My first and best teacher was my mother, and nearly fifteen years after her death, I am still blessed every day by what she taught me. This week, as another Mother’s Day without her approaches, I’m particularly grateful for three lessons.
When my mother was in hospice, the chaplain asked in one of his visits, “Have you told your mother you love her?” He added, “Later it will be important to you that you said the words.” My sister, my brother, and I smiled because every day we said “I love you.” Saying the words came as naturally to us as saying “Good morning.”
From our earliest memories through the vicissitudes of adolescence through leaving home and starting lives and on into our middle years, Mother had shown her love for us with hugs and kisses and verbal assurances that we were loved. Through her example, we were taught that an “I love you” could add to the joy of a celebration, ease the sting of a disappointment, instill the courage to persevere, and heal the wounds inflicted by an indifferent world. She taught us that love was a verb defined by actions, but she understood that the words mattered too. She gave both words and actions unstintingly.
Evidence that her legacy lives on in a fourth generation surrounds me as I look at a get-well card with a three-inch-high “I Love You” handmade by an almost thirteen-year-old whose drama queen antics can drive the family crazy, hear a hearty “I love you” as a phone conversation ends with an eleven-year-old who’s more into video games and baseball than phone chats, and am punched in the heart by a three-year-old who signs “I love you” before she races out to tackle the world. The woman whose last words were “I love you” would be pleased with her descendants.
When I think of my mother, I see her smiling. Sometimes when a family gathering erupts in giggles and guffaws over an oft-repeated story, I think I hear the echo of her laughter.
One reason I love rereading Georgette Heyer’s books is that they evoke the memories of laughing with my mother over particular scenes. She laughed often and loudly over romantic comedies, children’s funny ways, and life’s absurdities. She laughed at herself. Even in the last months of her life, in moments of increasingly rare lucidity, she’d recognize a preposterous idea she’d held and laugh. “A merry heart doeth good” was one of her favorite sayings, and oh the good her merry heart did family and friends.
She belonged to a generation of women that prided themselves on dust-free houses and stain-free collars and to a family of house-proud women, but Mother was always willing to forget the housework long enough to play hide-and-go-seek in the back yard, to listen to a child’s account of a doll’s disaster, a teacher’s accolade, a run batted in, or to dry the tears caused by a skinned knee or a broken heart.
Her mother was scandalized when Mother began using cake mixes for her every day baking rather than using the time-consuming recipes that had been used by her grandmother and her grandmother’s mother. But Mother relished the time such shortcuts gave her—time to read a book, to visit with a friend, to count the stars. One of her favorite aphorisms was “Yesterday’s a canceled check; tomorrow’s a promissory note. Today is cash in hand.” I’m grateful for all the todays she gave me.
What lessons do you most value from your mother? What do you most want to teach your children?
Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms!