A Mother’s Legacy
“That’s what you live your whole life for–to make her happy.”
From as early as I can remember, I have memories of my mother coming in the room late at night, kissing me and praying when I should have been dead asleep. I don’t remember many of the specifics about the prayers, but I remember the fact that she was praying for me. Pretty much my whole childhood was spent on the road. My sister and I made pallets in the backseats of cars. Sometimes, when our car was big enough, we would lay the seats down so that we could lay flat–we thought it was so cool that half our bodies would then officially be in the trunk of the car. My mother worried about making us comfortable: we had more pillows than any queen ever dreamt of, she constantly worried that we were cold–so we had thick covers whether we were in a large house or sleeping in the car as it rolled along some random interstate. At the time, I remember being comfortable, but I don’t remember particularly appreciating it. Today, I do. The level of comfort she worked hard to provide under difficult circumstances make the memories tolerable. We moved too often to have a steady church. We would go when we could–whenever we were in a town long enough to find one. But, really, we went a lot more. Instead of being in a classroom full of ten other children, instead of worrying more about what the children in the room were doing, our Bible class more often than not took place on a bed. Mama would gather us up together, pray, then open the Bible. We would take turns reading passages from it, but after each of us read a passage, she’d explain it. I don’t recall any of the stories in particular being life-altering at the time. What I do remember is learning that my mother strongly believed in a good and loving and powerful and worthwhile God. What I do remember is realizing that she thought it important for me to know the Bible and for me to believe it. Her faith laid the foundation for my own, and it has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.
One day, when I was about nine years old, I finished reading one of The Baby-Sitters’ Club books. I don’t remember which one it was. But, as I finished it, I clearly remember thinking to myself, “Hey, I can do this! I can write a book.” Without thinking much more about it, I wrote a book. It was called “Mickey’s Great Adventure.” It followed the only formula I knew: that of The Baby-Sitters’ Club. It had a group of friends and the series would follow each of the friends’ lives. It wasn’t the first book I wrote–a year or two previously, I’d written a short story entitled, “Sweet Shelby.” But the Mickey book was different–and I knew it. All of a sudden, I had a calling. I was going to be a writer. I grabbed the list of names and my idea and I raced downstairs. Mama was in the kitchen, cooking, and I excitedly told her all about how I was going to write a book, and it’s character was going to be called Mickey and it would be kind of like The Baby-Sitters’ Club except they wouldn’t baby-sit. I stood and told her. I was very excited, I remember that.
And she told me it was a good idea, and that she wanted to read it. She got excited along with me. She could have told me that I needed a better idea. She could have told me that I was only nine years old and that real writers worked from outlines. She could have suggested I do something else instead. She could have said any number of things. But, instead, she got excited for me. Her excitement fed mine and I was on a high. Write that book, I did. And for the next year or two, I wrote Mickey books constantly. They weren’t very good. In fact, I can’t hardly read them at all now because they sound silly to me. But without the Mickey series I wouldn’t have wrote The Character. Without my mom’s encouragement, I probably wouldn’t have written anything at all. But her encouragement didn’t stop with the Mickey series. From that moment on, she became kind of like my ghost writer. She stayed up with me, helping me brainstorm lists of characters’ names. When there were holes in my plot, she helped me come up with clever twists that filled them in. She let me read from my books to her. She brought me new pads of paper every couple of days, even when she didn’t have the money to do so. Once, after listening to me complain that I wanted someone who would read the books and tell me how to fix them, she read one of my books and wrote down real feedback in the margins for me. Later, when I was in school and I couldn’t miss a day, she went and sat through a seminar for the chance to show my work to a publisher.
Mama didn’t have many set rules but the one that I clearly remember is that my sister and I were not allowed to fight, not under any circumstances. If we fought, we both got in trouble. We would sit on the bed and listen to her tell us how we were each other’s best friends and we would not fight. Period. Today, I can’t even express how grateful I am for that rule. She helped strengthen the bond my sister and I already had but it also taught us how to settle disputes ourselves (before they could be discovered!)
When a teacher hurt my feelings and made it her life’s ambition to make me miserable, my mom confronted her. When an angry bully made my sister and I terrified to walk outside, Mama made it stop. She imparted a legacy of family, faith and stability that are the rocks of my life today–and the gifts that I knew I had to give my own children. But, above all, what she gave was the belief that I was loved. It would have been ridiculously easy for my sister and I to grow to adulthood believing that no one loved us. It would have been really, crazy easy for us to believe that we were alone. But we weren’t alone–and we knew it. Instead, we were each one third of the Three Musketeers: Mama, Mandi and me. What happened to one affected the other two. We learned that, above everything else, even if everything else and everyone else failed us, we’d still be able to rely on each other.
These days, there are self-help books for the self-help books that tell us how to parent. How much TV to watch before it kills their brain cells (I watched television most of the day and I think I survived). Did you know that baths are good — unless you’re a small child and then too much water (and soap) can actually cause your skin to dry out so, while you do have to give your kid a bath, you can’t give her a bath every day (who knew?) Video games are the same thing as TV and should be limited. You have to eat homemade dinners together every night or the kid is going to suffer irreparable confidence and self esteem damage. You’re supposed to praise the child—but too much praise is bad. It is exhausting. I feel like I need a schedule for my schedule for my schedule. Sometimes it’s ironic because my mom didn’t have the opportunity to do many of those things—we weren’t in the same town long enough to find extra curricular activities, TV was family time (Unsolved Mysteries, Rescue 9-11 and that old western show with the four cute cowboys on it were bonding experiences). But we knew we were loved. Every home we moved into, my mom decorated, even though I’m sure it was disheartening at times, decorating while simultaneously wondering how long we’d even be in that house.
The bottom line is that we knew we were loved. And, because of that, despite extraordinary circumstances, circumstances that are difficult for most people to comprehend or even believe, my sister and I both turned out just fine. Mama is the one who gave us that gift. She really has spent her whole adult life working hard to make sure that Mandi and I are happy. Every decision she makes is because she truly believes that it’s in our best interests. She is one of the most self-less people I know. Or maybe it’s just that she is a mother who genuinely cares about and loves her children.
Breathe Hayleyann, February 23, 2004, 1:09 p.m., 7 lbs, 0 ounces. I thought I knew what love was before Breathe was born—but I really didn’t. I couldn’t believe that such a beautiful and sweet baby was really mine. I could hold her whenever I wanted. When she cried, she would stop, if I picked her up. She wiggled when she looked at lights. She was fascinated by shows like JoJo’s Circus; we read “Goodnight Moon” every single night. Today, seven years later, she is still the joy of my life. She sings better than I do. She is smarter than I am. And when she is really happy, she talks to “her kids”. She will stomp her foot and laugh so hard her eyes close. She loves her stuffed animals. She is a beautifully gifted teacher already. She is genuinely close to God. She thirsts for knowledge–education and spiritual. She is my friend.
Alight Bella-Grace. January 15, 2007, 4:27pm. 1/2 ounce shy of being 8 lbs. She is spirited, she is soft spoken. She is funny. She is beautiful. She makes lists of her favorite rides at Beech Bend. She is a thrill seeker–she wants to go as fast on rides as she can. She loves her older sister. She is gifted at gymnastics and using her hands. She is a snuggle bunny. She is precious.
These two girls are the center of my universe now, and have taught me more about the definition of love.
Every year, I buy my girls Breathe and Alight presents for Mother’s Day. It is a sweet tradition. I do it for a lot of reasons. One, I wouldn’t be a mother without them. Two, it’s my way of showing them that, as much as they might respect and appreciate me, I also appreciate them. I make it a day that’s more to celebrate family as a whole than me as a mother. It’s unusual, yes. But it’s something specific that, I hope, demonstrates the love I feel for them.
I write lots of letters to them that, one day, when they read them, I hope will cement the knowledge that I thought of them every day, constantly, and that they are the greatest gifts of my life. I volunteer to teach their classes at church. I am as active as I can be in their lives. Some might say I should step back, and let them walk a little alone. Some might say lots of things. But I hope that I’m forming that unshakeable knowledge that I will always be here for them, unconditionally. I could drive myself nuts worrying over statistics and whether or not I’ve traumatized them by not being as strictly consistent as Super Nanny would have me be. At the end of the day, though, I read to them for an hour, let them treat me like a jungle gym, give Elephant rides on my back, spin them around in the air and chase them like monkeys through the house because I believe that the greatest gift I can offer them is my time.
I am fortunate. Unlike my mom, I don’t have to worry about whether or not they will get to eat a good dinner tonight. I know they’re warm enough. They may have more than they really use, but they have everything they need. Mama is the one who taught me that the best mothers are those whose lives are often overshadowed by their children’s. That’s because good mothers want their children to shine instead of them–good mother’s greatest joy comes from watching their child blossom in happiness. When Breathe is bubbling over with excitement, I am excited. When Alight is going “bonking crazy”, time stops for me until all I care about is watching her. When one of them does something they are proud of, and I know they are proud of themselves, a small piece of my heart relaxes in joy. I wake up with two miracles every day. My mother showed me how precious a life is, how pure children are and how rewarding mothering can be. She taught me to never take anything for granted, to slow down and that there are things that are way more important than transient things like money, cars or anything else material. She taught me that emotion drives our lives and that our emotions are influenced by those closest to us–our parents. It is a heavy responsibility knowing that you’re able to determine whether your children are confident or not—but it is also exciting. Part of the happiest time of life for me is in preparing the games and activities that I hope will one day remind them that nothing was more important to me than spending time with them.
When my oldest daughter was born, I felt a bit panicked because I didn’t know how to braid hair. I also hate make-up, and never wear it. I remember looking at this perfect, beautiful little girl and thinking, “I have to learn how to braid hair like Mama.” When I decided to home school her, I thought, “Oh boy, I have to learn how to do math correctly.” I can now successfully braid her hair and, mercifully, she doesn’t need my help with make-up: they are both quite good at applying all sorts of beautifulness to their faces. I do some of the same things as Mama–but not everything. Some things are different. That used to bother me but, what I’m learning, is that the details aren’t as important as the ultimate lesson. It’s okay that I am not a fan of the TV, and don’t rely on it throughout the day — not because the experts say so but because it’s one way for me to ensure they have memories of me playing with them.
Each mother is different.
Each mother has a different vision for her child.
But each mother is the same too.
Each genuine mother sees her child grown, independently making decisions on her own and happy. The details may be different but the goal is the same: show, tell and show again that your love is real and lasting. Believe in God. Believe in family. Believe in a new day. And there is no such thing as saying “I love you” too much. There’s a scripture that says, “train your child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Time comes and goes, circumstances change, wings spread a little further but the foundation doesn’t change. You remember those who truly love you. You seek to understand them. You try to emulate them. You appreciate them in ways too powerful to describe with words. And then you take the love that was sowed into you and you carefully plant it in your own children, hoping that one day, your love, as your mother’s love did for you, helps them soar like eagles.