I watch the door of my mini-van slide open. “Climb in, climb over,” I say with a mix of monotone and hustle that only a tired mom can accomplish. “Climb in, climb over, get your buckles on!” Then the robotic cadence of my voice and the all-too-familiar words hit me: I sound like my mother.
I grew up in a large family. The oldest of five (three girls, a boy, and another girl), I was forever aware of how humiliating my family was. My mom and any number of siblings would yell out the car window at school drop-off: “Love you, Buttla!” (My gloriously affectionate nickname adapted from the innocently lacking speech skills of a younger sister.) Homemade lunches were always a gamble when a mother with an ornery streak packed them . . . the third time I bit into a sandwich with cheese still wrapped in plastic, I learned my lesson and began a daily inspection.
Becoming a mom myself, I made the internal promise every young woman makes: I will not be my mother! I am my own person after-all, the world and parenting have evolved, and I of course know better! Sure, I might freeze my flour or buy things in bulk because they are on sale (because eventually we WILL use 15 pounds of cheese)!
After my first child was born, my mom stayed with us for two weeks, and then she did the unforgivable: She went home. I laid on my bed, new baby sleeping soundly, and wept. How had I never seen this? My mom — the woman who raised me, whom I had spent a good portion of my adolescence believing knew nothing — she was the wellspring of life and sanity and all things good and motherly!
Ten minutes later, I called her cell and said “COME BACK! Move in, I’ll build you a room, a throne, a freaking five-star hotel, just COME BACK!” How dare she leave me with this tiny human? Didn’t she realize I knew nothing?
“You’ve got this, baby. You don’t need me; you have everything she needs.” Mama spoke truth over me and did what I know was the hardest thing — she kept driving.
After that moment, I stopped worrying I would become my mother and began praying I could emulate her in even the tiniest of ways. When I scoop my babies into hugs and give them wild kisses over their faces and necks, I bask in their giggles and remember my own. As we chuckle about toots and dig joyously in the backyard, I hope I pass on her down-to-earth humor and sense of adventure.
When I open my door to those needing to talk, needing a meal, needing a place to breathe, I remember how my mama’s door is always open. How many times had I seen her, legs curled under her on the couch, listening intently as someone cried. I hope I can speak truth into hard things with the love my mama always showed others.
Surprising a friend with a favorite drink, I am thinking only of my mom. She always knew how to show people she cared in ways that once seemed so small to me. Now I know a Dr. Pepper on your doorstep is not just a 99¢ drink, it’s mana from heaven for a tired mom on a hard day. The food in the empty houses of single moms, the fresh-baked bread wrapped and portioned out for sharing — my mom knew what it meant to be a tribe. When I look at my own heart for other women struggling through motherhood, I know I am turning into my mother.
Each time I answer the phone or scrawl a note in my cursive-print hybrid handwriting, I see her. My voice is hers, my pen somehow writes just like she does, and even my body language mimics hers. Basically every form of communication I have is my mother’s. I still find notecards with our handwriting tucked into drawers and books, Bible verses hidden away for a rainy day. She taught me to see God in the little things, to find strength in him to forgive the big things. When I pray over my kids at night, when I tuck little notes of encouragement into their books and lunch boxes, I know I am turning into my mother.
Someday, if my girls have children of their own, I will come to stay, to do dishes and fold tiny clothes. I’ll quietly work in the background, remember to let them breathe, and be ready to gather up into hugs and send off for naps when needed. Any wisdom I share, any strength I offer them, will have grown from all my mom did for me — and how I am turning into her.
I may inwardly groan every time I brush my kid’s hair and say, “Stop moving, or it’ll be coming out your ear!” or in the future remind dating adolescents to “Leave room for Jesus!” But when I visit home and curl up next to her in her bed (yes, I’m 33 and still snuggle my mama), I know, when it comes right down to it, I can only hope to turn into half the mama my mother is.