My mother lost her mother when she was only 16. It’s a reality I’ve been blessed to not understand, but one that so many others do. This Mother’s Day, my mother wrote to her mom, shares the lessons passed on in the short time they were together and reflects that she is never really without her mom.
Been thinking of you lately as my daughters grow older and become young women themselves. I was never a woman with you, always a child, and the baby at that. So these women whom I love and consider the best of friends are also the women I raised. What a blessing to be able to raise your best friends.
I’ve spent a lot of years, too many really, believing that I raised these girls all by myself. I can’t tell you – am embarrassed to tell you – how many times I said, “Well, I didn’t have a mom at this age, so I don’t know what I am doing. I’m all alone with this.” How sad that I told that story so many times that I came to believe it. And my daughters came to believe that nothing I was giving them came from their grandmother.
When in fact, the truth is that so much of who they are comes from the woman you raised for sixteen years.
Your primary goal in child rearing was to raise your children to be independent. I never knew why this was so important to you because out of you and your seven siblings you were the only one who left San Francisco and your father’s flourishing business to live independently (in the country at that) with your husband and your family. You were the baby and a rebel.
I am your baby. Of the six of us, I am the only college graduate. Grandma never understood why I moved three thousand miles from home to go to college when we lived in a college town, but I knew I needed to leave the family to find myself, much like you did.
I have very independent children. No “twenty-thirty somethings” living on my couch. It wasn’t a goal I set as a mother, to raise independent children; it was more of an obvious outcome. How else would one raise kids? Why would one not want them to be independent?
Developing a strong sense of self I learned from you. I just passed it on.
When Elizabeth, my oldest, was very young, her second-grade teacher asked me if I was concerned that she was “so headstrong; too sure of herself.” At first, I was confused. How could a young child be too sure of herself? Then I realized that a strong sense of self was foreign to this woman. She lived and walked in shadows at a distance. A young girl who walked in her own light was unknown to her. This was the first lesson in what would become my mantra through my girls’ teens and twenties:
You live in a man’s world, you can never be too strong.
My favorite picture of my second daughter Catherine is one when she was seven. She is sitting on the grass, sidelined from a soccer practice again by her father, her coach. Her face is red and tight, and her eyes are focused on the game going on without her. This is not the first time she’s been sent off the practice field. When I asked my husband why he did that, he explained by saying things like: “she was always arguing with the rules, playing too hard, wanting to win above all else. I told she could come back when she could play nice.”
So twenty years later when he looks at the picture, he sees defiance and a rebel. What I see are strength and power; a little girl who knew what was worth fighting for. Catherine knew from a young age she had to play hard to be a winner, and since then, she’s always been willing to do the work.
“Regardless of how liberated or free or educated a woman is, she is still a woman and will have to fight hard, play hard, every day to hold on to her sense of self.”
Mom, that lesson came from you! You taught me that I was as important as my brothers. You never made me walk in shadows. You called me “Bold as Brass.” I’m not sure it was a good thing at the time, but you let me be strong.
I was thrown out of my history class in eighth grade. You weren’t happy but you understood. The teacher said he couldn’t teach because I was constantly asking for clarity and wanted to debate. I spent the year sitting in an algebra class working independently. That same year my science teacher called me arrogant. I didn’t know what it meant, and as all teachers do, he told me to look it up. Now I understand connotation and denotation, but my fourteen-year-old-self did not, so being “overly proud of oneself or one’s own opinions” sounded like a compliment.
You told me then that in life there will always be people that you just don’t get along with, these, you said are called “personality conflicts.”
You let me suffer the consequences of being a headstrong girl; too sure of herself. I just passed it on.
You also taught me the importance of girlfriends. This discussion came when I was fourteen and you were trying to talk me out of being in love with my brother’s eighteen-year-old friend. We talked dating and boys and sex and babies—you know, the ‘talk.’ Yet, what I remember most was you telling me never to break a date with a girlfriend because of a boy. And because of this, I have fierce women in my life. And my daughters have meaningful relationships with women. Their tribes are made up of cousins and girlfriends who support and empower them, and even more importantly, make them laugh.
You told me boyfriends will come and go, but your girlfriends can be family. So, I passed it on.
Mom, I feel like after all these years I need to apologize. I really haven’t given you much credit. I am you, I have become you through my daughters. How I missed that, I don’t know?
I spent so much time working on “becoming my own woman” that I didn’t know the work was done. You set me on my path, all I had to do was follow it.
I am strong, independent, intelligent, educated and a bit of a rebel. All this comes from you.
I just passed it on.
And before I say goodbye, for now, I will never forget that night we had the “talk” because you also told me I got my great legs from you. I can assure you, I just passed that on too.
Your baby girl
*Featured Image: Kate T. Parker Photography, Strong Is The New Pretty Collection