Mom and Me

A Shared Life

Wow. I definitely landed on the last syllable of my weekly-ish newsletter this time around. It’s been about a month now, but at least that ish represents something good: after all these years, I am happy to say that I finally know myself well enough to avoid adding unneeded pressure to my life. After all, this whole writing gig thing is supposed to be refreshing.

The main reason I missed a couple of weekly marks is that I was away at a lake house with my entire immediate family resting, reading, talking, laughing, cooking, eating, recollecting, holding little infants, entertaining a two-year-old, and giving thanks that we all went in and came out healthy. And, as anyone who has ever taken a vacation (which I hope is all of you) knows, there is the prep and catch-up time, which for me, fell on the days I would normally be doing most of my writing. The non-main reasons are many, which I will not bore you with.

Regardless, there is no use looking back. Here I am now, four weeks later, not beating myself up, but ready to embark on either my last or my second-to-last installment of that Jack (Jill) of all trades, master of none theme. After that, who knows?

In my first two newsletters, I introduced you to both a Jack of all trades and a master of one. My grandfather, and I’m sure at least one person you know, was a quintessential Jack of all trades. My piano teacher, Mrs. B., may have had other skills I know not of; all I know is that she was a devoted master of the piano. I also briefly introduced you to my mom, whom I said I might write a little more about this week-ish, with her permission, which I have not gotten yet but will by the time I finish.

The older I get, the more I think about my mom and the many ways she has influenced my life, and the more connected I feel to her. Hers has been a subtle influence, one that was cultivated behind the scenes, allowed to grow even when unnoticed and unappreciated, woven through the fabric of my many practices and choices, and valued more with each passing year. It shows up in the way I think about motherhood, in the way I boil eggs, in the way I used to dust the furniture before someone else started dusting it for me, in the way I think about getting older. It is an intangible connection of sorts — that mother-daughter thing — one that I know is not everyone’s experience, and yet, I am thankful that it has been mine.

Mom, as I will and do call her, and I share many of the same traits. I guess it’s that DNA thing since technically I am one half her, in a weird sort of way. DNA, of course, isn’t quite that straight forward, which explains why we are also quite different in many ways and yet still so connected.

Speaking of DNA, you know how there is that one person in every family who is the genealogy guru and consolidator of all records – the kind of person you go to when you finally get the urge to dip into your family history? In our family, that person is Mom. She has folders and folders of genetic information from pre-internet to the present. She built our family tree on Ancestry from scratch, investing hours and hours into gathering clues and uncovering connections. She laid the groundwork for people like me, one of those aforementioned dippers, to make discoveries and find connections of our own.

Yes, I am a dipper and a devoted one when I want to be. I have actually done more dipping than usual over the past few years and, very uncharacteristically, joined a society formed around an ancestor who lived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Now I feel connected to distant cousins everywhere! This ancestor, from Mom’s line as it just so happens, led a very eventful life and, apparently, was a hard-working Jack of all trades and master of many, something that was characteristic of many Huguenots of his day. He wrote his memoirs to ensure that future generations would not forget the family stories — the story of God’s hand in both his own life and the lives of his forebears. I can pretty much guarantee that you will hear more about him and ancestry and genealogy and connections in future editions.

It’s not that I couldn’t devote my time to years and years of ancestral research and record-keeping if I really wanted to. It’s just that what Mom can joyfully and steadily keep moving along, I would turn into a full-time stressful project and not be happy until I was finished with it, which would never be the case. I would want to find my way back to Adam and Eve, or I guess if I got back to Noah, I could figure out the rest from there. But I am proud to say that I share some of Mom’s DNA and some of her interest in everything DNA.

The beginning of Mom’s and my DNA connection all began when Mom met my dad (aka Dad) in 1960 while employed at an Air Force base in a border town near the southernmost tip of Texas. She was working as a secretary, and he, when not engaging in pilot training, was flirting with her and trying to convince her that he was the guy she wanted to go out with. That is not surprising since she was absolutely gorgeous (I think she still is). They were married when she was 18 and he 22, and the first three of us (the big kids) arrived by the time she was 21. Although this was not that unusual back in the day, I still find it a bit mind-blowing and heroic, especially since she managed seven or eight moves in a five-year period and Dad was away for three long assignments in Germany during those years. When I was five, once he became a commercial airline pilot for TWA, we moved to Kansas City and settled down. Mom continued to hold down the fort during the times he was away, which, of course, was often given his career.

In many ways, I have followed in Mom’s footsteps, just in my own style and at my own pace. We are both firstborns — she as an only child for four years, and I for a brief 17 months. We both went to college in Mississippi — she for a semester before moving to Texas, and I for three and a half years to finish my degree. We both ventured into Latin America — she when it was easy to get across the border and was a fun place to hang out, and I when I moved to Honduras to work as a missionary after college. We both got married and had five children — three big kids and two little kids — she between the ages of 19 and 27 and I between the ages of (almost) 27 and 42. The slightly uncanny thing is that my siblings and I were all born in either March or August, and my first three were born in the exact same order as the first three of us … March, August, August. But while the difference between my two August babies was two years, the difference between her two was less than a year. More heroism. My last two were born in June, just in case anyone is wondering.

Mom and I both chose to be full-time stay-at-home parents for the majority of our children’s younger years — she in a time when to do otherwise was often frowned upon, and I in a time when to do otherwise was considered a higher calling. To be clear, I don’t have a problem with women working outside the home or with dads staying home to be the primary caregiver. There are a multitude of ways to love and care for our children, and every family needs to decide what works best for them. This is simply my personal story, and it just so happens that growing up with a stay-at-home mom instilled a desire in me to one day be one myself. And that says a lot about Mom.

Mom was a master Jill of all trades. She could fix every boo-boo, answer any question, sew needed costumes, lead Cub Scout and Girl Scout troops, organize swim meets, shuttle kids to events near and far, coach girls’ soccer teams, counsel distraught teenagers, solve any conundrum, grow or revive any plant, tame wild animals, and care for multiple breeds of domesticated ones, including her children. This is just the beginning of the list. Mom was devoted, steady, and organized. But she was also go-with-the-flow.

This, as in my last newsletter, is shared from my kid’s-eye view. I knew a little then and know even better now that she didn’t always feel devoted, steady, and organized. She walked through periods of everyday stress and times of crisis. But the heroic part of it all is that she kept moving, not because she was trying to be a superhero master mom, but because she was honest and real and modeled for me the need to learn how to handle life’s stressors.

Unlike Mom, I did enter parenting wanting to be a superhero master mom. This was partly due to cultural influences and partly due to my personality. As a young adult, I went through a bit of a critique-y fault-finding phase where I looked back on my childhood and thought of ways that I wished my parents would have done things differently. Looking back on that looking back time, I think I was somewhat arrogant and naive, but I also think evaluation and analysis are a normal part of growing up.

As an older adult, I have passed through a bit of a critique-y phase of my own parenting. I think that is also natural. The reality is that I did do some things differently than Mom did, but I also did many things the same way and wish I would have done more, mostly that I would have relaxed and been more go-with-the-flow myself instead of stressing out so much. Then again, we bring ourselves into our parenting — the superheroes that we know we are not. I took me. But I am glad I had that me with the bit of Mom to take with me, too.

Even though Mom taught me a lot about handling stress, I was slow in taking her advice. One day, when I was around half a century old, it suddenly dawned on me that just sitting on my front porch with a glass of tea or wine (depending on the time of day) and listening to the birds sing, the bullfrogs croak, and the crickets chirp could revive me more than I knew. When I took the time to do that, I thought of Mom and how she used to escape to the backyard for about a half-hour in the afternoons and sit on a lounge chair with a book and just chill. I also thought of the refreshment she would get from gardening and how she loved to spend any time she could doing one yard project or another.

This is where Mom’s and my paths digress. I have tried gardening, and it just does not have the same effect on my soul. Working outdoors is stress relief for her and stress-inducing for me. It is a project that is never finished, just like genealogy research, and even when it is tackled to a satisfactory manner, it is always screaming at me that there is more work to do. Then, when I try to rest, I notice all of the work that needs to be done and feel like I should be pulling weeds. Alas. I am still working on enjoying the process of life and not just the sense of accomplishment from doing. I won’t be surprised if one day I evolve into a gardener, too. I continue to learn from Mom.

While I wait for that evolutionary moment, I still find a connected-ness in the ways we are similar. Mom and I both love the outdoors. I have found other ways to enjoy being outside, like taking long walks and going on drives through the countryside while drinking a latte. It is during these times that I often think of Mom and give her a call. And I also really do have a yard affinity. While mom loves working in the yard, I love sitting outside in yards that someone has already worked. There is nothing quite as refreshing as relaxing on Mom’s back patio with a cup of tea or a glass of wine (depending on the time of day), surrounded by her beautiful garden that she maintains without feeling the stress of making it perfect. It is her hobby. Just like writing is supposed to be mine.

And that is why I am finishing this weekly-ish edition telling myself once more that it is okay to write once a month or every other week or twice a week. I promise I won’t write you every day, though.

Oh, and I have just decided that this is my second-to-last installment on the Jack (Jill) of all trades topic and not my last. I ran out of space and didn’t want this to become the first edition of The Way Too Long of It. After all, how can I be expected to write one article about a person who literally introduced me to life, launched me into adulthood, and is one of my closest friends?

I can’t.

Thanks for reading! Tune in next week for more on what I intended to write this week but got side-tracked: more reflections from a non-expert parent’s-eye view on Jacks, Jills, and masters. And a little bit more about Mom and Mom’s mom.

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