Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

I had originally written this for Women's History Month but decided it would be more appropriate for Mother's Day.

I consider my relationship with my mom to be somewhat unique. We have always been close, even through those "difficult teen years" we did not have major difficulties communicating and all my friends were always jealous of my "cool mom". When they said she was cool, it did not mean my mom never disciplined me in attempt to win my friendship, just that she was fun but also understanding, reasonable, patient, and fair. She never took the "because I said so" approach and instead always listened to me and explained things to me. In all my years growing up, all the times I'm sure I tried and tested her patience, I can only ever remember her raising her voice to me once. We were making applesauce and I must have been very young because my role was limited to stirring some cold applesauce that I'm now pretty sure didn't actually need to be stirred. Even so, after a while, my arm got tired so I announced, "I'm done stirring, mommy. Can you do it now?" She was busy at the stove so she told me to just leave the bowl on the counter and she'd get to it in a minute. I obviously decided it couldn't wait so I began pushing the bowl towards her and towards the opposite edge of the counter. She noticed this and warned me to stop or the bowl would fall off the counter but I must have thought there was more room and kept pushing. Next thing I know, there is applesauce all over the floor and anyone who knows anything about the laborious process of making applesauce knows how frustrating it would be to watch all that effort in ruins on the floor. So quite literally, for once in my whole life, she blew her top and began yelling at me. Shocked, I burst into tears and I can't remember if she sent me to my room or I fled there willingly. In either case, it was of mutual consent that I'd go to my room. Don't get me wrong, as soon as the bowl tipped over the edge, I knew I was in trouble. But yelling was not her discipline style and so it alarmed me greatly. Later, after she'd cleaned everything up, she came to my room and this is a testament to her patience and forgiveness when she apologized to me for yelling at me. But she also explained why she lost her temper and reminded me why it was important that I listen to her when she tells me not to do something.

I am certainly not trying to preach about parenting styles. The point is, because of her understanding, patience, and communication, I felt I could talk to my mom about anything - and I attribute this entirely to my mom's doing, I was just along for the ride. Her relationship with her own mother when she was growing up was not as good as ours and so she resolved that when she had kids, she would do everything in her power to make sure it would be different. And my mom never does things by halves.

Mom and me.
I adored (and still do) both my parents but my mom was a stay-at-home mom and therefore my primary care taker growing up. The influences she has had on me are remarkably blatant sometimes. Frequently, my dad will fondly laugh and say to me, "Sometimes, you are so like your mother I can't believe it". Even people who hardly know me, like my mom's coworkers (she is now a nurse), refer to me as "Rachael's mini-me" because not only have I inherited much of her character, I also apparently look exactly like her. I say apparently because this is what everyone says but when my mom and I look at each other, we both agree "I don't see it." I suppose when you know someone so well, no matter how similar they are, you also know and see all the things that make them unique and individual. However, I am flattered when people say I look like my mom since she is one of the most beautiful women I've ever known. Even now that she's in her 50's, she still gets compliments on her appearance - it helps that she has always looked a good 10 years younger than she is. My mom once asked me "Does it bother you when people say you're just like me? You don't feel like you're not an individual, do you?" and I almost laughed because that couldn't be farther from the truth. If I have inherited even half of the charm, rationale, devotion, talent, independence, determination, thoughtfulness, selflessness, forgiveness and understanding that my mom has, I will count myself lucky.

As I said, my mom was a stay-at-home mom for most of my childhood but when I was in high school she went back to school and became a nurse, such is her desire to help and care for others. She had always wanted to be a nurse, from the time she was at least a teenager, I think. But her mother always told her that nursing wasn't an ideal profession for her because she "cared too much" about people. My grandmother was afraid she'd grow too attached to patients and have her heart broken if something tragic happened to them. My grandmother's reasoning stemmed from her own life experiences which I'm sure I'll go into another time but suffice to say for now, she was trying to protect my mom. Fortunately, there are plenty of nursing jobs which don't see life-or-death cases and my mom is now a surgical nurse, mostly doing ENT cases (ears, nose, throat) which are usually routine. But she does see some heartbreaking and inspiring cases when she goes on a two week "surgical mission trip" every year (or nearly every year) - which is basically like Doctor's Without Boarders but specializes in providing surgeries for people in third world countries - typically Peru. The work they do there can be amazing and it changes people's lives. I remember she told me about one case of a child who had been severely burnt by an open cooking fire in the past and the scars were limiting the child's mobility so the surgery helped loosen and reduce the scarring. They also fix a lot of cleft lips and palates. I am so proud of her for being a part of this kind of work and it just shows how incredibly selfless and caring she is.

Even before she became a nurse, as a stay-at-home mom, she was always involved in something. One of her characteristics I definitely did not inherit is her inability to sit still and relax. For as long as I have known her, she has always been on the go, always doing something, even as a stay-at-home mom. She was always involved in or supportive of the activities my brother and I were involved in, she had numerous craft hobbies, she volunteered at places like the school library, she was always donating our old stuff to charity, she even started a part time cleaning business with her best friend. I don't think we would have done half the fun and cool stuff we did as kids if it hadn't been for my mom's energy and enthusiasm; like the time she had us painting and decorating puzzle pieces to make into jewelry and sell at the Children's Arts Festival in State College. Even at the end of the day, when she relaxes in front of the TV, she often folds laundry or knits because she just never sits still.

You would think with this kind of drive, she would also be one of those clean freaks but she frequently quoted her mother's motto which was "if you can write your name in it, it's time to clean". It's a good motto, I think. One day, my brother and I came home from school and my mom was cleaning so we excitedly asked "Who's coming to visit?!" because we typically only did a full house clean when we were having guests stay over. We were very disappointed to learn no one was visiting and I think my mom resolved to start cleaning a little more often from then on. In her defense, my dad is a slob (as most men are), and it must have been difficult cleaning up after him and two kids, even when she did recruit us kids to help and give us chores.

She did apply this drive to her parenting though and was always utterly devoted to her children's happiness, though not to the extent of spoiling us. She was a stickler for certain things and I learned from a very early age never to interrupt her while she was speaking to someone else unless it was an emergency (which was defined by "if someone is hurt"). But when we were sad and upset or having difficulties with something, she would gladly turn the world upside down to make it right if she could. And she always did seem to have the answer to everything (except math problems!) - she could fix anything and always had what I needed. I remember when I got my ears pierced and I was having difficulty sleeping because when I put my head down on the pillow, it hurt my ears. She laid in bed with me for what felt like hours trying to sooth me until I finally fell asleep and when I woke up in the middle of the night, I discovered a very strange looking pillow with a hole in the middle of it which was obviously meant for my ear to go in. It didn't quite work out because it was kind of lumpy but I wondered where such a thing came from and in the morning, I asked my mom if she'd made it, knowing that she sews. She confirmed that she had, in the middle of the night, sewn it for me. I was astonished that she would stay up so late to make something for me right on the spot just because I was experiencing some discomfort or pain. I don't know if I thanked her for it at the time but if not, I will now. Mom, thank you for always being there for me, for always listening to me, for always going so far out of your way to make me happy and to make me feel loved and safe.

And if it hadn't been for my mom, I also probably wouldn't have gotten into genealogy! Even if I had, it wouldn't be near as much fun making discoveries without her to share them with. Like my mom, I don't do things by halves and once I caught the genealogy bug, it was probably only a matter of time before I started blogging about it.


  1. Oh my darling daughter, you have made me so happy and I am so proud of you. I am so grateful that I was able to be a part of raising you into the wonderful, beautiful, smart, creative, and thoughtful woman you have become.
    I love and miss you always,