I broke her rib.
I didn’t mean to, and while I feel bad about it now, I’m certain that I didn’t care at the time. After all, I was yet to be born, but I feel like it was an omen, a sign of what she could expect from her second born. She was young, just 22 when I was born, and already had a toddler, but I went right on to become a Tough Case. Difficult in many ways, I determined to challenge her every waking moment. Say something, I’d rush to posit the opposite, just because I could. Whatever I loved in one moment I’d swear to hate in the next. The world was against me, I just knew it, and that young mother spent hours, days, years, working hard to love and yet rein me in. She didn’t give up, and I give her a lot of points for that.
Toddler years ended, but I didn’t stop giving her grief. As a teenager, I offered plenty fodder for family tension and frustration, my critical, ungrateful attitude often exacerbating already tired parenting. And she was still there, this imperfect woman doing the best job she could.
I’m 40 now, with six children of my own, and have been reflecting on how things change. My mother, in my estimation, is a much better mother than my grandmother was to her. There are things that I’ve done differently in my parenting, and while some of those may be generational differences, some are just plain differences of opinion or priority. And I often tell my children that I hope they’ll be better parents than I was to them. That’s life, right? Learn, grow, move, listen, adapt, improve.
You’d laugh if you listened to the conversations between my eight siblings, my parents, and me, as we make fun of each other, laugh at inside jokes, but also argue about everything: politics, theology, parenting methods, food, or music. And, like I could say about each member of my family, I could tell you all the areas where I disagree with my mom, or the things I wished she’d done differently. But those things pale against the things I can celebrate, the things I want to share with you.
I want you to know the woman who worked hard. So hard. We could hardly convince her to watch a movie with us because she was busy baking our bread, preparing school lunches, folding laundry, sewing my dresses, or keeping the house clean. Then when she began homeschooling, she not only bought curriculum and planned lessons, but would teach herself long-forgotten subjects over the summer while we were out goofing off or sleeping in.
Have you heard about the Scandinavian concept of “Hygge”? It’s the art of creating an inviting space, not necessarily fancy or well-decorated, but where everyone feels valued, together, cozy, and whole. My mom excelled at this. I grew up in a home that was a wonderful place to be, and even my friends wanted to be there.
Oh, how we loved her reading aloud to us! Not only was it a high priority for her, but she was a master. She chose books that were fun and exciting, but also ones that would grow and stretch her children, make us think, and stay with us for years. Those books came alive.
I’ll try not to sound like a self-promoter when I say that she raised strong, capable daughters while often living in communities that didn’t value women. She taught me to think, question, and reason. And while one effect of that has been that her daughters don’t always agree with her, I know that she values our ability to stand on our own and take responsibility for our opinions and actions.
When we broke the rules, she gave us space to confess before confronting us with our rebellion. Spoiler: I was one of the children who rarely confessed quickly, and she didn’t hesitate to drop the proverbial hammer when needed, but still I appreciate her waiting on us to respond.
She invited me into her world, regardless of the mess I made or how much harder it was to do her work with kids underfoot. If I was willing to learn and listen, I could help knead bread, learn to sew, add ingredients to the stew, or plant seeds in the garden. When I shrugged it off as boring or uncool, she let me run off and play without making a big deal out of it.
But, she expected a lot of me. I had to contribute to the household, help my younger siblings, finish all my schoolwork, and be present with the family. There were always high expectations, but they were clear, reasonable, and consistent.
My mom wasn’t perfect, and neither am I. And though I’m different from her in some ways, much of the mothering I do is layered with her influence. Looking forward, I hope that someday I see my children parenting in ways that improve upon what they learned from me.
On Mother’s Day, I’m giving thanks for the woman who loved me through hard days, trained me well, gave me a rich childhood not measurable in any earthly sense, and still supports me in many ways.