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Things My Mother Taught Me

This is the first Mothers' Day that I will not be able to call my mother and wish her well, as the angels called her home last summer. I miss our weekly phone calls on Sunday nights. She would always ask about how my boys were doing in water polo or basketball and what country my girls would be touring in next. She'd tell me how she cleaned up in playing bridge that week, that she had "played the piano for the old people" (as if she, in her early 80s, wasn't one of them), or that she had written a zinger of a letter to the editor about the latest political hot button. She would tell me about my brother's kids, who lived nearby, how she was looking forward to seeing my sister soon, and when she would be coming to see us next, as we had moved 2000 miles away.

Mom and little me

Mom with little me

We had a bit of a tempestuous relationship when I was younger, as is common with a lot of strong mothers and their daughters who are trying to figure out their own place in the world, but we figured it out sometime after I got married and had my own children (which by no coincidence was about the same time that I figured out that she was a lot smarter than I ever gave her credit for!). Here are some of the lessons she taught me:

1. Be honest and stick to your values

My mother was downright upright. She didn't tell even little white lies, and she had a very strong sense of right and wrong. She raised us with clear values and expected us to live by those, no matter how tough it got or what anyone else was doing. She walked the talk, and I never saw or heard her do anything that conflicted with her moral compass. She wasn't perfect of course, as no one is, but she had a very clear guide when it came to moral issues, and I could always trust that she was telling the truth and not candy-coating anything.

2. Keep faith and family first

My parents both came from large families, and they were close to their siblings. We went to family reunions almost every summer on both sides, and if we couldn't make it to the reunion, then we made the rounds and visited most of the relatives individually, even though it was a long trek from Calif to Iowa, with pit stops to visit more relatives in Phoenix and Albuquerque. I learned from this that friends come and go, but family is forever, and that went for both sides of the family. I had no sense of the inlaws being outlaws; both of my parents loved each others' families like they were their own.

Being Catholic, Sunday was church day, with no exceptions unless you were on your death bed. Our faith was the basis of our moral code, and it has become the rock for raising my own children as well. There is something comforting and timeless about being part of something greater than ourselves, and I am so grateful to have been raised that way. It is also the glue that holds us all together when the inevitable tough times hit, as they do for everyone at some point.

My mother had a collection of statues of the Virgin Mary (of which I now have a few); I am very grateful for her gentle introduction to our Blessed Mother, who is the best motherly role model of all! I find that I turn to her often for inspiration with my own children.


Part of my mother's collection of Mary statues

My parents had a very strong marriage. They were clearly best friends; they had many adventures together in the 12 years before I came along, and they continued to be adventurous for the rest of their time together. They put their faith first, and they kept their relationship strong, building the family on a very solid foundation. I have looked to their role modeling in my own marriage many, many times, and it's been so valuable to have that resource there.

One of the things I appreciated most was that she never meddled in my marriage or tried to tell me what to do in raising my own children. She wouldn't have appreciated her mother doing that to her, and she didn't do it to me. Always supportive, never intrusive.

Mom and Dad with Mike and me on our wedding day

3. Cook from scratch as much as possible

Mom was born in 1933, right in the thick of the Great Depression. They didn't have much of anything, and life was very difficult for many years, as of course, World War II hit on the back of the Depression when she was still a very young girl. She told me that everyone back then had a Victory Garden, which not only helped feed the family but also helped relieve pressure on the food supply, which was limited during the Wa