Things My Mother Taught Me

It’s the title of a church activity coming up next week.

The little yellow flyer is trapped under magnets on my fridge. Please come with stories to share of things your Mother taught you!

At first I thought, ooh! Maybe I’ll write a listicle where I spell out all the great things Mother taught me and post it on my blog! I started trying to list them but found it impossible.

Because when I thought about the tangible things she tried to teach me, I felt like a failure. She taught me to sew, but it always seemed cheaper and easier to buy my clothes. She tried to teach me to cook, but so far I’ve ruined a lot of her recipes. I knew my mother taught me a lot, so why couldn’t I make a blog post out of her life lessons??

Recently, I read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (yes I know I am behind the times). If you haven’t read it, a) you must and b) as background, it is a memoir written by a girl who was raised by two perhaps well-meaning but incredibly negligent parents. After I finished, the friend who lent it to me asked which parent I thought was more hurtful to the kids and without any specific reason, my gut answered, “the mother.”

There is one gut-wrenching scene in which the four children are literally starving, it’s the dead of winter, they are living in a shack on a hill with no indoor plumbing or power. They have to scavenge for food while their dad continues to drink and mom stops going to work.

One evening when Dad was away and we had nothing to eat and we were all sitting around the living room trying not to think of food, Mom kept disappearing under the blanket on the sofa bed. At one point Brian looked over.

“Are you chewing something?” he asked.

“My teeth hurt,” Mom said, but she was getting all shifty-eyed, glancing around the room and avoiding our stares. “It’s my bad gums. I’m working my jaw to increase the circulation.”

Brian yanked the covers back. Lying on the mattress next to Mom was one of those huge family-sized Hershey chocolate bars, the shiny silver wrapper pulled back and torn away. She’d already eaten half of it.

I think I experienced the seven stages of grief after reading that scene. Because I do not know how one survives being raised by that mother. I do not know how that Mother is real. I am angry at her. I am sad for her? I can’t seem to understand her. Mostly, I feel guilty that I got to be raised by my mother when Jeannette Walls had to raise hers.

The scene got me thinking – what is the duty of a mother? Can it be defined?

Is it reading or cooking or knowing how to do french braids?

Is it working? Is it staying home?

And the one that always lurks under the others — will I ever feel up to the task?

In this day and age it feels as impossible as it is unwise to try to define the role — and yet there is something that seems requisite for those who occupy it — something that is the reason we are so harrowed by the thought of a mother who devours a Hershey’s bar while her children are starving.

I thought again about my Mother. How she laughs, how she always runs into friends at the grocery store, how she gardens. How everything in her presence seems to flourish. She wasn’t perfect, no one is, but I always knew she loved me — wholly and selflessly.

I thought about friends’ mothers, or aunts, or women at church, who have become second mothers to me, and it fills me with hope to realize that selfless love is not limited to a biological mother. The selfless love of dear friends has gotten me through some dark times. Jeannette Walls’ siblings love saved each other from their parents. But the truth is, they shouldn’t have had to. They should have been loved by their mother.

I cannot list the things my mother taught me — they are too thoroughly blended into my DNA. I can’t remember all the facts she told me because I don’t think in the end they were the point. I don’t think it was what she taught me so much as how. 

I can’t list out the things my mother taught me. But I do know that she loved me, and that seems like more.

 

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Baby me with Mother, back when Sunday hats were still cool

One thought on “Things My Mother Taught Me

  1. Michelle says:

    So so well written! And what a gorgeous pic of her too.

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