Today is my Mom’s birthday. I want to write about her to honor her today and let her know what she means to me. Mom is my earliest teacher and one of my best teachers. She is an advocate who has always been in my corner, and I am so grateful for her. Mom was the youngest of three siblings in her family, 9 years younger than her older sister and ~4.5 years younger than her brother. She was not spoiled as the youngest, and in fact probably had a tougher road than her siblings in some ways.
I do not know a lot about Mom’s childhood, except stories of mean cousins that bullied her sister, her brother and her. I know she loved to play outdoors (as people in Northern Minnesota tend to do) and that she had a wicked case of poison ivy once. This led to a fierce allergy, and treatment via layers of calamine lotion, which could be scratched off with a hair brush.
Mom attended college in the 60’s and one of my favorite stories was how my Grandma had decided to attend college at that same time as well (when Grandma was in her 50’s). For Mom, college was an expectation, from her parents who knew that education was an asset. She did not love school, but she enjoyed studying music and Spanish. In contrast, Grandma had always wanted to go to college, but raising a family starting at age 23 during the depression did not leave resources to be spent on college. Also: women were not expected nor encouraged to go to college in the 1930’s.
So my mother had to cope with her own mother attending classes with her, and Grandma being absolutely intrigued and engaged with the opportunity. I daresay Grandma was probably a teacher’s pet in some ways. Because this was a path Grandma chose, she wanted to maximize the experience, so she was one of those students who did ALL the reading, and sometimes challenged her professors with her questions. Mom was not quite 18 when she started college, much younger and probably not as devoted.
However, she was devoted enough to study to become a Spanish teacher (and perhaps music as well) and she completed her course work quickly enough to finish in only 3.5 years. Since she finished early, she bravely determined she wanted to go to Mexico in order to study Spanish on a more immersion basis. In 1965 they opted to spend a summer (or maybe a year, I will have to check) there to truly experience the language. Since Mom also wanted to be able to teach her students music someday – songs are a great way to learn a second language – she sought some guitar lessons in the town in Northern Mexico where they lived (Saltillo).
I keep reflecting on what a brave thing this was to do in those days, to go to a foreign country and to sign up for classes in another language! We take for granted in our generation the ability to Google things, to research everything we want to know on the internet. In the 1960’s that just was not a possibility. One had to have a certain amount of trust that things would work out in order to embark on these sorts of adventures. But embark she did, and of course there is a story I may tell at a different time of her meeting my Dad, who was her first (and possibly only) guitar teacher.
There are a good many stories about their time in Mexico, my Mom and my Grandma, and perhaps I will ask Mom if I can write more about those. Suffice it to say, my Mom taught me this early lesson in being brave and following my curiosity, by her early example. Mom has always had a generous heart, and she fell in love not only with my Dad but with his family as well. Not all of my Dad’s sisters liked Mom. After all, he was the oldest brother in a family of 7 girls and 4 boys. The younger ones were particularly suspicious that Mom was going to “kidnap” their beloved brother and take him back to the States with her. Indeed that is the story my Dad sometimes tells, but the storyteller weaves the tale they want to tell.
My Mom taught me to be grateful for what I have, and to express that gratitude openly. To this day, I tend to write thank you notes for birthday gifts, Christmas gifts and most recently, wedding gifts. I do not always get around to this, and usually I feel a bit guilty about that, but I have compassion with myself. It is actually a rare art, hand-writing thank you notes these days, but I am glad it is a practice she instilled in me.
Mom taught me to be kind to people, no matter who they are or what their station in life, and Dad very much reinforced this message as well. She still is one of the kindest and most generous-hearted people I know. I only wish she could be kinder to herself sometimes. She is the type of person you can rely on when you are down, to try to cheer you up. She has deep empathy for the suffering of people, and she is thoughtful about sending cards to friends, in good times and bad. My sister and I thought she should own a greeting card store, she had such a knack for picking out the right card to say just the right thing when it is needed.
After spending a few years teaching after her return from Mexico, and after my Dad got his degree here in the States (a second bachelor’s after his first one completed in Mexico), she decided to stay home. She wanted to raise her family and devote her time to this endeavor. In the 70’s that was a somewhat radical act, given that most women were insisting on working outside the home, even with children. But Mom really wanted to BE a Mom, and I am still grateful for all the time and energy she gave to my sister and me. I could probably write an entire book (and someday I might) on the lessons my Mom has taught me over the years. For now, I just want to express profound gratitude and wish her a happy 73rd birthday. Thank you for everything, Mom.