Today is my mom's 75th birthday. Happy birthday Mom!
A month ago, I wrote about my dad on his 75th birthday (Oh Father Wither Thou Goest). Unlike him, I do know where my mom is. And not only do we know how to find each other, we regularly and deeply connect. We speak often. Still, you can count on her to hunt me down if I allow these connections to get spaced too far apart! In those instances, she knows that I've typically been working hard taking care of my kids, family, and home. And she deeply appreciates what this is all about.
Everyone should have a parent like my mom. In addition to being a mother, she is a friend, a teacher, and a guide. Someone who is consistently supportive and can listen without judgment. I am the man I am today, in large part because of my mom. And for this, I am profoundly grateful.
Following are a few of the gifts she has given me. Some date to my childhood. All are helpful to me to this very day. They guide my own choices and I pass them along to others as the need arises.
- "You can be whatever you want to be, if you want to be it hard enough."
- "Imagine the worst thing that could happen. Pretend it's real for a moment. Is is really so bad? Very often, it's not and you'll survive and be ok or better." (Important words for someone who has lived with generalized anxiety!)
- Learning for the sake of learning. The importance and beauty of the humanities. Lifelong education.
- Watching her transform and evolve from the devoted full-time mom to a full time college student (at 29 the oldest undergraduate at Clark University—extraordinary in the 1970's!) And then on to a accomplished, inspired career as an admired leader in adult education.
- Her passion to care for and nurture her children, partners, family, friends, colleagues, and... on more than one occasion, near strangers who would often later become good friends. Here is a persistence and dedication that goes beyond basic compassion.
In all things, there are extremes. Compassion and nurturing can drift toward a need to "fix" others. Sometimes, as hard as it is to watch, people are often best served when they can heal and evolve themselves. I saw how hard she tried to be there for my dad, and I've seen how sometimes she feels to have somehow failed me and my brothers—perhaps because she didn't help him "enough." This is just plain wrong. She did help. It would have been great to have a more fully present father and she did all that she could to encourage that. That didn't work out with him so well. But what she did do was to directly care and nurture me and my brothers in ways wonderful and loving—and that still unceasingly continue. This is her legacy and it continues forward, within me for sure, and I hope with my own children.
This legacy did not arise spontaneously. There is a great lineage of nurturing women in our family: her mom—my grandma Pauline, great grandma Rose, great aunt Helen, and many others with which I'm only vaguely familiar or not familiar at all. They are not forgotten. They reside within me. And so they carry on their good work via her. I'm honored and proud to be part of this lineage. It's a legacy that I whole-heartedly embrace.
Happy Birthday Mom! May this year be one of continued good health and of celebration!