk in the car about frivolous things and let our imaginations run wild. Those are some great memories. We read stories, we made up stories. I had a pretty creative childhood. So, you can’t do the pre-made, the pre-determined… make your own and make it good. Money (or the lack thereof, as the case may be), is only the gatekeeper for things like beauty and enjoyment if you make it so.

2. Laugh about it
Sometimes Life will beat you up, steal your lunch money, stuff you in a locker, and when you cry about it, it’ll call you a sissy and make you cry harder. It’s okay to admit that things suck sometimes, because boy, do they suck sometimes. But there’s always something that’s kinda funny about it too. Sometimes you have to look REALLY hard for the funny thing, but it’s there. I get my sense of humor and my habit for making snide comments about things (often at inappropriate times) from my mother. A healthy appreciation of the absurd doesn’t always heal things, but it does make things bearable. And laugh at yourself. Be goofy. You’re pretty funny.

3. I have a brain, so I might as well use it
I started reading on my own at a pretty young age, because I was read to constantly. Learning things was exciting. (It’s still exciting.) We discussed all sorts of things, debated them — politics, philosophy, religion, theory, culture — and I learned from that how to think critically, how to question everything and find my own answers, and know, when I found my answers, that I could back them up with confidence. I learned to stay curious about things, and if I wanted to know more about something, then I’d better research it. I learned not to accept things blindly, but to be curious about the reasons for them. This can sometimes make me a pain, because I’m not afraid to ask questions (and to keep asking them) if I don’t understand something. I’d rather know than not know.

4. Try
This is a fairly frequent conversation:

A: How is this going to work?
B: I don’t know, let’s try it.

I think that’s pretty great.

5. Don’t always follow the directions
My mother sewed a lot when I was a kid, and she’s decided to get back into it now, which I think is cool. One thing I noticed a lot when she was making things was that she’d look at a pattern and say “Well, that’s stupid,” and then cut or construct something differently. In sewing and in life, directions are helpful guidelines, but sometimes you just have to do your own thing.

6. Figure it out
This is related to the one above, but it’s a bit different. Sometimes you want to do something or understand something and there are no directions or the directions suck. Sometimes you want to make a jewelry display out of an antique letterpress tray, for instance, and all you have to go on is a not-terribly-detailed photo of one someone else made. That’s no reason not to do it. If you want something enough, you’ll figure out how to get it.

7. Be hospitable
Our house was always open to friends, for hanging out, for sitting around and watching TV, for dinner, for working on projects. Having a place for the people in your life is sometimes a very literal thing, after all. Sometimes it means making time for people, and sometimes it means yes, you can sleep on my couch. Both are important. Make people welcome.

8. Appreciate beauty and make things beautiful
Whatever it is, whether it’s a famous painting or a gorgeous sunset or a sky filled with stars or a great song or a beautiful person or an amazing dress or an interesting building or fascinating shadows on rolling farmland or fireflies twinkling like fairies in a field of soybeans in the middle of summer, let it take your breath away. Bring home flowers just because. Buy the shoes. My mother puts carrots in chili for color.

9. Do your best
Maybe nobody else will know if you just half-ass your way through things, but you will. Whatever you’re doing, work hard at it. This has always been especially difficult for me, because I tend to be a perfectionist, and I sometimes worry so much about whether or not what I’m doing or going to do is going to be absolutely perfect that it can paralyze me into not doing anything until the absolute last minute, when I’m stuck having to throw something together and call it good (meanwhile hating it and myself). I’m getting better about this as I get older, I think because I’m learning to let things go. My mother told me all the time when I’d be in the middle of freaking out about something “Well, just do your best.” Maybe now that I’m in my 30s I’m finally learning that doing my best is actually good enough.

10. Have faith
Faith is my middle name, and it’s something that my mother taught me from earliest childhood: have faith. Faith has a religious connotation, but it’s really a much larger thing than that. The substance of things hoped for is fairly enormous. I forget sometimes, because it’s far too easy to get bogged down in the details of how and why and what-the-fuck, but I think maybe this is the biggest lesson of all, and the one that encompasses all the other things on this list. I believe that things work out, and I believe that no matter what, I’m exactly where I need to be, on my way to the next place that will be exactly where I need to be. Beauty, curiosity, creativity, adventure, joy, love: these are my values, the things I believe in, the things I seek. I have faith that I will always have these things in some measure, from God, from other people, from the work of my hands. That belief keeps me going, and it’s what I have, thanks to my mom, who really is the coolest.

Happy Mother’s Day.


One thought on “things i learned from my mother

  1. These are good things. A part of me wishes that I had had someone to teach them (or model them) for me, but that is silliness, since we all get whatever we’re given (as kids.) I’m glad you have such an awesome mom, and that she has such an awesome daughter!


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