Making the Ordinary Extraordinary
Someone once asked me whom I admire most, and I didn’t even have to think about it. Hands-down -- it’s my mother. She has the most wonderful energy. It’s like a light that draws you in, and when you're with her, you feel as if you can do anything. I suppose this is because – watching her as a child – it seemed she could do anything. For starters, she gave birth to four children in five years and was on her own with us more often than not because our father’s job as a National Geographic photographer took him away for months at a time. It wasn’t just what she could do, though; it was how she did it – the positive web she wove around the everyday stuff of our childhood. My mother, for example, not only regularly made Tapioca pudding for us from scratch; she served it to us in her crystal wedding Champaign glasses. The glasses are long gone now, but she still has a wonderful way of making the ordinary extraordinary.
When we were little and living in the suburbs of Maryland, Mom taught us how to play kickball, and because the neighborhood kids liked her so much, they always gathered at our house for Kool-Aid. (Obviously, this was back before she discovered “health-food.”) The boys wanted to marry her, and the girls wanted her to put their drawings on our refrigerator. When we moved to Barboursville, Virginia, we not only brought our friends home with us -- but animals of every shape and size started tagging along as well. We raised dogs, cats, ponies, sheep, chickens, goats, a pet pig and a raccoon. Many were from the SPCA or handed-down from a neighbor. Some lived in our house. Some lived outside. Our pet pig, Sweetheart, felt she should be able to roam wherever she pleased. As you can imagine -- this made housekeeping a little difficult. When was the last time you tried to vacuum around a 200-pound pig?
Mom was an incredibly good sport, though, and in spite of all the craziness, dirt and clutter, she saw our funny little farm as a wonderful learning experience for her children. As long as we cared for our animals – which we did -- we could bring them home. While she may have sacrificed having a consistently clean house (what are the chances of that happening with four kids anyway?), her children were learning valuable lessons about responsibility. That being said, as the rest of us continue to surround ourselves with animals, Mom hasn’t taken in a single pet since her own human baby birds left the nest.
When we were teenagers, Mom successfully taught us all how to drive our five-speed family Honda Accord. That’s not to say we didn’t make her nervous in the process. Sitting on the passenger side, she was constantly closing her eyes and slamming her foot down on the imaginary brake. I’m not sure how she and the clutch made it through four 16-year-olds, but they did.
This past weekend, I found a Mother’s Day card that so perfectly summed up what I wanted to say to my mom. The note in the card thanked her for teaching her children – by example -- to be kind, compassionate and understanding. This is so true of our mother. Growing up, I never heard her talking badly about another person or placing judgment. Our home was always open to anyone who needed a place to land. The note also expressed appreciation for showing us how to live life to its fullest. Again, this is so like our mom. When she turned 60, she jumped out of an airplane with a parachute and a very handsome man strapped to her back. For her 65th birthday, she went swimming with dolphins.
I don’t have any plans yet to jump out of an airplane, but I have definitely tried hard to raise my son to be compassionate and understanding of others. And we do have fun. We throw the football, ride our bikes and laugh an awful lot. And like my childhood home, our house is always filled with friends -- loud 11-year-old boys, thumping around from room to room with their over-sized feet; instrument-clad musicians gathered around the kitchen table. My Tapioca making skills are not so great, but that’s O.K. Mom still makes the best pudding -- only now it’s served in colorful polka-dotted martini glasses.
I know how fortunate I am to have had the warmth of my mother’s light wrapped around me all these years. When I found out I was pregnant with my son, Will, my greatest wish was to be like her. I had grown up believing that anything was possible, and I wanted my child to know that feeling, too. One day when Will was just a little guy, my husband was watching us play together, and he turned to me and said, “You remind me of your mother.” I cried. I can honestly say I have never received a greater compliment.