Sunday, May 13, 2012

All My Mothers

If I am destined to become my mother, I believe that I will become an amalgam of all the women who have acted as a mother figure at some point in my life.  I used to bemoan the fact that in addition to my biological mother, I have also had 3 stepmothers, and now have one mother-in-law.  If I believed that genes were destiny, than the issue would be rather simple.  Alas, I’ve never been one to take the simple answer, and insist on understanding the full magnitude and impact of all of the surrounding environments that have pummeled me into the woman I am today.  I am also now a mother, which I always insist is the best job I never knew I wanted, so the thought of what I am passing on to my girls is a near constant in my mind, not the least of the reasons because I am a firm believer in leading by example.  So, in honor of Mothers’ Day, I submit a short list of amazing things I have learned from all my mothers.  I honor all of you not to diminish the gravity of the task that my mother who grew me in her belly took on when she brought me here by any means.  Surely, she has had the most influence on me, especially considering (exactly ½ and arguably more) of me IS her.  I seek here instead to help myself draw forth the lessons I have accumulated from each of my mother figures and how they have shaped me as a person/mother/wife/friend.  I feel lucky to have had so many examples to have learned from in my journey.

First and foremost, there is the only woman that I have ever called mother, and that is the woman who grew me from a zygote and almost birthed me in the toilet at our house (true story).  The lessons I have learned from you are far far far too numerous to list here, but I will list a few.  You taught me that listening is the best way to understand another person.  You taught me that love is the answer most often, no matter what the question is.  I now know (and completely understand) how often you replaced angry words with tickles when we were young, and I employ this same tactic with my girls to remind myself to loosen up a bit.  Being a good mother can be difficult, but giving up isn’t an option, you never did and neither will I.  I chase my dreams because of what you taught me, and I only hope I can encourage as much creativity and persnicketiness in my children as you put in me.  I learned that family is the most important thing in the entire universe, and families are never only made up of the people we are related to by blood.  People come in our lives for a reason and the connections we hold dearest are our REAL family that we choose for ourselves.  One of my favorite lessons has been that kindness is a much better tool for teaching than any other approach.  Sarcasm and snark have their places, but a kind word or smile in the face of adversity communicates volumes.  Most importantly, I have learned from you that “I have great potential” and can do anything I set my mind to doing no matter how difficult.  That’s been particularly helpful in these Mama PhD years, and just knowing that you believe in me has helped me more times than you can even imagine.  Thank you thank you Danke thank you for being my mother!!  I still insist that even if you weren’t my mother, I would want to be your friend.    

I learned two big lessons from my first stepmother.  First I learned that dreaming big and working hard to get to where you want to be is a great thing and a great way to find your happy place.  Secondly I learned that wearing a little bit of makeup can make a big difference in how you feel; accentuating your assets is a good thing.  But be careful to be recognizable after it comes off.  (Hopefully that makes her laugh and remember the fact that the first time my brother and I saw her without makeup we called her “Frankenstein” because we didn’t know who she was.)  Seriously though, my bio-mom hardly wears any makeup at all, and this was a HUGE thing to learn.  I remember when I turned 28 I actually thought to myself: “Holy crap, this is the same age that my stepmom was when she married my 40 year old dad and then promptly had a 12 & 11 year old move in.  That’s crazy!”  I have soo much respect for you in having to deal with all of that at such a young age, and I don’t know how we all made it out of that alive! 

Stepmom #2 was a very wonderful negative example for me; I learned several ways NOT to be from her.  The biggest lesson I learned from her is that THINGS are really NOT that important, and bonding your self-esteem to the things you own is a great path to low self-esteem.  Thank you!  Thank you for teaching me this early in my adult life and for leaving shortly thereafter. 

My 3rd Stepmother never had any children of her own, despite being an amazing teacher and all around great person.  Thankfully she’ll be sticking around for a while too.  From her I have learned that in order to take care of others, I also have to take care of myself.  Also that patience and understanding and laughing help build relationships best, but a little sunshine and boat drinks also help!  Because I only ever met her when I was an adult, around the time Andy and I got engaged, our relationship is quite different from all the other mother figures in my life.  Importantly, I learned that I AM an interesting person with stories to tell and a unique voice to bring to the conversation.  I don’t think she will ever really understand how much that lesson alone has impacted my life choices since we met almost 10 years ago. 

Andy’s mother is the most recent addition to the mother figures in my life, and I feel soo lucky to have gotten such a great mother in law.  Of all the lessons I have learned from her, I am the most thankful for those with regards to my marriage.  Leading by example, she has taught me that being right is not always the most important thing.  She has spent endless empathetic head shaking hours explaining to me the nature of the men in this family, and laughing about it all over a sink full of dishes.  She has taken me under her wing and shown me the ropes and reminded me of the names of people that I should probably remember by now more times than I will admit to, and for that I am eternally in her debt.  Most importantly, she has subtly taught me simple ways to keep the peace and which fights are actually worth having.  She may not even realize the significance of these lessons she does not know she is giving to me, but they cannot be underestimated in the light of my previous experiences with marriages.

A very Happy Mothers’ Day to you all!  My life surely would not be the same without your influence, and I appreciate all of your examples both positive and negative.  I have seen your light and dark places.  As a mother and wife and woman, I understand that you are whole people and I honestly do not judge you for anything.  I love you all in different ways, and you have shaped my life in more ways than you will ever really know.  That is the beauty of mother figures in my mind.  We are all gloriously and imperfectly whole individuals shaped by the people and circumstances we have encountered in our lives.  We all embody our experiences and the expectations of ourselves and those who have shaped us and are inextricably linked both by fate and choice.  Thank you to all of you for what you continue to teach me. 

P.S.  Several other women in my life have had humongous impacts on me, and I do not wish to ignore or diminish these contributions here.  Happy Mothers’ Day to all the mothers in my life!  I hope your day is filled with naps, chocolate, and massages.  If not, come on over to Berlin and we’ll run naked through the park together to show off all of our stretch marks!    


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