Friday, May 27, 2011

Setting the Tone

I remember a conversation my Mom and I had years ago. It revolved around the idea of the mother of a home setting the tone for the entire family. I don't really remember too much about the particulars of the discussion, but I do remember thinking and taking to heart the idea that my family's stability and ultimate opportunities for peace and happiness would depend upon me. The discussion wasn't meant to put pressure on me, nor was it meant to suggest that homes without a Mom could not be stable, peaceful, or happy, still, we both felt that the Mom has a huge responsibility that should be taken seriously. There's a certain degree of complete selflessness that I suppose we both believed is necessary in this role.

Growing up, my Mom and I always had a very open and honest relationship. I always trusted my Mom and shared a lot more with her than most children probably share with their mothers. But she was always a great listener and she gave wonderful advice. As her fifth child, she probably had experienced enough with parenting with my four older siblings to make raising me something she could do in her sleep. She'd become a Mom at age 24 and had me when she was nearly 41. I always appreciated that she'd call me a "happy afterthought" instead of an "oops" baby.

My Mom was always a lot of fun too. She took time to make everything special. She was an excellent cook, a most creative woman when it came to decorating or costume-making, and the best partner when it came time to help me plan birthday parties. She took time to play with me, knowing that I did not have any siblings close to my own age and to this day I still have fond memories of her on the floor with me playing with Barbies or Fisher-Price Little People. As I got older we'd go shopping for clothes which was a ball as we both loved fashion, and she'd always tell me how my "cute little figure" looked adorable in that dress so we'd buy it and giggle about how we ought to just buy the other one too because there was sure to be another occasion where I'd need it.

When I was a teen the two of us were lucky enough to tag along with my Dad on his trip to Finland, Sweden, and Denmark. We'd traveled before to Washington DC, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Bermuda, but our trip to Stockholm will forever be the most memorable. It was full of hysterical mishaps that got my Mom and I laughing uncontrollably in public. Laughing with my Mom, to this day, is one of my favorite things to do. It's when I know that all is right with the world.

My Mom's sense of humor, her protectiveness, her dedication as she sat in the audience of every single performance I was in (even when, as an adult, I'd perform in community theater productions), and her standing offer that I could always "blame it on her" when I needed an excuse not to go out somewhere or not to participate in something that would tough to explain, gave me the security and the confidence I needed as I grew up.

But perhaps the biggest gifts she ever gave me were the conversations we had when I worried that perhaps I was too young to become engaged to marry Eric...and later when I fretted about being a working mother, knowing she had always been a stay-at-home Mom. As with any other decision I'd made during my life, she listened to my concerns, asked me all the right questions, and then reminded me of how I would always know what was best for me. She offered up her own perspective while giving me the room to make my own decisions. When I decided to marry Eric a few months shy of my 21st birthday, she let me take the lead in making all the decisions about the wedding and she could not have been more "cool" about showing her excitement while letting me set the pace for the planning. When Sydney was born four years later, and I had to return to work after only a few months, she and my Dad drove four hours to my home every Sunday night to care for her, then would return home each Friday afternoon to allow Eric, Sydney, and I to have our weekends to ourselves. They did this for weeks, allowing Sydney (and her worrying new Mom) more time at home before we placed her elsewhere.

As I became more confident in my role as Mom, I'd call home periodically to ask for recipes or to share my day with her. As my children grew, Mom was quick to make the trip to dance recitals, theater productions, confirmations, and graduations. Christmas holidays began being celebrated in my home, but Mom (and Dad) continued to share those times with us, forever cementing my childrens' memories of a series of traditions and fun with their Meme and Grampy.

Yes, selflessness, honesty, patience, playfulness, humor, and tender-loving-care. These are the greatest gifts a Mom can provide to her children. My Mom truly did set the tone in my childhood growing up, giving me stability and endless opportunities for happiness, but what I don't think she may realize is how she helped me set the tone in my own home with my own children. So on that note, I'm going to go call my Mom. In my family's tradition, I'll gather my three children around the phone and when she picks up the phone, we'll start singing her "Happy Birthday". And then I'll get to hear her laugh and all will be right with the world...again.

Happy Birthday Mom. I love you.

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