(photo of my sister Hawa, me (as a blonde) and my Mom, Marianne, in Abu Dhabi)
My friend Tereza (who I’m going to refer to as Terezko from now on) wrote the loveliest tribute to her mom this mother’s day and it started me thinking about my own mom. I’m fortunate to have my Mom (and my Dad) still around, but I can make a tribute to her while she is only a phonecall away.
My Mom is inspirational, too, though I was pretty hard on her growing up. She didn’t work outside of the home. As a fierce feminist at a young age, this bothered me. I thought my Mom was wasting her brilliance on making us lunches and feeding the cows. It took me until I was mature enough to see how much she impacted my life and my own independence. She didn’t need to go to an office every day to do this. She was incredibly wise and made choices that were right for her and her happiness.
A little about my Mom. She is an artist and that is what makes her the happiest: creating art. Growing up, I judged her for not pushing her career (she had a degree in biology and her father wanted her to become a doctor), but I failed to see that she had crafted the exact scenario where she could push her career in the direction that she wanted (she didn’t want to become a doctor, she was an artist). The only thing that was missing for her was the time to focus on her art 100%, but I think daily life inspired her. The farm life inspired her. Us kids inspired her. My Dad inspired her. Her lifestyle gave her the space to experiment and explore her creative thoughts. When it didn’t work, there was no financial pressure to make her throw in the towel. When it worked, there was no financial pressure to pigeon hole her creativity. And she became a great artist because of it – selling lots of paintings, being juried into frequent shows and having her art win awards and be showcased in international publications.
All along the way, she was a wonderful and dedicated mother. She was the kind of mother who paid attention to details like making halloween costumes from scratch and sitting down with us as Christmas approached to build elaborate gingerbread houses. I was in figure skating for 10 years and she made most of my skating dresses and costumes herself. I think the most I had time to make for my own son growing up was a…wait…I don’t think I handmade anything. I remember him reveling over some cookies I baked at one point because it was such a rarity! Being a mother fulfilled my Mom. She involved us in creating, from stained glass sculptures (we were in charge of the foiling around the edges) to sewing costumes to gingerbread villages to you name the creative outlet, she involved us. I became a writer because of it.
She also gave me tidbits of wisdom along the way that have become the core to the way I operate in life. I call them Momisms. I think they are the most important lessons I have ever learnt:
- If a person is nice to you, but treats the wait staff like garbage, this is not a nice person. Not only did it help define my judge of character, but it also made me keenly aware of how I treat EVERYONE around me.
- Those kids at school are teasing you because you expose their greatest fears. See here that she didn’t say, “because they are jealous” or “because you are special”. The difference here is couched in empathy. I already knew I was different. I was an oddball. What I didn’t realize until my Mom told me was that I was teased because my being different made my peers question their sameness. Instead of reacting hautily or defensively, I could act with empathy to the people who were being mean to me, which almost always neutralized the situation.
- You are a child of the universe…you have the right to be here. She had the poem, Desiderata, posted at her bedside all of her life and often jokingly called me the pet name ‘child of the universe’. I didn’t pay much attention to it until a recent trip when I read it again and found it profound and very similar to many of my Mom’s basic lessons. It obviously means a lot to her. The basis is to live your life with intention and purpose – not seeking outside validation or comparing yourself to others. I’m still learning this.
- I hate wastefulness. Not really a quote, but something that shaped me into the anti-blind-consumption person I am. I became incredibly mindful of waste: running a washing machine for a few towels bothers me, I avoid buying things with crazy amounts of packaging and re-use when I can, I turn off lights as soon as I leave a room. When I was 16, I embarrassed my group of friends by lecturing a restaurant on serving their ‘eat-in’ meals in styrofoam containers and wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper calling out the local businesses that need to learn how to reduce, reuse and recycle. (why I was unpopular!) I think my Mom was incredibly proud.
I picked a very different path than my Mom, who tells me it took her a while to breathe easy for my decisions, but that she admires them nonetheless (she often compares our relationship to the one in Beaches – where I’m Bette Midler’s character and she is Barbara Hershey’s – another reference I failed to understand until more recently as I took it too literally). She knows she raised a strong-willed, independent daughter and the residual outcome of that is that I would always choose the unclear path. As a Mom myself, I understand how this can be both a point of pride and a point of stress. But even though she knew the monster she was creating, she did it. She never prepped me to marry for money or to get a steady job. She allowed me to believe that I could be a pirate when I grew up. She held her breath and tongue many times in my life as I made “wrong turns” – some that went awry and some that turned out great. Of course, she encouraged with positive reinforcement when I made decisions that would stabilize my life, but she also knew that those decisions weren’t always true to my being. And in spite of the grey hairs I’ve given her over the years, she still sings the theme song to Beaches to me periodically. I tell her, “Someday it may pay off, or maybe not, but I have lots of experience and stories to tell.”
So…Happy Mother’s Day to Marianne Hunt! Thank you for making me a better person and teaching me the most fundamental lessons of being a human being who is true to herself and her life path. Without you, I don’t know if I would like the person I am. Thank you.