Monday, May 9, 2011


So, yesterday was Mother's Day, and I meant to write a post about it, but as it turns out I am a very very forgetful person a lot of the time. I just have to say that I probably have one of the best Mom's in the history of Mom's. I mean, I am not a Mom Scientist by any means, but mine is pretty awesome. I was thinking about her yesterday, and all the bullshit she's had to put up with raising my sisters and I, and I realized how amazing it is that she was able to pull us all into adulthood while still retaining some semblance of sanity. As I thought about my mother, and the job she did raising me, I also realized that most of where I am, and who I am, as an adult can be credited to her and the way she approached motherhood. I then thought what better way to honor my mother but to give examples of how her approach to motherhood has molded me. My mom's approach to motherhood can be reduced down three key elements: lying, nagging, and letting her children fail at things. I know what you're thinking - this sounds pretty awful - but the truth is that all three of these elements have played a major role in my growth into adulthood. I may not have liked her application of these elements when I was younger, but I can tell you, as an adult, I love her for them.

01. Lying - Yes, my mother lied to me, and she did it all the time. And guess did yours. Some would say this makes my mother, or your mother, awful, but in truth, I love my mom for it. I'm a firm believer that: a) some people (especially kids) don't always need to know the truth about something; and b) that if you can lie to someone and get good behavior out of them then it's not a horrible thing.

On the first point, I believe kids should be kids. It's alright to speak to a child like they're an adult, and in some aspects treat the like an adult, but you should always remember they aren't adults. Truth can be a harsh thing, and there are many adults who can't even cope with it. A child's biggest fear should be getting their homework done and deciding whether they want chocolate milk or Kool-Aid with their cookies. So when reality hits the home, and hits it hard, parents, for the most part, should lie to their children, or at the very least bend the truth.

When I was a kid, and in the hospital, I knew I wasn't just sick. I was really sick, and what I was going through was serious. But even in my situation, which was pretty dire, I never knew the extent of my illness. I knew I had Leukemia, and I knew the tests and procedures I had to go through were supposed to help me get better. Beyond that, I didn't know much, and whenever I saw my mom and dad all I saw on their faces was strength...not fear. After my bone-marrow transplant, and throughout the years of my remission, my mother (and my father too) never let me think I couldn't do something, and they never let me think I was any different than any other kid on the playground. The truth is that all of this was a lie. When I first got sick my situation was so dire that my likelihood of surviving a year was very small (like under 10%). And after the transplant, and remission, and miracles I was different than the other kids...a lot different.

Were these such horrible lies for my mother (and father) to perpetuate? What if they had told me I was going to die as a child? Should they have treated me as different and put me in classes with the different kids? I love my mother (and father) for maintaining these lies. If I would have known at six that I was probably going to die then I probably would have given up right then and there. As it was, I had a childhood (be it a weird one). I played with my toys, and drew pictures, and read books, and laughed like a child who is unaware of the wolves that surround him. And as for believing myself to be no different than the kids at my school...well, that's translated to my life a thousand times over. Who knows if I would have had the drive to go to college, or get a job, or move out on my own, or end up in law school if this lie hadn't been perpetuated on my behalf. Yes, sometimes lies aren't so bad, and my mother knew this.

As for the second point, here is a story for you. When I was three years old I had spent the afternoon at my grandma's house. When my mom got their to pick me up I was in the middle of playing with building blocks. She told me I needed to pick up my blocks and get ready to go. I didn't want to, and a power struggle ensued. After some arguing my mother told me if I didn't pick up the blocks she was going to call the Mean Farm and they were going to come and haul me off.

Before I go on some background - The Mean Farm was a made up place my mom routinely referred to when she wanted us to do something like pick up clothes, or toys, or whatever. Also, at this age I had an irrational fear of dump trucks, and had once asked if there were dump trucks at the mean farm. Mom, knowing my fear of dump trucks just frowned and said, "All over the place." So, the Mean Farm was something that struck fear in my 3 year old head.

Normally, the idea of going to the Mean Farm would scare the hell out of me, but today I was going to be brave, and decided to resist. So my mother picked up the phone and dialed (what I didn't know is that she was calling her friend Starla who was routinely the receptionist at the Mean Farm. Starla thought my mother was horrible for doing this).

"Hello," Mom said. "Is this the Mean Farm? Yeah, we got a little boy here that won't pick up his blocks. You want to talk to him. Okay."

Mom handed me the phone. "Hello?"

"Little boy," said the gruff voice. "You pick up those blocks and mind your mother or we're going to come get you!"

So of course I pictured the Mean Farm people coming to haul me off in a big scary dump truck, and that was enough to get me to pick up my blocks. It would be years before I would defy my mother again.

02. Nagging - I think we can all agree that mom's nag...and nag...and nag...and nag until the point that we don't think we can take it anymore. Throughout my life I endured a barrage of nags ranging from "Did you take the trash out like I told you?" to "How in the hell do you lose a pair of shoes? How does that even happen?" And my god did I hate it! I hated all of it! I rolled my eyes, huffed, groaned, and sarcastically answered each nagging question (which always resulted in a glare that could cut a diamond). One nag in particular that I always hated was "Be sure to take a jacket." My mom always told me to be sure and take a jacket with me wherever I was going. I could've been going to see a movie on the sun, and my mom would say, "Be sure to take a jacket with you." A jacket? Really, Mom? Surely she must have realized how much of a hassle a jacket is to carry around, especially if you're going somewhere heated. I would debate her on this issue until the cows came home, but she would always shake her head and say, "You never know what the weather is going to be like. Get a jacket."

Once, I remember fighting her on the jacket issue until I bore her down. "The weather never does what you think it's going to do, and there I am, the only idiot with a jacket." "Fine," she responded, "go without. I don't care." As you might guess, the one time I did not take a jacket with me to where I was going was the one time a sudden cold snap popped up out of nowhere, and I yearned for my jacket. When I got home from my plans, my mother knew what had happened, but she didn't say anything. She just cracked this wise ass grin and asked me if I had a good time. From that point on I never went anywhere without a jacket, and I still don't. Now, at an older age I realize that when my mother told me to take a jacket with me she was really telling me to always be prepared. I really think this idea of being prepared is the essence of motherly nagging, and when we're young we just fail to see it.

03. Set Up For Failure - When I was ten years old I told my mom I had some clothes that needed washing. Up until I was that age she had done my laundry. She looked at me and told me to do it myself. I'd never done laundry before, and when I told her I didn't know how, she asked me if I could read, and if I could follow directions. When I answered yes then she said, "Well, the directions are on the washer for what to do. You can figure it out." She told me to be sure to separate everything into colors - jeans, darks, lights, whites, etc. I'd seen mom do this separation thing a million times, but it always seemed like a lot of effort. My load wasn't that big? Why waste all that water and soap on several small loads? Well my underwear turned pink and so did some of my socks, and when I told my mom about it she said, "Yeah, that's why you have to separate things." This is just one of a whole laundry list (no pun intended) of things my mother has let me fail at. There have been several things I've cooked that have ended in failure and several activities I've tried that have ended in failure, and my mom has let me try to do each thing my way first before offering advice. This simple gesture on her part has probably prepared me for life better than anything for a couple of reasons.

First, it's made me more open minded. I'm not so stubborn that I won't entertain the advice of someone else. I know that I'm fallible enough that the way I think something should be done might not be the best way for something to be done. I can take someone's advice, look at it rationally, and decide if it's something I want to do or not. A lot of people have a problem doing this, and I'm willing to bet it's because their mother's were quick to offer advice and less willing for their children to fail. Failure is actually a good thing, which takes me to my second point. If you're always used to success and have never failed then you're probably miserable. No one gets the right answer every time and not everyone can hit a home run every time they step to the plate. No one gets an A on every test, and no one gets something on the first try. Failure is what we learn from, and success is what we enjoy. This is something I've been able to glean from a simple gesture by my mother, and it's probably the greatest lesson I've ever learned.

In closing, I leave you with the image of the baby sea turtle crawling toward the sea. Its mother, like all mothers, has tried her best to give her offspring the strength to get passed the circling birds and into the bosom of the ocean.

Our world is a world of circling birds. My mother nagged, lied, and let me fail into strength, and now I am in the ocean, and I love her for it. To all the current and future mothers out there, try taking a page from Lindy Gipson's book on mothering. Your kids might just love you for it later.

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