My mother had a milestone birthday last month. I was ready to celebrate - a small dinner party perhaps, or a family brunch? At the very least, a CAAAAAAKE! She turned me down. In fact, when I asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday, she responded "NOTHING!", "Forget about it!", "Absolutely no presents!", and even "I drew a frowny face on the calendar." :(
It was a bit of a buzz kill, but for once I listened to her. It may have taken me thirty-four years, but I'm finally learning to accept my parents for who they are, just as I've expected them to accept me (and my many quirks and bad habits). My mom is not a partier, and just because I want to celebrate, doesn't mean that she does. I can't change my mom and she can't change me. I love her for who she is and I love her for loving me even though I suck at keeping my house clean, am always doing things at the last minute, and never respond to voice mails.
My mom is an amazing woman. She's funny, she's feisty, and she's taught me the most important things I know. She doesn't want material things, so this is my gift to her:
Ten Things I Learned From My Mother
1. Be kind to animals. Respect nature. My mom grew up on a dairy farm, surrounded by cows and horses. She even had a pet hawk! She taught my brother (who now works in an animal hospital) and me to be animal lovers from the day we were born. She also taught us to be curious about the natural world and to respect nature: be quiet when you're out in the woods, tread softly and be gentle, leave things the way you found them.
My mother and grandfather, 1946.
2. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. When I was growing up, my mother wouldn't let us leave the house before eating a proper breakfast. She made breakfast for me every day - and not just a bowl of cereal, she often made eggs or french toast for me before school. (Lucky me!) Breakfast is still my favorite meal and don't try to get me to do anything or go anywhere in the morning before eating. (Warning: I'm cranky!)
3. Have a sense of humor. My childhood friends thought my mom was hilarious (maybe that was because she always said curse words while driving!) and she has a great sense of humor. She taught me to surround myself with funny people - my uncles and great uncles were jokesters and I scored myself a pretty hilarious husband. Life is just better when you can laugh.
Mom (on horseback) & cousin Emmy, late 1950s.
The horses are Sleep (the mama horse) and her daughters, Mamselle and ChaCha.
4. Don't spend money you don't have. To this day, the only debt I've ever had is my mortgage. I've always paid off my credit card. (In fact, it wasn't until my twenties that I understood what credit really was - I didn't even know that there was the option of not paying your credit card bill in its entirety every month!) When I graduated college, I slept on the floor in my first apartment until I could afford a mattress. I drove my first car into the ground, and when it died, I went without a car for a few months until I could pay cash for a new one. I may never be rich, but I can't thank my mother enough for teaching me how important it is to stay out of debt.
5. Reading is one of the greatest pleasures in life. My mom is a lifelong bookworm. Some of my most reassuring childhood memories are of the bedtime stories she read me each night. She taught me to love books from an early age, both by reading to me and by example - she always has a huge stack of library books in bed with her.
Mom, 1945-1946 - with my grandfather on Copper.
6. Stand up for the ones you love. It wasn't until I was an adult that I understood that my mom is an introvert and a homebody. Growing up, I was always so shy and felt I could never measure up to my mother - she always seemed so outgoing and confident. I finally realized that these traits were the result of her being a fierce mama bear and doing whatever she had to do to protect her children - even if it was out of her comfort zone. If someone messed with my brother or me, you can bet my mom was going to be in their face about it. She was loyal, she was protective, and she always did the right thing (even if some of these things were to the embarrassment of her children!) Thanks for sticking up for me, Mom!
7. Don't pay someone to do something you can do yourself. My mother has always valued her independence and her ability to do things herself - even if some of those things are completely dangerous. Gutters need cleaned? You'll find my mom on the roof. Toilet needs replaced? Break out the wrench, she's doing it herself! Need a new walkway? She's hauling concrete pavers on her back. Flames, electricity, hot water pipes - she's not afraid to tackle anything!
8. Correct spelling and proper grammar are important. My mom was an editor. In addition to teaching me to read and love books, she taught me the importance of learning to spell and write. She broke out her red pencil on the stories I brought home from school and taught me how to look things up in a dictionary. To this day, I value spelling words out and writing properly - you'll never catch me using "u" for you or "r" for are even in a text message. And while I'm sure an English major could bleed all over my blog posts (they are blog posts and not polished final pieces after all), I'm careful to proofread and like to think that I can write decently enough to put thoughts together in a coherent written format with minimal typos. (Also, I want to punch things when I see you're/your, it's/its and their/there/they're get mixed up. Don't even get me started on misused apostrophes. Anyway, I get this from my mom. Thanks for teaching me to not sound like an idiot, Mom!)
Mom on ChaCha. Her beloved red VW is in the background. (Not sure when this was taken. In the 70s?)
9. There's always room for ice cream. Also, make desserts from scratch. My sweet tooth is definitely a trait I inherited from my mother. My earliest memories in the kitchen are of baking with Mom. My mom still loves to bake and so do I - it's always a battle over who gets to bring dessert to family functions! When I was a kid, Mom took a cake decorating class and she made elaborate cakes for every birthday. (The 3-D Cabbage Patch Doll cake she made for my 5th? 6th? birthday was definitely a favorite!) She always made her icing from scratch, too, and I was aghast when I learned that some of my friends' moms used icing from a container.
10. Be stubborn. Yes, this is a frustrating trait, but my mom has taught me that it's important to stand up for what you believe in. And if she calls me stubborn, I'll just tell her I get it from her!
As for her birthday, I finally convinced her to let me take her out for a sandwich and ice cream. There was no party, no balloons, no presents - just a few hours spent with my mom. We did it her way, and other than the fact that there was no caaaaaaake, it was pretty much perfect. So Mom, I'll let you keep on being a party pooper if you let me keep on avoiding my voice mails...
I love you.