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!

28 thoughts on “You Could Learn a Thing or Two (or Four) from My Mom”

  1. I have found memories of your mother as well. I spent a lot of time at your house with Peggy and I was smiling the whole time I was reading your entry today. Your words are perfect. What a wonderful present for your mother! Happy Birthday!

  2. This is great! Can I do like you always let me do to Grandma Cook’s cards and sign my name on it too? Because I feel the same way. Just kidding though…you can take all the credit for this because you deserve it! Very nicely written, but I am biased because I agree that “OUR MOM ROCKS!!!!!”
    Oh, and crap…we got Mom the same birthday present. I also got her squat. We should’ve conferred with each other when we went shopping. Except that we didn’t go shopping. Hence the problem.

  3. Absolutely fabulous! I remember staying at your house and feeling like one of the family. And I’ve always aspired to have multiple washers and dryers like your mom did! No, I’m not joking! I never noticed her birth defect. Must have been because her beauty and warmth outshined it! Happy birthday Mrs Peterson!

  4. Well now we know why the Peterson girls turned out so well…. Your mom is a great lady for sure! Blessings to her and you!

  5. Wow! That was my cry for the day! Yay, Mom!! Paula summed how we all feel best!! Super awesome post! (Did you write it on your Serenity Now Desk?:) In a parenting situation I always ask myself “what would Mom do?” I hope I can be even half the Mom you are!! Happy Birthday, and we miss you!!

    Next year at least ONE of us has to send her something so the rest of us can sign our name!! We really should coordinate.

  6. Oh my goodness! I love Joan. A couple a memories, just to keep the love-fest going…

    Joan was our Bible School coordinator (I don’t know if that is the right term, but she was in charge) when we were growing up. I remember all those church camp songs–Rise and Shine (Arky, Arky), Father Abraham, Deep and Wide and I picture her in front of the sanctuary full of kids singing and dancing along with the rest of us.

    I was unfortunately between Pam and Peggy in age and only got to hang out for a Peterson party once, a wrap party after a play. I was either a freshman or sophomore. Paula, I think you were a senior. I don’t really remember what we did, but I remember that it was a good time. I’m pretty sure I even spent the night. I imagine there were a good 20 to 30 of us there and when your mom and dad got tired they just went to bed, leaving who-ever was left there to enjoy themselves.

    Joan stopped me at the church Christmas program this year. She made a point to tell me that she heard nothing but good things about me, as a teacher, and the preschool program in Murray. Joan actually has contributed to that program more than she realizes. I have great memories of the few opportunities I got to interact with her, and Gerry (the other preschool teacher) student-taught with Joan.

    She is really a great teacher, a wonderful mom (to many more than the three of you), and a terrific person all the way around.

    Happy Birthday Mrs. Peterson!

  7. I kind of figured this was from all of us, so no worries! Man, now Mom is going to have to return one of our squats… Unless you got her a gift receipt?

  8. Carol, you are one of the families that I remember having so much fun with! And I STILL remember the winter party at your house–sledding, ice skating, etc. SO MUCH FUN! I’m so blessed that Mom and Dad picked out such amazing friends! πŸ™‚

  9. Well, the fact that I had enough clarity in my head to actually write this is because of one amazing sister that helped me clear out my crap this weekend! And don’t worry, that post will appear soon… πŸ™‚ Did you seriously cry, though? Wimp.

  10. Wow…that made me cry too!! Your mom is awesome. Happy belated birthday Joan….I always wanted to grow to be you!!! You are an awesome cook, mom, and grandma. You are very blessed.

  11. That was a wonderful post, Paula! Happy Belated Birthday to Joan, my second mom. Love to all the Petersons!

  12. Thank you sooo much for all of the kind words. You never cease to amaze me with your talents (along with your equally talented sisters). What a wonderful gift. I, also, am a wimp as I shed many tears while I was reading. This blog is a much better gift than the one from Bugsy (one that required lots of Spot Shot and the carpet cleaner…in multiple places…..and I shed NO tears.) It is I who should be thanking you and your sisters for all the joy that raising you three has brought to Dad and me. No woman is prouder of her children and grandchildren than I….for I am wonderfully blessed.

  13. Your mom deserves all of those comments and more. I am blessed to have so many good friends and the very best, your mom. I do have to add though that she is soooo much older than I am. Can I pick the older friends! We celebrated with your mom, dad and Rich yesterday by going to Casa Grande for lunch at the in and out burger, shopping(mostly at Lowe’s) and seeing “True Grit”. Even on her birthday she is thinking of others!

  14. I love you, Joan! Thanks for sharing Paula. I always took it for granted that I would be welcome in the Peterson house, thanks in large part to your mom. πŸ™‚

  15. Paula- absolutely amazing!As always.
    Momma Peterson- You blessed not only your girls that you gave birth to but those of us you didn’t. I always loved spending time there andthe time that I loved there! I never felt like someone just staying there but like part of the family! So many good memories and lessons learned! Thank you for being there for your family, your kids in school, the girls friends, and for being wonderful friend to Mom and dad also!
    I hope it was an amazing and wonderful day!

  16. That is really wonderful, Paula. I guess you don’t need to worry about birthday cards for the years to come now πŸ˜‰

  17. What a great present, Paula. There is no family like yours. I loved being at your house and enjoyed many a chocolate caramel brownie and even lots I’d sauteed mushrooms. I would say that, along with Bub and Joan, you, Pam and Peggy made people feel at ease and welcome, too. It is in the genes. Along with the fun and joy of being a close friend of Pam’s (and Van Halen rockin’ buddy), I got the benefit of feeling like part of your family countless times. It was like going on vacation to be at your house because it was just so relaxed. I hope to be like Joan when I grow up, too. You are well loved, Joan, from around the world!

  18. Wow, thanks, Angie! So sweet of you!!! It’s awesome to hear so many people back up the way I feel about my mom! πŸ™‚ Take care!!!

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