Thursday, May 13, 2010

Life Lessons

To say I’ve learned a lot from my mom is a massive understatement. When I was growing up my mom was (and still is) a very big part of my life. She stopped working after I was born to be a stay at home mom, but she wasn’t one of those stay at home moms who are obsessed with cleaning their houses or carting their children around to activities – no soccer mom status for her. For one thing, I never played soccer (which was probably a good thing for all involved). But also, my mom was very hands on in teaching me about life and, I think, shaping who I am as a person and a writer.

From a very early age she read me books and then, when I was old enough to read, she carted me on an insane number of trips to the library. She helped me with my homework every night when I was younger (reminding me to always double check my work and have the patience to sit there until I know what I’ve done is right and to the best of my ability.) As a result I became a voracious reader and always did really well in school.

But I think it was life lessons about believing in myself and persevering that were the best lessons she taught me. From a young age, my mom always told me I could be and do anything I wanted when I grew up. She never discouraged me when I told her I wanted to be a writer, or that I was going to major in English, or get a (pretty useless) master’s degree in creative writing. She never told me to be practical, get a “real” degree/job, or that a career in writing would be too hard. She always repeated what she told me when I was little girl – that I could do whatever I wanted to, whatever was going to make me happy. And on top of that, she added her encouragement. It was my mom who constantly reminded me not to give up after a lot of rejection, and that she was sure I was going to be published some day. She still keeps at this, in fact, as she often drops things into our conversations like “when you’re a NY Times bestselling author. . .” (and she says "when," of course, not if!)

If it weren’t for my mom being so involved, so encouraging, and so positive that I could do whatever I wanted with life I’m sure that I would be a different person today. I don’t think I could’ve persevered as a writer, and I’m not sure I would’ve felt so strongly about making sure I had a career where I could also stay at home and be very hands on in raising my own kids.

So for all that, and so much more: thanks, Mom!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Living Legacy

My mother has been gone for nearly three years now and I miss her more today than I did the day she passed away. It wasn't hard at all to come up with the best thing she ever taught me. It's one of the most important virtues anyone could ever have. My mother taught me to be color blind. I can honestly say that I never once heard my mother utter a single prejudice remark in all the years I had her.

To fully appreciate my mother, you have to consider this: I was a little girl growing up in the 60s in the Deep South. And not just in any city in the Deep South. Memphis, Tennessee is my home. Home also to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, two sanitation worker strikes and whisperings of local officials with possible loyalties to the KKK. I was surrounded by prejudice. The blacks had to use different water fountains, pulic pools, toilets and churches. Even the famed Orpheum Theatre had a seperate entrance and box office for the African Americans, after requiring them to walk five flights up to the Gallery to see the show.

To avoid his daughters attending school half way across town, my father enrolled my sisters and me in a private all-girls school which, at the time, accepted only white girls. He would not stand for any of his girls to have to be victims of busing - the transporting of public-school students to schools outside their neighborhoods, as a means of achieving racial balance.

Despite my father's and community efforts to teach me otherwise, my lovely mother made sure that I knew that people of color were no different than me. Be they black, Indian, Asian or Hispanic, we were all human beings. I can remember her stopping to pick up black ladies who were walking to the bus stop and offering them rides home. If my father knew that Mama was anywhere close to their neighborhoods, and especially with us in the car, he would have been furious. Sadly, my father was very much a racist. Thankfully, my mother was anything but.

Mama taught my sisters and me by example. Her best friend was a lovely black woman by the name of Julia. The best gift of all is to see Mama's legacy alive in the eyes of my own two sons. They are completely color blind and I can think of few other virtues I'd rather them have.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sunday Night Dinners

It's hard to pinpoint one specific "best" of everything that my mother has taught me. If forced to choose, I suppose I would select the strong importance of family that she instilled in each one of her children.

I'm the oldest of four siblings, ranging from me down to my seventeen year old brother. We're each at unique stages in our lives--my brother is building his law career, my sister just graduated college and is trying to find her place in the world and my youngest brother is preparing to move away from home and start college. The past several years, my parents' house has been a revolving door of children moving in, out, and back again. My mom jokes that she'll never get empty nest syndrome since one of her kids will always be living under her roof.

Despite all of my siblings being scattered among different milestones in their lives, my mother always makes a point to cook Sunday night dinners for all of us. My brother takes the train to the suburbs from the city, my husband, son and I drive over from our house, my sister delays her night's plans and my youngest brother stumbles out of bed so we can all spend time together and cook dinner.

Sometimes, I forget how special those Sunday night dinners are, especially when I talk to other people who look at me strangely when I mention that I get together with my family once a week. People ask me if it's a burden, or even an obligation. It's not. After a long, tough week, it's great to be able to curl up on my parents' couches in my sweatpants and tease my brother or read magazines with my sister.

My mom has made such an effort to enforce an "open door" policy at their house, it really brings all of us much closer to each other. And that is something that will be both her best accomplishment and her legacy.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Positive Attitude

My mother has always looked at any situation in a "the glass is half-full" rather than "the glass is half-empty" sort of way. She's all about the positive attitude, always has been, and likely always will be. Which is great. A positive attitude brings about positive thinking and positive energy. But...Well, I am not as positive a person as she.

I'm not a negative gal, either. I'm solidly in the middle. Some things will wear me down to the point that I can't find a positive anything to pick myself up. For example, when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Okay, all cancer is bad, but some cancers are worse than others. Hers was bad. While I spiraled in an emotional downturn made up of fear, sadness, and anger, she...Well, she did what she always does. She kept a positive outlook. She did everything her doctors said to do, she looked into holistic possibilities (and did some of those, as well), and she always said, "I will beat this. I will be at my grandchildren's wedding."

And I, outwardly, said the same thing. Of course I did! She didn't need to hear my fears, sadness, or anger. She needed me to be as positive as she was. And so, to her, I was. But in my head, I was anything but positive. I was petrified.

But she did just as she said she was going to: she beat the cancer.

There have been other crises in our lives, both before this horrible timeframe and after, that I've seen her positive attitude at work. From the little to the large, my mother always portrays a positive outlook. That isn't to say she walks around wearing rose-colored glasses, because she doesn't. She'll readily admit when something is tough and/or when something scares her. She leans on others when she needs to. She views each problem for what it is without trying to paint a pretty but false picture.

What she does, though, is formulate a positive belief, which she then latches onto with everything she has. She thinks, memorizes, repeats, and lives this belief. And you know what? Being positive helps. It truly does make a difference. What felt horribly scary becomes a little less so. The suffocating pressure of worry lightens...maybe only slightly, maybe a lot, but it lightens.

I'm not saying that having a positive attitude can cure everything that goes wrong in our lives. But I do believe that being positive can make the really hard moments of our lives a little more bearable, can give us something to focus on, and in a lot of scenarios, can give us whatever it is we need to push through to the other side.

So, while I'm still a student, the best thing I've learned from my mom is to stay positive. No matter what. Thanks, Mom!