As young parents we fear our toddlers’ falls, or where their curiosity takes them, unsecured by sound judgment. Even scarier, though, is considering our young adult children as they make their way in a complicated world. What values will they hold dear? Have we as parents anchored them so that they can lead a meaningful and productive life?
These are the questions I wondered when I went about creating At My Pace: Ordinary Women Tell Their Extraordinary Stories where I asked sons and daughters to share one lesson they took from their mom and a story to bring it home. The pieces were short and the contributors spanned a wide age range of 5 decades, beginning in their 20’s. I was heartened by what I received, sort of a who-hoo to parents everywhere that maybe we are doing a better job than we think. Here are some snippets.
Mia Schon, a young and talented artist, headed off to Israel with no job, and no real plan, but a strong desire to explore, create, and figure it out as she goes. Her role model? Her mom, of course, who started a business (The PaintBar) and figured things out real-time. Mia recalls always seeing a pile of books on the kitchen table, and her mom’s answer to any of Mia’s questions being a quick rejoinder of, “Look it up!”
Mia describes her mom’s philosophy as, “Take responsibility for what you know.” This has also served Mia well, as with pluck and resilience, she is now happily moored in Tel Aviv, creating ceramic tile murals. She knows the road will be bumpy, but she says that when she hits a rough spot, she will catch her breath and then proceed to asking the right questions “because that’s how I was taught to make something happen.”
Noah Gardenswartz’s lesson is quite different. His mother passed after a battle with cancer while Noah was in his early 20’s. He remembers the fortitude with which his mom fought, and he also recalls her toast to him at his Bar Mitzvah, way before her illness, that “Life’s not fair.” At the time, Noah considered the message a major buzz-kill but now views it differently.
Noah shares the story that after a particularly grueling round of chemo, his weakened mother asked her daughters to bring her a nice dress and jewelry to the hospital. She then went to a party to celebrate a friend, and Noah recalls: “As I watched my mom dancing in the face of cancer, I looked at her bald head, her frail body, her lopsided smile, and she had never been more beautiful.” His lesson? “She didn’t get cancer because life’s not fair – she went out dancing because life’s not fair. Shit happens! Do you want to cry about it or go dancing?” Noah is now committed to a life of dancing, or at least as a comedian, to a life of helping people laugh.
Nina Berman shares the lesson that that the ability to confront is important. She remembers calling her mother to tell her she had broken up with her boyfriend. Her mother was driving at the time, and pulled to the side of the road and cried. Nina explains that this was not just because her mom liked the boyfriend, but also because her mom could see herself in that experience, having done something similar many decades earlier.
Nina describes their kindred spirits, which reveals itself in so many ways – from how they dress, to what they eat, to the music they like. “Our college boyfriends were our first real boyfriends, and we dated them for roughly four years.” Unlike her mother, however, Nina chose to break it off before things went bitter. “I didn’t want to upend his life or have him hate me.” For her mother, it took decades for cordiality to resume. “What I learned from my mother is that being fair and honorable to other people sometimes means hurting them. Being agreeable can make you too afraid of the confrontations and upheavals necessary to move forward. I think she was crying because she was proud of me.”
Each of our grown children has a lesson in them. My daughter penned a piece that focused on accountability, and it is truly one of the most meaningful 800 or so words I have ever read. She ends it with, “So Mom, here are another six words for you, the ones I know you always long to hear: you were right, I was wrong.” You’ll have to read the piece to know more.
Final thought for the day: In a world where we are trying to de-clutter, how about this mother’s day, asking your son or daughter to write a piece on one lesson learned? A rich conversation might ensue that won’t be clutter at all.