My beautiful Mom celebrates her 80th birthday today.
She was raised on the Saskatchewan prairies during the Depression, when families who needed $16 a week managed on $10. That environment made her believe people shouldn’t spend their hard-earned money on her, even though she consistently denies herself necessities in order to give Christmas money to kids, grandkids and great-grands.
It pretty much drives me crazy.
It isn’t that I don’t admire her selflessness, for I do. It’s just that every time I try to give her something, she’ll respond with a variation of, “Oh no, dear, don’t do that, you haven’t enough money.” This may or may not be true, but having survived more than half a century myself, I feel I have earned the right and responsibility to manage my own budget. No matter how many times we’ve discussed it, Mom can’t let that feeling go.
As kids we, too, lived in small-town Saskatchewan. Mom remembers those days fondly, wishing she’d never had to give it up for bigger city job-transfers that caused our move to the province next door. She thrived in that environment, it seemed. It suited her personality where everyone knew her, and she delighted in knowing the goings-on of everyone else. It is one of several ways in which we are different. I am more private, more introverted than she is, and small-city living suits me.
Yet we have much in common. Christmas and birthdays, gift-giving and music. Mom knows all the lyrics to anything Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, I’m sure. She loves to dance, whereas I like to watch.
She can be fierce, and I can match it. That doesn’t always serve us well if we’re facing off against each other, but it has helped us both survive other circumstances. I’m proud of her.
Many years ago I had the task of giving a speech to honour my parents. I sent them a series of questions that included things like, “What was your first impression?” (Mom thought Dad looked like a married Hutterite who talked too loud and too much, whereas Dad wrote that she was “Not a bad looking babe”).
The last question was, “Is there anything you regret?” At first, neither answered, but the next day Mom sent back a life-altering response.
“Actually,” she said, “I wish I’d earned more respect.”
There is an abundance of wisdom in those six sadness-tinged words. Whether she intended it to or not, they have formed the most important lesson Mom has taught me. Simply by virtue of her position as my mother, I feel she deserves my respect, but respect offered to a position isn’t the same as respect earned. By writing those words, Mom-the-person earned it fully.
Honest words are seldom easy.
Every person makes mistakes in life. It’s unfair to expect it to be any other way, either of ourselves or of others. Mistakes will be made, and we must offer grace when faced with them. We do the best we can with what we know at the time and though we all have the days we wish we could have back, it’s what we do next that matters most. I believe Mom was reminding me that how I live my life will be reflected back in the way others treat me.
It isn’t all on them. It has to start with me, with making choices my soul can live with.
The challenge of course, is that my choices are often not hers. Tis a good thing indeed that respect can overcome conflict.
When I married my husband, a four-year-old guest confused Mom for me and was momentarily upset. She thought the bride would be wearing white instead of purple. It remains one of my favourite wedding-day memories, for Mom looked especially beautiful that day.
Occasionally I hear myself speak and inwardly groan. Of all the things I never thought I’d say…and here I was, sounding just like her. Other days, especially when I’m trying to string Christmas tinsel as she does, and sending out birthday cards or remembering how important it is to care for people, I hear her whispering near my shoulder.
Mirror Mirror on the wall–I am my Mother, after all. I hope I always keep the best of her as part of me.
Happy birthday, Mom. I love you.