The night before I got married, as I stood in the foyer of the supper club where my rehearsal dinner had been held, saying goodbye to my guest, my mother grabbed my hand and pulled me aside. I had imagined this tender moment for months. This was the moment when she would pass along some ageless wisdom that would bolster me for the adventure of my life. I squeezed her hand.
"Oh honey," she said. "Did I teach you how to properly starch a shirt?"
I pulled my hand away and rolled my eyes. "It doesn't matter, mom. It's called a dry cleaner."
"Don't be rude. You don't know how expensive dry cleaning can be."
We fought. I stayed angry at her for years because of that moment. Because I had wanted one thing, but she had given me another.
My mom had eight children. She homeschooled all of us until high school, and some of us a little beyond. She sewed our clothes. Our TV was kept on a roll-away cart and hidden in the closet. She bought us milk straight from the cow. She ground wheat to make us bread. She bought natural peanut butter and made yogurt. We responded by begging our dad for Oreos and Pepsi. I cried when I had to eat another sandwich on thick crumbly bread instead of the smooth machine-made kind that other kids had. I think about that now, as I parent, when I do things for my kids because I love them -- no screen time, no going out to eat, making our own play-doh, baking our own bread. My daughter complains, and I want to yell, "I'm doing this for you!" But I don't. Instead, I just grab her hand and say, "Oh honey..." under my breath.
My mother did teach me how to properly starch a shirt, but I haven't ironed since I got married. Dry cleaning is expensive. But we have wrinkle releaser and wrinkle resistant shirts. The Internet taught me how to throw my wrinkly clothes into the dryer for a few minutes with a damp washcloth and voila! No ironing. But there are other lessons my mother taught me, lessons that maybe she wasn't trying to teach me at the time -- or maybe she was. That's how it is. You give one thing to your daughter and she takes another.
1. Read more than one book at a time.
My mom was always reading more than one book. She would juggle between a non-fiction book on teaching, parenting or faith and then a novel. She woke up early to sneak in quiet moments to read. She read while we did schoolwork, she read during rest time, she read to us out loud before bed. That's when we discovered Mrs. Frisby and the rats of NIMH, the five children and It, Amy and her beautiful eyes in a bottle. I am in a perpetual mid-book state, because of her.
2. School is always.
I was homeschooled until I started high school. I remember once asking my mom when we would get summer break. She laughed. "School is always!" she said. I won't homeschool my children, but this hasn't stopped me from teaching. I teach all the time. My daughter is 3 and my son is a baby, but we talk about fractions while we cook and the constellations when the sun sets. We look for letters on signs and count the sides of stop sign octagons.
3. If you are bored, it is your fault.
I spent most of my childhood relying on my siblings, some sticks and shelves full of books to keep me occupied. I didn't watch a TV show until my siblings and I started sneaking in episodes of Rescue Rangers while mom ran errands. If we said the word "bored," my mom made us wash the floor or scrub the baseboards with a toothbrush. I firmly believe in letting my daughter be bored -- I believe in refusing TV for weeks and letting her lie on her floor until she starts talking to her dolls and making up stories about flying cats in the attic. I don't think this lesson from my mother was unintentional.
4. You can't be everything all the time.
I have seven siblings. Between activities, school, hobbies and lessons, my mother couldn't be everything to all of us all the time. Nor should she have been. But at the time I resented her so much for missed pickups, forgotten appointments and how she never made the debate team brownies like other moms did. When I complained to her, she would say, "I can't do everything!" So, my siblings and I learned to rely on one another for rides to appointments, pickups from work, support for hobbies and after-school cookies. This isn't to say my mother wasn't there when we truly needed her. But she rejected all of our attempts to make her over into anything she wasn't. Now, as a mother of only two children, I feel overwhelmed with the appointments and playdates, school information, crafts, milestones and expectations. I constantly compare myself to others. I constantly feel anxious about the mother I am. But I am comforted in knowing that, like my mother, I don't need to be any more than I am. I can't do everything, nor should I. There are other people in my kids' lives -- their father, teachers, friends, grandparents, aunts and uncles. My children's world is bigger than me.
5. The good and the bad go hand in hand.
I spent years rejecting the way I was raised. But I realize there is redemption if you are willing to make it. Parenting isn't a zero-sum game. We all have different kinds of mothers. Good, bad, the in-between. But in the end, they are our parents; what we make of the lives they have given us is ours to celebrate and to redeem. There are too many parenting days when I collapse in bed, sick of the sound of my own terse voice. Don't hammer your brother. Listen. Listen. Stop licking your arm. Stop licking my leg! Pick that booger up off the floor. I want to blame my kids. But I know that wresting the day back from the edge is my job. Redemption is my job. So, I say "I'm sorry." We eat some ice cream and we try again. And again. As many times as it takes to get it right. I learned that from my mom.
6. What you have to give isn't always what your children want.
I've spent years pushing away, trying to become different versions of myself, rejecting what I was taught to be. Despite that, my mother has loved all of these versions of myself. It's an example I'm reminded of even now, as I watch my own daughter prance around in a twirly golden dress. My daughter is an auto-didactic princess. I had no princess books, movies or paraphernalia in our house. But at 2, she found her fancy dresses and turned herself into one anyway. I know this is just the beginning of a push and pull. Of me offering one thing and her taking another. I can imagine myself at her wedding offering advice about capping the toothpaste and her rolling her eyes. But this is OK, because I know one day she'll realize I was giving her my best.
This post is part of HuffPost Parents' Mother's Day series, exploring the lessons our moms taught us about parenting.