Saturday, May 7, 2011

My sisters

Don't know if you've realized it, but Sunday's Mother's Day.  J saw us walking through Costco with a couple of carts full of plants and said, "Oh that's Sunday, isn't it?"  He grouses a little, but our yearly Mother's Day tradition of planting our front patio pots with flowers means that he doesn't have to think of another gift, just has to show up and help.  Not a bad gig, if you ask me.  I'm not one for traditions, but I like this one.

So Mother's Day.
My father had three sisters. And then he had three daughters.  And my mother watched all of us.  She watched her sisters-in-law with their mother, working in the kitchen, caring for their babies, sewing, having a home, and somehow, Mom got it in her head that we should be like them.  There was one GIANT problem with this proposition.  Mom wasn't anything like my grandmother or my father's sisters.  She was allergic to being a traditional stay-at-home wife and mother.  It didn't suit her well, and what didn't suit her made the rest of us miserable.  Life was better for all of us when she took off what to her were shackles of too small a life and returned to the classroom.  Sure, we didn't have home-made cookies or dresses, but we didn't have many of either while she was at home with us.  She was more interested in reading, though her reading did extend to recipe books, which meant every now and then she got some hair-brained (or great) idea to try some new recipe. Most were good, after all, she could read, as I said.  No, Mom was a teacher.  A very good one, from all accounts.  I had her for an entire month my 2nd grade year, but remember next to nothing about it except my inability to call her name.  I was mortified by the idea of calling her Mommy in the classroom, but couldn't wrap my tongue around 'Mrs. Crain' either.  Hence, I just stood in front of her and hoped she'd know I needed her attention. Sigh.

My point is that Mom was very different from the women she unsuccessfully tried for ten years to emulate, not wrong (though she sometimes felt so), just different.

And so the three daughters she raised are different mothers from her--and from each other. And sometimes she didn't appreciate that we parented so differently than she did.  She saw it as a clear slap against her way of doing things, which wasn't always the case, but just meant that we were--we ARE--three very different women, with three different ways of doing things, and those ways have worked out well enough in each of our lives, and, if I dare say so, by the grace of God, in the lives of our children.

RE, the youngest, was the first mother of the three of us.  Because she was the first and the one who lived closest to Mom, Mom had the most influence on the way RE dealt with her children.  It was the path of least resistance, RE has said more than once, which I can certainly understand.  RE was/is also very intentional about tradition with her children.  Come to think of it, intentionality is a very good way to describe RE's way of mothering. She thinks carefully in large ways and small ones. But about tradition: she has the gift of gift-giving, of making an event out of many simple days that I often overlook.  Her children have been shown her love by small acts of remembrance and large gifts of acknowledgment over and over again.  They probably don't even realize how unique it is that their mom loves this generously.  My kids have certainly noticed, though. However, RE isn't a pushover as a mom.  She has high expectations of her kids.  I remember how she went to their school to get work for them to do over summer vacation.  She simply wanted them to stay sharp, to not be lazy, to develop the habit of study early.   And you know, her kids have lived up to her expectations.  They are smart, well-mannered, charming and kind.  AND, the hardest working, most helpful young people you'll have occasion to meet.  She (and her husband, of course--but this is her day) has done the job God called her to do when He gave her these three children.  Does she lose sleep over them? Of course.  Does she sometimes wish one was a little more of this, and another a little less of that? Undoubtedly. But in the end, she's a great mom.

Then there's the Dump.  Dump has unbelievable rules and guidelines for her sons.  Has had them from the moment they were born.  They couldn't eat this, couldn't do that.  If I told you all of them, you'd think she was a vegetarian new-age hippy.  She's definitely NOT a vegetarian.  She loves desserts and raw meat too much.  But the rest?  She started taking her sons hiking while they were still in diapers, taught them to love the out-of-doors the way our dad and she always have. In fact, 'she taught them...' might be the best way to describe Dump's relationship with her sons.  There have been times when they've been discussing the most complex ideas--and this was when the boys were still quite small--and none of the rest of us was even interested.  But they were all engaged.  They're a closed system of geeks, those three.  Smart.  No, beyond smart.  Those boys are freakin' brilliant.  The younger one was doing palindromes ad nauseum when he was merely 5 years old, ones so elaborate I needed paper to work them out.  And the Dump provides the perfect home to stimulate these kinds of minds.  She pushes them, prods them, works on them, and teases them.  And they're her whole life.  Interesting, kind boys, who are far more comfortable with adults than their peers.  She thinks they're amazing, even when they drive her crazy.  Sometimes I'm amazed that she calls them "loser" and they know that she actually means that they're winners in her book, but they get it. Totally and completely.  It's a weird, wacky world she has with them, but it works.  Very well.

And then there's me.  When we talk about our ways of mothering, we've always said that I'm the least traditional of the three of us.  That is, I am the least concerned with tradition for its own sake (despite the whole flower-planting thing for Mother's Day, which is a wonderful tradition because it means the pots get planted, they don't have to buy me some silly things I don't need, and we do it together. That's a three-way win in my book.).  This is a valid observation. This is possibly because I find some of them ridiculous and more likely because I am not very organized when it comes to such things. And I am the least interested in my children's grades or test scores or achievements.  These things feel are like vapors to me--their importance lasts only a moment in a person's life.  There are other things on which we have spent our parenting energy.  The development of ethics. I can't say from within myself how successful we've been, but I like our kids too.  We've laughed with them, cried with them.  I know I'm the most easy-going of the three of us.  Sometimes too easy-going, Beve would say, when he has to pick up the slack.  I'm not much of a rule person.  Never have been. But I had a two prong motto through-out their childhood.  One was, "Train them in the way THEY should go, and in the end they will not depart from it."  This meant that I needed to get to know each child individually so that I could know what was best for that child.  No swooping mandates, but customized for each one.  And the other, "We aren't raising children, we're raising adults."  The last thing we wanted was full-grown children, still needing to be told what to do, how to live. 

L to R: me, the Dump, RE. One of my favorite pictures of us, but for the life of me, I can't remember what we're laughing about!
So the three of us.  Different but all used by God to grow men and women to successful adulthood. I'm thankful for them. For who they are, for impact they've made in my life and, especially, the impact they've made on the lives of their children.

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