I love Mother’s Day. And not just because of the gorgeous flowers my son gives me or because it reminds me to celebrate my mom. I love Mother’s Day because it reminds me to celebrate all of the strong, determined, intelligent women who’ve guided me through life.
Have you noticed that as we get older, we slowly realize the impact that certain adults had on our lives?
For example, last week my band director from elementary school, Mrs. Samples (she was Mrs. Hesketh when I was in band), turned 91. Mom called to invite me to our local diner for dinner to celebrate. So there I am, with Mrs. Samples, two of her friends, her daughter, and my mom. The women around the table were in their 60’s, 80’s, and 90’s. That’s pretty rarified air. We caught up, shared stories, and had some great food.
Well that night, as I was driving home in the driving rain (thank you, Universe – the pollen was about to kill all of us), I was thinking about the role Mrs. Samples had played in my life. She was the first person I ever knew who was divorced (this was back in the 60’s) and she was a single mom. For a long time, she was the only woman I knew who directed a high school band.
At the time, Mrs. Samples seemed extremely rigid and disciplined. In band rehearsals, she held us to a strict standard of behavior and performance. Now I know that’s what it took to create a band of 30 ten and eleven-year-olds. Not to mention what it took to get us all onto a school bus with our instruments and music, to Burger King for lunch (there was only one location back then) and then to a band festival/competition.
And, as I’m writing this, I realize she taught us to function as a team. If you’ve ever been in a musical group you know it’s all about playing your instrument (or singing) at the exact right time, for the exact right amount of time, at the exact right volume. That’s a whole lot of exactitude for one 11 year old. And it’s a monumental amount for 30 of them! But we did it. And we reaped the benefits in our performances.
We learned to listen. We learned that we were a community. We learned that together we could make extraordinary music. And we learned that a woman could lead.
Although those of us at my elementary school didn’t know it at the time, we were lucky. We were extremely lucky because our school principal, Mrs. Greene, and one of our teachers, Mrs. Sanderson, were both women veterans. They had both served in World War II. I can’t remember either one of them telling us about serving in the war; I’m pretty sure my parents told me. I do know when I hear about the Greatest Generation, I see a whole lot of photos of guys.
In praise of female veterans
Nevertheless, here’s what I remember. They taught us to appreciate being Americans. Mrs. Sanderson had us memorize poems written by soldiers in both wars (and she still didn’t tell us she was in the war). They were strict. They were kind. They never talked about us girls having limitations.
I’m going to pause right here for you to think about that last sentence.
In 1967, they never talked about girls having limitations. I cannot remember ever hearing either one of them tell us that there was anything we could or could not do. And by 7th grade, when Mrs. Sanderson was my teacher for the second time, I knew I wanted to be an attorney. I’d never even seen a female attorney. But she was all for it.
Neither Mrs. Sanderson nor Mrs. Greene ever said to us “Girls can’t do that,” or “Don’t show how smart you are.” Instead, they encouraged us to exercise our intelligence, not hide it. At the time, I had no idea that they were setting us up for the future of our choosing.
And then there’s my mom
At every point in my life, I have been gifted with the presence of extraordinary women doing extraordinary things and not thinking a thing about it. I think that’s because of my mom.
While I have both a bachelors and a masters degree, I am my mom’s college degree. She went to college for two years then married my dad. The photo in the middle of this blog is of my mother at 26. My sisters and I must be 5, 4, and 3 – I’m the oldest. By the time she was 31, there were five of us and there was one more to come.
I’ve always said my mom had all the skills to run a major company. She kept 6 of us organized with chore charts and calendars. She chauffeured us to dance lessons and 2 music lessons apiece. Then there were regular trips to the library where we’d each leave with at least 6 books. Plus cooking 3 meals a day (we always took our lunch to school) and taking care of the latest baby.
In the midst of all this busyness, we flourished because Mom was determined that we would all be exposed to music and art and reading, reading, reading. It was busyness with a purpose.
Reading as a survival technique
I can remember fighting with one of my sisters (a regular event) and glancing at Mom sitting on the couch reading a book, not even looking up at us. I guess she knew we’d survive – we hadn’t killed each other yet, so we weren’t likely to. We’ve always said that when Mom was reading, you could set off a bomb next to her and she wouldn’t budge.
While Mom did not graduate from college, she has an advanced education. She showed us the benefits of being lifelong learners. For example, when I was 13, I came down with a serious bought of bronchitis – serious enough for me to be hospitalized. Mom was, like, 8.75 months pregnant with #6.
Since she was determined to figure out how get me healthier, she started reading books about nutrition and healing and figured out what supplements and vitamins would help improve my health. This was my introduction to alternative health care – which is how I manage my health to this day.
Mom magic saves 2 lives
But my most vivid memory of my mom is from when I became a mom. My son, Kennedy, was colicky and my husband was traveling. I remember calling Mom one day – it seems like yesterday. Ken would not stop crying. I think I’d already changed clothes twice that day, and I was at the end of my rope. So, I called Mom and asked her to come over. I’ll bet I was crying, too. Of course she came over.
I was glued to the dining room window, waiting for that blue Toyota to appear on the horizon. And, as soon as her tires hit our driveway, Ken stopped crying. Magic. Or Mom superpowers. The minute Mom came in the house; I told her what had happened.
She grinned, and said, “As soon as you saw my car you relaxed, so Ken relaxed, too.” That’s a superpower. One child saw her mother pull in the driveway and her child automatically knew everything was going to be okay.
Come to think of it, that’s what I learned from all of these women. Create community. If you need help, ask. Your community will save you. Always be reading. Think. Grow. Don’t hide your smart.
Thank you, ladies. I’m proud to carry your work forward.