Despite the fact that I feel incredible love towards my niece and nephew, and that I know I played a major role in the lives of nearly 300 kids during my teaching career, I won't pretend that I know what it actually means to be a mother. There is a special bond that is reserved for mothers and children that nothing else can replace. I do know, however, that I have been on the receiving end of that bond and have had the privilege to witness it in abundance.
I come from a long line of very strong women, either because that is their natural personality, or because Life's circumstances required it of them. There have been a lot of single mothers in my family on both sides--resulting from divorce, separation, or widowhood. As a result, I was not exposed to the day-to-day dynamics of a lot of functioning marriages, but I was exposed to extremely dedicated mothers. I saw the lengths that women will go to in order to protect and provide for their children, and the power of Woman with a capital W.
Naturally, the best example of this would be my own mother. The child of immigrant parents from Mexico, she moved to CA with them at the age of 7 and would eventually become the oldest of 4. A typical teenager in the 1950's, she met and married my dad at 23 and helped him build a successful furniture business. After trying, unsuccessfully, to have kids for 5 years, she had me when she was 28 and my brother at 30. At the age of 31 she was a single mother. I was 2 and 10 months, my brother was 10 months. And even though my dad supported us financially for a short time, all of the daily parental responsibilities fell on my mom.
Her life has been 100% dedicated to my brother and me. She raised us with high standards in education, signed us up for sports, music and voice lessons; volunteered at our schools, did mother-child preschool, Indian Maidens, and Boy Scouts. We read together every single night--without fail--while one of us sat in her lap and one of us combed (and pulled) her hair. (I wish we had pictures.) She hosted birthday parties and sleepovers, helped with fundraisers and field trips, and rarely had a chance to focus on her own needs. Her sense of self was totally defined in knowing that she was providing her kids with a good childhood, one that was as balanced as possible.
My brother and I learned the value of money from my mom. We knew we didn't have a lot, but we never felt deprived. We never--Never--asked for extras at the grocery store or whined when we didn't get what we wanted, simply because we never wanted. My mom talked to us like we were adults without overwhelming us because she respected us enough to tell us the truth. We knew when times were lean and we understood why. She took in kids to babysit after school and we learned the value of patience and sharing, which isn't easy when you have 4-5 kids that you didn't necessarily choose to be in your house rummaging through your toys.
When my mom decided to go back to earn her college degree at the age of 40, my brother and I became latch-key kids. We didn't question it and we didn't take advantage of our lack of supervision because we understood that even this decision was made to improve our lives. Thus the importance of higher education was instilled. When she chose her career path, it was a choice again defined by motherhood. She knew that being a teacher would give her vacations that aligned with ours. My brother and I would fall asleep to the sound of her typewriter, cranking out one school paper after another, rarely even beginning before 9 o'clock at night.
Despite being a single-parent family, the importance of family and where we came from was always emphasized, whether that meant getting together with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, or taking multiple trips to Chihuahua, Mexico to visit the extended family. My brother and I loved those trips, and we learned that the importance of family super-ceded many transitory things in life.
We learned to love music by listening to her records and attending inexpensive concerts. The songs of Elvis Presley, John Denver, and the Carpenters have become like old friends that I frequently still revisit. We went to musicals produced by local high schools and universities, learning how to be a good audience member as well as appreciate what we were watching and hearing.
My mom saw us through the tough growing up years. She helped us with school projects, heard about school crushes, nursed us through childhood illnesses, witnessed our disappointments, and endured our years of teenage angst. She attended every parent conference, every school concert, every game, every carnival, every recital. She was our advocate against unfairness and our staunchest defender because she trusted us. We had no allowance and no curfew for that same reason. She knew that if we asked for something it was out of need, and that we could be trusted with our friends because she knew who they were.
We learned about discipline and respect of our elders. There was love and communication, but there were also boundaries. Yet, we rarely felt restricted. As a teacher who created boundaries in the classroom, I've seen firsthand how much children actually appreciate knowing their perimeters.
She taught us about God and Jesus Christ. We attended mass weekly and, though we didn't fully understand the abstractness of a higher power, we respected the fact that one existed. When we were introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, she made sure that the decisions to be baptized were our own, personal, choices. To this day she confesses that she "raised us on her knees" and that joining the Church is one of the best decisions she made as a mother. The importance of the family unit and its eternal role are taught in a way she always wanted us to comprehend.
When I graduated from high school and was accepted to Brigham Young University she was working full time as a teacher. As a student I never had to take out one loan or work while going to school. Only when I graduated did I understand completely her system for squirreling away money and teacher bonuses (when those existed) to pay for my tuition, books, and rent. My brother took a less direct route to college, but when he did, he knew that the same support I had was also available to him if he chose.
From her example I learned the importance of being a self-sufficient, independent woman. I also learned the importance of self-respect. Self-respect, combined with the love I have always felt from my family, helped me to create the "better single than settle" philosophy that served me well until I met my sweet husband at the age of 37.
And now? My mom can say that 100% of her kids are college grads, me with a Bachelor's Degree and teaching credential, Jonathan with 3, (yes, three) Bachelor's Degrees. 100% of her kids are married, happy, home-owners, independent and settled. Two precious grandchildren are the results of these unions.
Would she say that the blood, sweat and many tears were worth it? I know she would.
And what do I say? Thank you, Mom. And I love you. Happy Mother's Day.