It's been 40 years since I said, "Happy Mother's Day, Mom!"
Hers was a life cut short. Smack dab in the middle of her busy and over-flowing world raising five boys. It was sudden. A load of clothes still in the dryer. A letter in her typewriter still waiting to be finished. And a dentist appointment on the calendar at the exact time hundreds of people ultimately gathered for her funeral.
My mom was ever-present in our family. Her job was to run the house while my dad was at work every day. We usually could find Mom maneuvering around our under-sized kitchen to whip up her round-the-clock buffet line or in the basement surrounded by volcanic piles of dirty clothes. She never got sick, but she went to appointments regularly with an old man named Dr. Hill who helped her with what she referred to as "a little blood pressure problem." She treated herself to a weekly visit to the beauty parlor. She rarely drank, but her eyes would light up when someone offered her an occasional strawberry daiquiri.
Her world was her sons. She was the lioness and we were her cubs. And while she was quick to put each of us in our place when needed, God help the foolish soul who ever crossed or criticized any of her offspring.
She didn't mince her words. She said what was on her mind. She was very clear. And she could brilliantly give a verbal tongue-lashing while still leaving the recipient a feeling as though he or she had just been handed a plate of homemade cookies.
Because she was my mother, my life -- although unsettled at a very young age -- was always grounded. Because she was my mother, I am a better father.
And because she was my mother, I honor her life by living the parenting lessons she modeled daily:
Smile when you see your kids. My mom visibly showed her love every single time she saw my face. In the morning. When I walked in the door carrying wet, smelly fish. She showed it when she was tired. Frustrated. And even angry. And experiencing that feeling many times a day -- no matter what -- mattered.
Say what you mean and move on. My mom never beat around the bush. Tap-danced. Tip-toed. Dropped subtle hints. She rarely moped around the house. She didn't make you guess. She simply trusted her feelings enough to say what she meant. But she was always thoughtful. Never mean. But abundantly clear.
Make time to play and laugh. I don't remember my mother's voice anymore. But I remember her laugh. And I remember how her eyes smudged and crinkled together when she laughed. Her cheeked puffed out. And when she laughed hard her eyes would fill with tears. These are the memories I have of her. I cherish them. And I can only hope my own children have similar memories of me.
Kids need to be held accountable and experience failure. My mother balanced her warm and tender side with the skills of an Army drill sargeant. I hated it at the time. She was firm and did not budge on the "important" things in life. My brothers and I were all held accountable for an abundance of age-appropriate things. We were expected to learn from our mistakes. Failure was nothing to be ashamed of. But it was something we were expected to grow from.
There is true value in the mundaneness of parenting. My mother was peaceful. She was proud of her role in life. She found no value in comparison with others. She measured her life and her own self-worth based on a internal checklist of those things she knew were important. She knew that life and lessons happened in the nooks and crannies of each day. And she made sure she was present and available for each and every one of those moments.
How you treat others matters. My mom showed interest in everyone she encountered -- and I mean everyone. The store clerk. The bus driver. The mom across the street. My friend, Kirk. The nameless guy who changed her oil. Everyone. She had zero tolerance for hurtful actions. Or exclusion. She not only modeled these beliefs, she enforced them religiously with her children. We were not above anyone. And because we were fortunate in so many ways, ourselves, we were expected to always help and support others.
Don't ever take today for granted. After my mother died, I found a prayer on a card in her purse. I had never seen it before. But it struck me then -- and it strikes me now as an adult -- that it was, perhaps, the most important lesson she not only lived by, but also left for me as a parent:
I shall pass through this world but once. If, therefore there be any kindness I can show or any good thing I can do, let me do it now; let me not defer it. For I shall not pass this way again.
(Photo from the author's library)