Simple Gifts

The older I become, the more clearly I see my Mom’s fingerprint on every area of my life.  From the profound (my perception of God), to the trivial, (how I make chocolate cake), her influence is undeniable.  In celebration of this Mother’s Day, I’m honoring Mom by recognizing just a smattering of the lasting gifts she’s given to me.  While a few of these treasures fall closer to the trivial end of the spectrum, they all have added significantly to the quality of my life and given me countless moments of pleasure.

1. Appreciation for a fine pair of shoes.  When I was a little girl, I spent hours in Mom’s closet, trying on her shoes.  My favorites were the heels – the chunky black platforms, the tan strappy sandals, the pumps.  The higher the better.  I could not wait to have shoes of my own like that.  I remember the first pair of frivolous, girly shoes Mom bought for me.  They were a blue, denim-like fabric with a small heel, ribbon edging, and an ankle strap.  They hurt my feet (a fact unfortunately associated with many a pair of pretty shoes) but I loved them anyway.  As I grew older, I came to understand that no matter what my body looked like or how I felt about it, great shoes always looked fabulous and boosted my confidence.  To this day, when I shop with my Mom and my sister, we spend inordinate amounts of time looking at shoes.

Hubby would argue that this particular gift was not necessarily nurtured by my Mom but rather bestowed on me through genetic code.  Considering that most of the women in my Mother’s family feel the same way about shoes, his opinion could contain a large amount of truth.  Regardless of the method of shoe love transference, I embrace it wholeheartedly.  Cute, classic, sexy – it really doesn’t matter.  Shoes definitely add to the quality of my life and I give all the credit to my Mom.

2. Laughter and silliness.  When  I asked my youngest son, Ace, to describe Nana (my Mom), he said, “She likes to laugh.”  His insight made me smile.  Mom has a knack for seeing the hilarity in the everyday experience and her laughter is contagious.  Now that she has grandchildren her sources of entertainment are bottomless.  She laughs at herself as quickly as she laughs at situations she’s observed and it has lightened life up for all of us.  There is always laughter present when we all get together and Mom is often at the heart of it.  Accompanying the laughter is a sense of delightful silliness.  Reciting “The Jabberwocky” to us, inventing crazy games that required a hip-swiveling, finger-circling dance to advance through the bases, and making awesome faces are just a few of the ways her silliness shone through in my childhood.

There is laughter and silliness in my own parenting style, thanks to my Mom.  I first became aware of it the day I turned “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” into a head banging hard rock ballad and a tennis racket into a screaming electric guitar, to the initial shock and subsequent delight of my three munchkins.  While I lay on the floor laughing with my kids after the impromptu concert, I suddenly realized that it was just the type of thing Mom would have done.  It’s safe to say that enjoying a good belly laugh and indulging in silliness won’t significantly impact my life or the lives of those around me, but it sure is fun.

3. A love of reading.  I don’t remember Mom reading to me when I was young, but I’m sure she must have.  What I do remember is a metal bookcase full of books in my bedroom and regular trips to the library.  I also remember Mom reading her own books – in the red recliner in the living room, on a blanket at the pool while we swam until we were shriveled prunes, and at the stove while she prepared supper.  For some reason, Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel, and The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough come to my mind as the types of books she devoured while I was growing up.

My own love for the written word is rooted in Mom’s example.  I’m not as voracious a reader as she is because self-control is an issue for me (as I’ve already discussed here) but I am as enthusiastic.  Our tastes tend to run along similar veins, too.  When Mom recommends a book, I usually read it because I know it will be good.  Some of her recent suggestions have included The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Shadow of the Wind, An Altar in the World, and The Night Circus.  I’ve enjoyed them all as my book reviews will testify.  Mom’s love for reading has enhanced my own life in numerous ways from the purely pleasurable to the philosophical and cerebral.  Reading is a vital part of my life and Mom turned me on to it.

4. Wanderlust.  I love to travel.  I long to travel.  This need I have to see the world has been nurtured by Mom (and Dad) from the time I was very young.  Even though we didn’t have much money when I was growing up, my parents took my sister, brother, and me on many traveling adventures.  Our trips usually involved a tent and a state park but sometimes our accommodations took the form of an old beach house.  I loved being outside and seeing new places.  In seventh grade, at the ripe old age of 13, my parents encouraged me to go to New Mexico with my youth group to work at a Navajo Mission.  For three weeks, I traveled around the United States in a sky blue school bus with a rainbow stripe with other teenagers and a few advisors, seeing sights and experiencing humanity in a way that blew my mind.  A few years later, when I asked to spend two weeks in Arizona with a biology teacher and a group of kids from school, my parents didn’t hesitate.  I hiked the Havasu trail in the Grand Canyon, slept in the desert, and forged my way to the top of Mount Humphrey.  At a time in my life when I was really struggling with depression and low self-esteem, it was one of the best gifts they could have given me.  Mom and Dad truly gave me wings to explore the world just when I needed them the most.

My parents are still traveling – sometimes with all of us, and occasionally with just their grandchildren.  A few years ago, they took my daughter and niece on a road trip to Yellowstone National Park.  They’re hoping to take my sons to the Grand Canyon in the near future.  True to form, Mom is not available for Mother’s Day this year because she and my Dad are – you guessed it – traveling.  They are in the Outer Banks, near Cape Hatteras, for a week of utter relaxation.  For this Mother’s Day, in particular, I wouldn’t want her to be anywhere else.

As a mom myself, I’m finding that I’m in the position to nurture wanderlust in my children and give them wings of their own.  This summer, my daughter will be traveling to eastern Europe with American Music Abroad, playing her flute in an orchestra of teenagers for people in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.  One of the reasons I’m willing to let her go into such a faraway unknown is because my parents allowed me the same types of opportunities when I was her age.  Even though it is scary for me,  I want her to see the world and form a life perspective that is broader than her own existence here in Lancaster County.  I’ve come to understand that travel is a gift that keeps giving long after the actual experience is over.

This post was meant to be a light-hearted celebration of some fun ways Mom has impacted my life.  While I was writing it, though, I recognized that many of the gifts Mom has given me are the same gifts that her mother shared with her.  In honoring my Mom, I’m really highlighting a heritage of curiosity, joie de vivre, and love that has been passed down through the generations of my Mom’s family.  I am so very glad that I’m the recipient of these blessings and I only hope that I can adequately transfer these gifts to my own kids (except for the shoe love which only Lovey truly appreciates).  Judging by the amount of laughter that takes place around our dinner table, the number of books that are consumed, and the list of places my kids want to visit, I think the heritage is still going strong.  Thanks Mom, for even the little gifts that make my life worthwhile.

Photo taken on a family trip to Walt Disney World a few years ago; Mouse ears courtesy of my daughter

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