You Could Learn a Thing or Two (or Four) from My Mom

Mom and her 3 girls at “Momma Mia!”

Yesterday was my mom’s birthday. And like every year, I had good intentions to send her a card and gift in Arizona. But, like every year, my good intentions turned into bad follow-through. Yep, that means she got squat from me. Again.

But then I thought, hey, wait, I have this blog thing! Maybe I can earn back some of my “good daughter” points by sharing her birthday with the world (or at least the 7 of you who read my blog).

The funny thing is, anyone who knows my mom would know that I don’t need to earn “good daughter” points because she would never be mad or feel hurt because I didn’t send her a card. She is the kindest and most genuine person I know, and she probably considers the fact that I didn’t send her a card a gift in itself because, as she would be likely to say, “You have so much going on in your life, and I’m so glad you didn’t stress about sending me anything for my birthday. That makes me happy.” And she’d mean it.

So, even though it was my mom’s birthday, I’ve decided to give a gift to you: 4 lessons you can learn from my mom.

Hospitality is more about the who than the what or where.

My mom is a hostess like no other β€” the hostess with the mostest. However, you won’t find her decked out in a freshly ironed frilly apron, flitting from guest to guest serving patΓ© and fluffing sofa pillows as she whisks by. For my mom, it’s not about what you serve or making sure your home is stylish, or even super clean, for that matter. That’s because she knows what it means to be truly hospitable; she knows it’s not about showing off what you have but instead it’s about celebrating who you welcome into your home.

Growing up, there were always people at our house. Whether it was the families from “Supper Club,” a group that still gets together 30+ years later, or old neighbors from “up north” who always felt comfortable stopping by to visit on their way through town, or 20 of my sisters’ and my closest friends, just hanging out after a game or a play, my mom always made everyone feel not only welcome, but valued. If the toy room was a mess, we’d just close the door. If the dishes weren’t done, she’d finish up while the guests chatted with her at the kitchen table, usually snacking on a chocolate-caramel brownie and drinking iced tea.

My childhood friends still tell me how much they loved being at my house, not because I had parents that let us throw wild parties and do whatever we wanted, but because I had parents who made them feel welcome anytime.

Mom and Dad in their kitchen, where thousands of meals have been shared with others.

Everyone needs someone to believe in them.

As an elementary teacher for many years, my mom’s special gift was seeing the potential in every student who walked through her door, even those that many would just give up on. She set high expectations for all of her students and let them know that she did so because she believed in every single one of them, and she cared enough to not allow them to fail. Some of her fondest memories are of the kids who were labeled as “those kids,” the ones who were troublemakers, or whose parents didn’t really care about, or who many didn’t really expect much from. She not only told those kids that she believed in them, she truly meant it, and she showed it every day.

Mom didn’t always have people who believed in her, which is why I think she is so passionate about helping others. We still laugh about her high school guidance counselor, who tried to discourage her from attending college because he didn’t think she was smart enough to make it. Instead, he suggested she go to “beauty school.” Yeah, my mom will be the first to admit that she is horrible when it comes to hair. She cut my dad’s hair for years, and she never really got it right. We talked her into giving us perms when we were little, and we’d literally look like poodles. Or Little Orphan Annie. And my mom uses a wet washcloth to style her hair. I kid you not.

Mom still teaches, even though she’s retired. Here she teaches Boy #2 to play dominoes.

Mom graduated from the University of Iowa. Take THAT, stupid guidance counselor!

Embrace what makes you different.

My mom was born with a birth defect, I guess you’d call it. We’ve never really called it that, but I think it’s because we hardly notice it; that’s just who Mom is. But when she was born, her left hand was webbed, and her left foot didn’t have toes. She endured several surgeries when she was little as doctors worked on her hand, grafting skin from her stomach between her fingers to separate them. This left her with “fingers,” but not fingers like the rest of us have. Our favorite is the one we nicknamed “the snowman finger.” She even let us draw a face on it when we were little.

Although I didn’t really think about it as I was growing up, Mom never tried to hide her hand or foot. She used her hand, even playing the piano, and she wore open-toe sandals in the summer. And on the first day of a new school year, she’d always tell her class about her hand and foot and let them ask questions and touch her hand if they wanted to.

Because she was never self-conscious, she taught us, and many other people, to embrace ourselves, the way that God made us. We even joke with her now about her hand and foot, and most of the time she’s the one who starts it. Not because she’s embarrassed, but because she’s so sure of herself that she can laugh about it.

Mom and my nephew. See if you can identify the “snowman finger”!

There is nothing more valuable that you can give your loved ones than time.

We regularly spent time together, as a family. Even when mom went back to work after staying home with me and my sisters for 12 years, she still made family a priority. Mom and Dad attended all of our extracurricular activities, and I can barely remember them going anywhere without us. Not that I recommend not spending some “alone time” with your spouse; I know I need it! But Mom just always has made time a priority, and a gift that she’s given us and now her grandchildren.

Some of my favorite memories growing up weren’t times we were “doing something,” like taking a trip or embarking on some adventure. They were times when we were just all hanging out at home. Eating dinner together, watching TV together, talking, folding clothes, picking peas in the garden. And sitting on Mom’s lap. Now my kids get to make those memories too.

Grandma’s lap is great for sleeping!
Sometimes Grandma is the one who falls asleep!

So, happy birthday, Mom! Thanks for always giving to others, even when you don’t realize you’re doing it!


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