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Mother’s Day: A lesson from my mama

raising self confident women

I got teary listening to this song and singing along at 50 odd miles an hour on the way to work, going way too fast on Hobart-Issaquah road and directly past a waiting cop. Luckily I didn’t get pulled over, but even if I had, it might have still been worth it. I was having one of those moments of living completely in the moment. I got all kinds of emotional thinking about all of the wonderful, supportive, strong people in my life, especially those who raised me.

It was Mother’s Day this last weekend, and this day has never meant more to me than this year. It isn’t just because  I am now a mom and can reap the rewards with breakfast in bed and a day of me-centric activities. It is because becoming a mother has shown me a whole new volume of love and it has helped me understand what a big job motherhood is. Its made me appreciate the struggles my mom, stepmom, grandmothers and aunts went through over the years and their unfailing, unfaltering, endless love for us through it all. Its also made me think a lot about the type of child I hope to raise.

This weekend for Mother’s Day, Venise and I celebrated by having the babies dedicated at mom’s church. The ceremony is meant as a promise to God, our family and our community that we will raise our children with the morals and values we were taught, and to try to love them in the way that God loves us. During the ceremony people shared their hopes and prayers for the babies: be strong, be courageous, have faith, be kind. One hope that I have for Henry and Deyton is that they show themselves the same love and kindness that they do to the rest of the world. This is something my mom did really very well (much better than she ever did in soccer coaching or bake sale remembering.)

My mom taught me to love me.

I joke often about my delusions of grandeur, and truly they are nothing knew. I’ve thought that I am the shit from a young age. I think that self confidence is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child, yet it eludes so many of us. I know a lot of people who spend their lives searching for their worth. They find all kinds of empty basins to store their love in for a while: bad relationships, addictions, obsessions, material things. Eventually, they realize that no matter how much they put into those buckets, they still feel empty. It may take years or a whole lifetime, and sadly some never find the love they looked for in those fruitless baskets. My mom knew that the best investment a person can make is in themselves. Not in a “Maybelline, because you’re worth it” kind of way, but in a “know your own worth and then you will know how much you can give to the world” way.

How did she do it? I don’t know the exact formula, but I sure hope to replicate it with my own children and  I do have a few ideas:

1. She always loved me. There is a quote attributed to Sigmund Freud that is one of my favorites: “How beautiful one is when one is sure of being loved.” My mom has worked with kids as an educator all of her life and she saw firsthand how children thrived in households with lots of love. Love followed them into the classroom. It made them feel secure and it helped organize their thoughts. It helped them feel calm and comfortable enough to learn. It kept them from taking their mistakes too seriously. They were free to be adventurous, to experiment and play, because they knew there was acceptance of failure and safety surrounding them all the while. She built this foundation with me throughout my childhood by giving me her time, her ear, and her last bit of cake. She didn’t shower me with stuff, but she sang to me every night and read stories as long as I asked. By the time we began to disagree with things more serious than cleaning up my toys, we had a strong enough foundation that I never doubted whether she loved me.

2. One of the best things she ever gave me was boundaries. With clearly defined lines I was able to explore the edges and all of the space in-between but I knew where not to cross. If I did cross the line, there was an appropriate punishment. And I am not talking about a stern “don’t do that again.” My mom did real punishments. She did “take the door off of the hinges if you can’t handle private space” type punishments. Her boundaries were weekly randomized car searches when I reached driving age to remind me that nothing was my own and no space merited my complete privacy as long as I was a minor living in the household. I hope that doesn’t sounds harsh. I don’t think it was. I was just a kid, and I had not earned privacy. My mom never had reason to believe we were getting into horrible trouble (we did the normal kid stuff but not much more) but she didn’t give us the chance to prove her wrong either. She trusted us, sure, but only as far as you can trust a teenager, as inexperienced, emotional and sometimes unsound in judgement as we were. I really hate the modern line of thinking that teenagers are capable of strong decision making and that, given an environment of mutual trust and respect a teen can make the best decisions to benefit their well being. I call bullshit. At 16 I was a very good kid who earned straight A’s, had a nice set of friends and turned out for every activity I could in an effort to collect letters for a jacket I never did end up buying. I was mature beyond my years already, having been through some serious life events like my parents divorce and remarriages, helping take care of my younger siblings and my mom’s breast cancer treatment. Still, I did things I knew I shouldn’t have. I made some really foolish choices that I can now recognize as such. At the time, I justified them, because I was too young to make the right choice. Even the nicest kids get tempted, and that’s why I firmly believe that boundaries and consequences will benefit children and help them develop their own calculated and thoughtful life choices.

3. She encouraged me to try new things, and never held me back because of her own failures. She allowed me to find my talent and pursue it to my own level of passion. Mom is not an athletic person, but she put me in soccer as soon as I asked.  She also let me quit when it became clear that beyond the pink shin guards I loved to wear, it was no longer fun for me. Then she let me try ballet . There was too long of a May Pole dancing section in class and I was ready to move on to some serious pirouetting, so she left me quit that as well. She made me quit on my own. The lesson was, if I was serious about quitting, I needed to turn in my dance shoes and tell the teacher myself that I would be leaving class.  I tried jazz next, and so on. Mom continued to let me explore my interests, even as they ping-ponged their way across the local rec center 5 times over. Each time I quit something, it was my decision and I had to stand by it. Eventually, I found something I was great at. She nurtured my singing talent with voice lessons and attending my performances, but always in the audience, never backstage leading me in breathing exercises and reminding me of the lyrics. I still felt like if I tired of it, I could quit. I stuck with singing because I loved it and I had found my passion, not because I was afraid of disappointing my mother if I quit hers.

4. My mother taught me to use my voice in more than one way. She taught me to use my words as well. She taught me to speak up. In our house, children were not silent. They asked questions, and grown ups listened, and they provided thoughtful answers. Even to incessant, tiring questions like why the sky is blue and whether pigs have wings. This actually backfired on us a couple of times over the years because my idea of manners were simply different from a lot of others’. In our family, we spoke to adults like little adults. We asked for things we wanted (politely, we said please, we weren’t complete anarchists) and we spoke our minds. I can remember being at friends houses and knowing at times that I was doing something not quite right and that a grown up was looking at me strangely and feeling judged. I remember wondering what I had done wrong. But I maintain there was nothing wrong about this confidence. I had respect for grownups, but not a fear of them. This also helped to keep me safe. I knew that grown ups could not get away with being “tricky,” “secretive,” or mean just because of their age. Mom knew that kids are vulnerable already and to reinforce that vulnerability with a suggestion of silence would be more potentially damaging than a time or two of “Kids Say the Darnest Things” live.

4. She was really honest with me about love. She told me what she thought it should look like, and what it shouldn’t. She told me about how powerful it should be, and that anything less was unworthy of my heart. She took love out of the storybook and described it in detail, in verbs. “Love is patient, love is kind… it always protects…it always perseveres.” She knew that one of the quickest ways to break down a little girl’s self esteem is to have a first bad experience with love and she wanted to give me the tools and the confidence to avoid that. By this time, I knew I was a worthy, strong, talented person with things to say that mattered. She told me I could love anyone I wanted, black white or purple (I always remember the purple part) but that she would not be happy about me dating  until I went to college. A little intense? Maybe. But I actually listened. I observed my friends as they experimented with young love. I saw that for some of them, these sweet romances brought them happiness and gave them great lasting friendship. For too many others, it brought sadness and division among friends. I weighed the odds and decided to avoid it. I waited to dive into love until the summer before college and I was glad afterwards, because those waters were murky and entangling and swift swimming was required to get myself through. Long ago my mom had once learned through her own experiences that love couldn’t be found through another person. She passed on to me that love is not a puzzle piece vision of one person completing another. I learned to love myself first, and then I found the man who could love me properly, just like mama said.

For all of the above, thank you Mom. You had so much to do with who I am.

Eden’s Edge is one of my favorite Spotify artists currently, and this song is so good!

The "glass" behind the garden to glass cocktails, Belinda is the owner of the Happy Camper Cocktail Company, bartender, recipe developer, younger sister and karaoke lover.

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