My mother died 4 years ago. A lot has changed in my life since then. We moved back to South Africa from Costa Rica (we already had our tickets booked when my mom passed), both of my parents dogs have died, and most importantly, I have become a mom myself.
People told me that there were things that I would never understand until I became a mother, and they were right (although I did not believe them).
Since having my own child, I have done a great deal of reflection on the relationship that my mom and I had. (I once read that our relationship with dead loved ones doesn’t end, it just continues one sided). I have been paying particular attention to the things that my mom taught me.
There are the obvious and trivial things, like how to tie my shoelaces and how to brush my teeth, how to make a cup of tea. My mother also taught me non-trivial stuff, and shaped the person who I am, but a great deal of it I did not notice at the time. For example, my mother taught me to be vulnerable. Even though some people continually took advantage of her kindness, and took it for weakness, my mother chose to Dare Greatly. She chose to feel, and to continually show up, even when motherhood was being particularly challenging. (Because let’s face it motherhood is tough, and my mother raised her two daughters in an era when motherhood was supposed to be easy and effortless.)
My mother taught me to read and love stories, and it is in the moments when I am sharing stories with my son that I appreciate it the most.
My mom taught me to share: recently, at a picnic when I shared some chips I was warned that the children who I was sharing with might finish them, and that sharing was probably a bad idea I could almost hear my mother coming out of my mouth when I said that sharing is part of picnicking.
Probably the biggest lesson that my mother taught me is to do my best. Once in a fight in my teenage years, she turned around to me and said “I always did my best” I, being a teenager, and having recently seen the movie ‘The Rock’ told that losers always whine about “their best”. But now, as a mother, I understand more what she meant, and I have a greater appreciation for the fact that a person’s best is forever changing…that when you are struggling with two teenagers who know everything and with the aftermath of your own mother’s death, some days your best will be less than you would like, and far from the constant retakes of media filled perception. Now, on the days when I am struggling with the hard reality of motherhood, the repetitiveness of the tasks, the frustration of being expected to know what to do while fending off the hordes of outsiders who believe that they know how to raise my child better than me, I take comfort in knowing that I am doing my best.
I know that sometimes my best will be less than spectacular, and I am okay with that. One of my favourite quotes about courage is that it does not have to roar, that sometimes courage is the small voice that says I will try again tomorrow. Which was another thing that my mother taught me, to be persistent.
I could not list all the things that my mother taught me, because a number of them are taken for granted (as the prospect of toilet training my son begins to glimmer on a distant horizon, I realize that there is another thing that my mother taught me). Many of the lessons that my mom taught me I take for granted, having not thought about them at all. Other lessons, I remember with fondness.