Lessons from Mom

I’ve had 29 years to learn from my amazing mother, and I thought it fitting to share some of what she’s taught me, so I made a list of 29 life lessons I’ve learned from Mom. It was an easy list to make, as there were lots of lessons to choose from. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Homemade sugar cookies beat the packaged kind any day. Don’t handle the dough any more than you have to.

2. German Chocolate Cake, like so many things in life, is worth the tremendous effort it takes to make it from scratch. I rock a good German Chocolate Cake these days (it’s one of my selling points on the dating websites, even) and it’s all thanks to Mom’s tutelage.

3. If you’re running late and your hair is wet, sticking your head out the window of the car works just fine, as long as someone else is driving.

4. You are never too old to climb in Mom’s bed and be cuddled.

5. Service is the best way to show love. My mother’s whole life has been dedicated to serving children, and they all love her for it.

6. If your favorite t-shirt is wet and you’re in a hurry, throwing it into the microwave is not the best of ideas. It will then be hot and wet.

7. All of God’s creatures, even the smallest animals, should be treated with respect. I have seen my mother rescue rabbits, pigeons, cats, dogs, and even goldfish.

8. Braiding your hair at night will keep it from getting tangled. French braids work best, and my mom might be the best French braider ever.

9. Spelling counts, and a rich vocabulary is an asset. Practice this skill by reading.

10. Forgiveness, even if it takes a decade, is worthwhile, and forges stronger relationships and friendships. My mother is one of the best examples of this principle that I have ever seen.

11. The most significant thing you can do as a parent to guarantee a child’s academic success is to read to them as early and as often as possible.

12. Music is one of life’s great joys, and singing with family is one of the best ways to make it. Dressing your daughters in matching outfits and making them perform cute songs will always win talent competitions.

13. Parallel parking is a cinch when you have the right teacher. Small cars help too.

14. No matter how many times you water them,  you can’t grow rocks. I know; I tried. More importantly, my mom taught me that making mistakes while you try new things is okay. It’s how we learn.

15. Mailboxes count as progress. Don’t get down if you think you’re moving too slowly. Just keep moving.

16. Education is worth whatever it takes. Watching my mother sacrifice to get her Bachelor’s and then her Master’s after her divorce had a tremendous impact on me.

17. The Church is true. Nothing will ever change that.

18. Dirty (ish) jokes are funny, as long as you don’t tell them to Grandma.

19. Makeup application is an art form, and needs to be practiced.

20. Traditions that celebrate the joyful moments in life are worth keeping, even if they make a lot of noise. This includes a pots and pans parade on the morning of the Fourth of July, no matter how much racket it makes.

21. When you make a commitment, keep it, even if it means staying up all night. I have seen her do this on several occasions, and it’s a quality I try (and often fail) to emulate.

22. Prayers are answered, and faithfulness is met with blessings. So pray often, pay your tithing, and do what you should, even if you’re struggling.

23. Don’t talk with your mouth full— choking stinks. Also, it’s gross.

24. At any point in any day, people are most important. People are more important than housework, money, or whatever concern may be at the front of your mind. Treat them that way.

25. Share. 

26. Dating is easy. Just think about the other person’s enjoyment before your own. Flirt a little.

27. Children thrive when they are allowed to express themselves creatively, even if this means wearing a Pocahontas costume and galoshes to the mall. Let your children express themselves.

28. Mel Brooks movies are pretty dang hilarious.

And perhaps the most enduring lesson of all:

29. You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd, but you can be happy if you have a mind to. So many times in life, we can’t choose our situation or surroundings, and we can never control other people, but we’re always in charge of our own personal happiness.

Thank you, Mom. I love you.

I’d love to hear lessons you’ve learned from your mom, dear reader. Please feel free to share in the comments!

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It’s Still Mother’s Day and My Mom is Still Awesome

Mom

Meet my mom, Wendy. She’s kind of awesome really cool the greatest. Since she’s so amazing, I’m sure you won’t mind, dear readers, if I re-post a bit while I celebrate her today. 

My first visit down memory lane was about an important lesson my mom taught me. This next re-post celebrates her for a gift she gave me. Enjoy.

 

It’s True. I Have the Best Mom Ever. Posted February 18, 2013

 

The other day was Valentine’s Day.  How does a single gal like myself know? Because the teens I teach went a little bit nuts. The Axe smell in the hallway reached a new high, and I had more lipstick tubes in my lost-and-found than I did in my makeup kit at home.

 

To celebrate, I read this post about moms who go all out for the holiday and laughed a lot. You should read it.

 

After I finished laughing my face off, I spent a minute reminiscing about my own overachieving miracle of a mom. As kids, my sisters and I were tremendously popular around Valentine’s Day, and it was all thanks to my mom. She makes the yummiest sugar cookies ever, and for Valentine’s day, she would get a class list from our teachers and make a heart-shaped, from-scratch, frosted cookie with each of our classmates’ names spelled out in icing. Our teachers got really big, hand-shaped cookies, signed with our names. And the principal got a cookie so big we all three carried it in on a cookie tray.

 

Amazing, right? But this is not all. You see, my elementary school, as part of the Valentine’s day festivities, had a Valentine’s box contest. The art teacher would come in and judge each student’s shoe box during lunch, and the winner got something that was tremendously important to any third-grader…. respect. Mad respect, y’all. The art skills are totally where it’s at in elementary school.

 

We did the traditional shoe box for a year or two without any luck, until we started getting creative. One year, my mom helped me make my Valentine box into a computer, complete with that old-school perforated computer paper wound around a paper towel roll so as you dropped in your card you could turn the roll and see a message on the computer screen just for you. (Computers were still pretty new to the average eight-year-old back then; we were a little fuzzy on how they worked.) I did pretty well that year, and my classmates got a kick out of  the fun messages on the computer.

 

But the next year? That was an entry that I’m pretty sure will go down forever in Conneaut history. My Valentine’s box was a dress!! My mom sewed me a long dress with a pocket for every kid in my class… labeled with their name in shiny puff paint. It was a true ninety’s work of art… and man, was it ever a hit! Not only did I get to stay in for the judging since I was wearing the dress, but I WON! My “box” was voted as the best in the entire school!! I was so proud, and maybe a little embarrassed, but I didn’t realize until much, much later that what I should be feeling most was gratitude, because, seriously, who does that?! Is my mom the most incredible mother in the world, or what?! (Mom, if you’re reading this, you should post a picture of the dress. The world deserves to see it.)

 

I didn’t enter any contests this year, but I still have the best mom ever. You should really try her sugar cookies.

I think I might celebrate Mother’s Day tomorrow too. Stay tuned. 

Mom

Mom

Meet my mom, Wendy. She’s kind of awesome really cool the greatest. Since she’s so amazing, I’m sure you won’t mind, dear readers, if I re-post a bit while I celebrate her today. 

Our first visit down memory lane is to a post about one of the most enduring lessons my mom ever taught me. Enjoy.

 

The One in Which Mailboxes Count for Something, posted July 5, 2012

It’s been a year! Actually, it’s been a little more than a year, but who’s counting? Any chance to celebrate is good enough for me. This isn’t a conventional anniversary we’re celebrating, folks; no, this is rather a unique anniversary. A little over a year ago, my life broke. But we’ll get to that.

Once upon a time, I decided to become a runner. I made this decision the way I make all of my very important decisions: spur of the moment. Join the Cross Country team? Sure? Why not? I wasn’t exactly out of shape, but I wasn’t a runner either, and I struggled. One day, while complaining to my very patient mother, I blurted out something about how hard my training was. In a moment of motherly wisdom, she taught me a secret I’ve never forgotten.

When I ran in high school, I’d tell myself I only had to keep going until the end of the next block. So I would just focus on getting to the end of that block. When I got there, I’d go to the next block. And from there to the next. And before I knew it, I was done.

This secret sounded a little simplistic, and a little bit like lying to myself. If I knew I was going to make myself run the whole distance anyway, what was the point? And since as an eleven year old I knew everything, I decided it was dumb. But in order to avoid an eye roll, I’d humor her. So I laced up my shoes and headed out.

It was dark, and I was tired, so instead of counting blocks, I counted telephone poles. (They were closer together, and I was lazy.) When I started to hurt, I told myself I only had to make it to the next pole. So I plodded forward, reached the next pole, and then set my sights on the one just beyond. I eventually made it home, and breaking the journey into smaller steps did make it a little bit easier.

Nearly a decade later, I remembered this secret wisdom as I was fighting my way through a marathon. An old knee injury was flaring up, and the pain was almost unbearable. I wanted to quit. I wanted to sit down right in the middle of the street and cry for my mother, because I was hurting, and I was tired, and there was too far to go. I did, in fact, sit down a few times. But each time, I got up and used my mom’s trick. Blocks were too far apart. Telephone poles were too far apart. But I could count mailboxes.

And so I began moving forward in a way that had once seemed to me to be simplistic self-deception. Mailbox by mailbox I limped onward, and I began to see the real wisdom in Mother’s strategy. Intellectually, I knew there was still the rest of the marathon ahead of me. But all I had to do was survive until the next mailbox before I could rest for a second, look behind to see how far I’d come, take a breath to celebrate that victory, and then reset for the next leg of my journey. I didn’t make it the whole way–at mile 18, the medics intervened and made me stop—but not before I learned how powerful Mother’s principle of doable pieces could be.

My knee healed, but last year, my life broke. Literally.  I looked it up and everything. One of the word’s connotations is elasticity. You know how when you stretch a rubber band really really far it starts to thin and blister? And then if you stretch it even farther, past its point of elasticity, it snaps? That was me, just over a year ago. A rubber band stretched too far, starting to show the signs of wear.  And then it happened.

The stress, panic attacks, and powerlessness all combined forces to stretch me beyond my limits, and I broke. I spent a week in the hospital, and when I got out, my marriage, which had been ending, was finally over. And then everything else followed, until I felt empty—stretched out and useless as a snapped rubber band. I could no longer hold my life together, so it was fortunate that I had an army to reassemble me, piece by piece. I spent a year crying, sleeping, yelling, cursing, rebelling: healing.

A couple of weeks ago, while in that moment before sleepiness becomes real rest, it occurred to me to look around. I reached for the light and pondered the sparse dorm room around me: so far from home, so far from where I’d been a year before. It must have been the stark contrast that made me realize that, without being fully conscious of it, I had been passing mailboxes.

Tears filled my tired eyes as I glanced at the piles of graded student work on my desk, the palm trees outside my window, and the empty bed beside me: all mailboxes. I was simply overwhelmed at the difference of it all. It seemed like just yesterday I’d been mired in that very darkest of times, but I’d made it a full year! I’d picked up the pieces of my life and assembled them in a new way—a way that was completely my own choice, and would require me to pick up again the mantle of the strong, independent force of nature (inherited, as you’ve no doubt guessed, from ma mère) that I’d dropped somewhere along the way.

It hasn’t been easy, and I can’t take credit for most of it, but I’m beginning to become a whole person again. I have a long way to go to regain the strength I lost when I broke, and I can’t promise to regain that ground all at once. I certainly can’t promise perfection—at this point, I can’t even guarantee that I’ll finish the race. What I can promise is that I’ll go on for another mailbox, another telephone pole, another year. Thanks for the secret, Mom.

More Mom posts to come. Stay tuned. 

The One in Which I Remembered to Look Up

English: Hummingbird aerodynamics of flight
English: Hummingbird aerodynamics of flight (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Life has been hard lately. No– wait: that’s my inner optimist talking. Life has been devastatingly overwhelming and under-rewarding and unrelentingly hurtful lately. It’s been like walking in a mine field, and consequently, my focus has been straight ahead, on the task immediately in front of me. Not even my nightly walks with Oz have brought peace, because instead of considering the stars, I’ve been busy considering lesson plans, and resumes, and trials. Not surprisingly, as I’ve found myself so hyper-focused on my immediate survival and struggles, I’ve felt weighted down and depressed. Frankly, I’ve been miserable.

That perspective changed today. This evening, as I stood conversing with a good friend, she suddenly shushed me and pointed out a tiny hummingbird hovering about five feet away. With my head down and my focus inwards, I never would have seen it. My voices, both inner and outer, were immediately quieted by the miraculous efforts of this tiny bird and its racing wings.

I have always found hummingbirds extremely impressive, to say the least. Their hearts beat continually during waking hours at 600 bpm, for crying out loud! And somehow, they sustain this pace day after day, and they do so joyfully, and beautifully. They are truly “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalms 139:14) Their Creator designed them, and He provides for them, despite the extraordinary effort they must put forth daily. It occurred to me then that Father loves me as least as much as He loves His hummingbirds. I too, am “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Joseph Smith, while enduring horrors the likes of which I’ve never known in Liberty Jail, was told:

If thou art called to pass through tribulation…if thou art in perils…if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good…

Therefore, hold on thy way… Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.

(Doctrine and Covenants 122, emphasis added)

That first hummingbird sighting stopped time, for the briefest of instants, as if the world had frozen completely. All of my stress and heartache and worry lifted… just for a moment, but a moment was all it took to remind me to look up, and to remember the Prophet Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail so many years ago, and to realize that my heart does not beat on its own: my days are known.

On my short walk back to my apartment, I saw another tiny hummingbird, and paused to examine it, my fingers weaving through my dog’s soft fur, my arms bare in the light breeze, face upturned towards the sun. As I stood there, I felt the joy and peace that comes from looking up and acknowledging with gratitude the beautiful world Father has created for me. I nearly broke out into this song. (I have taught this song to dozens of children in my church, and it is one of my favorites. Click the link. It’s worth it, I promise.)

Just now, on a trip out to my car for a forgotten bag, I again felt prompted: “Look up.” I did, and although the stars I could make out between the city lights were mere distant cousins of the stars back home, they were there. Faint and isolated as they were, they still shone. It’s not the twinkling bedtime story I’d like to read, but for now, perhaps it’s enough– enough to remind me to keep looking up, to keep looking for proof that my Heavenly Father loves me still.

We are told in 2 Corinthians 13:1 that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” My witnesses didn’t have to talk– the message got through just the same. I am loved–cherished, even. And even when I forget, when I am so busy in my own tiny life that I become ungrateful and angry, there will be hummingbirds, and soft breezes, and stars. There will always be witnesses to remind me. Like Joseph Smith and the hummingbirds, my days, my struggles, and my needs are known. I just need to remember to look up.

English: Painting by an unknown painter, circa...
English: Painting by an unknown painter, circa 1842. The original is owned by the Community of Christ archives. It is on display at the Community of Christ headquarters in Independence Missouri, where its provenance is explained. The painting was originally in the possession of Joseph Smith III (died 1914), who is recorded as commenting on the painting. The c. 1842 date is given by the Community of Christ, the painting’s owner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The One In Which I Owned the Moon

I’ve been putting off writing this first post for over a month, feeling like I don’t know where to start. Each day I’ve grown more anxious to be writing, and with each burst of anxiety, more reluctant to do so.

I guess I’ll start with the stars. That’s where it always starts, with me.

I’ve always been fascinated by the night sky. I remember distinctly driving home from somewhere as a very little girl and staring out the car window at the moon. I was pretty sure it was following us home, and the thought of owning my very own moon filled my tiny little heart with pride. I had a moon! How many other girls could say that? I’d watch it anxiously at every turn to make sure it didn’t get lost, and breathe a sigh of relief when we pulled into the driveway and the moon parked overhead. I felt safe, then, as we said prayers and my parents tucked me into bed, knowing that my moon was parked right above my house, and that it hadn’t wandered off to protect some other little girl. Nope. The moon chose ME, and I guarded it possessively.

Even after I gave up hoarding the moon, the stars remained a nightly source of peace. A clear sky full of stars has always seemed to me like the most precious of conversations—intimate and all-encompassing, at once personal and universal, like the love of my Father. Many such inaudible conversations have ended my nights and sent me to bed feeling cherished, as though the starry vista was a present just for me.

And then, at the most difficult period of my life, I moved to the place where the stars lived, and the real conversations began. Night after night, I’d send my husband off to work and take the dog out, close my eyes to everything but my nightly gift from Father, and soak up the sparkly peace, only to be reminded an hour later by the nudge of a wet nose that it was bedtime and the stars would be there again the next evening. I lay out on the grass summer evenings, tracking shooting stars until I lost count, and feeling like the girl who had once owned the moon: cherished.

Some nights, I yelled at the stars, and at Father. I closed my eyes to their brilliance and buried my face in pillows, too heartsick to bear their beauty. But always, the stars, and their Creator, came out the next night and welcomed me back, too pure and selfless to mention my hurtful words. Instead, they shone even more brilliantly than before, engulfing the darkness and lighting my way. They came back each night, comforting and healing through every one of life’s bumps. They shone more brilliantly than ever before on the night my Kenna was born, and I became dependent on their glow.

Then came the night when I had to leave the place where the stars live. It was December, and bitter cold. Snow fell, but not softly, and the stars seemed to hide. I packed my belongings, tied down the tarp, and looked around, saying one last goodbye to my home, regretting the absence of my twinkling comforters. Then, just as I was about to climb into the truck, the snow stopped and the sky cleared, and my stars came out in full splendor.

I stood in the snow, neck craned and tears streaming, studying them for as long as I could stand the cold, and it seemed that each one was a message from Father. One said “I love you,” one said “be strong,” one said “remember Me,” and another still said “I’ll help you in all things.” And my favorite? “Fear not, little child. For you are mine.” I don’t know if it’s possible to feel anything but peace and strength while stargazing, even in life’s darkest moments. If I could have sent up my own star it would have said, “I love You too, Father.”

As the tears froze to my cheeks, I said my last goodbye to my home, to the stars, to what had been my life, and drove towards the future. Imagine my surprise when I parked the truck and noticed that the stars had followed me home.

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