Sunday, May 11, 2014

Momma's Mantras

An Ode to my Mommy by Dia 2014 Mother's Day    

"The loss of her parents, sudden, unexpected, must have seemed to the little girl like total betrayal. 'Not her Mommy!' one of her friends cried. To the small child Mommy is still god, and therefore immortal, and must not betray the child and the universe by dying." A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L'Engle

Mother is everything, the beginning of beginnings, the start of life. As Doctor Who (who can speak baby) responds to one infant's cooing, "You really should call him Daddy, not just not-Mummy." Mom is, in one sense, just a person--with her projects, her personality, her baggage, her positives and negatives, her problems, her programs. But her personhood teaches us, the little people, what and how personhood can happen. She teaches through her very ontology, through her being. 

The following is an incomplete musing on my mommy's mantras--what she taught us without really saying it out loud.   And let's be honest, we're all glad it's incomplete. We'd have to include her mantra (in great grandma's words), "Damn isn't a swear word, it's a place" and "a little yelling can make you feel better," along with other less humorously un-praiseworthy things. But if it is incomplete in its damning, it is more incomplete in its praise and celebration.   Mom, you wouldn't be you without all sides and all intricacies and all imperfections, and we're grateful for your choice to be a Mother along with all else.

Mom’s ability to sew taught more than geometry and home-tech skills. Through that one skill, she models thrift, modesty, integrity, creativity and munificence as she stitches away at our projects:  She sewed countless formal dresses and Halloween costumes long into the night, my choir dress shoulder shrug, dresses made more modest for my friends, and an ingenious pencil case out of a pair of shorts that made me the talk of the homeroom class for the year,  Oh, and let us not forget how you fixed that dreaded tie skirt. 

Mom was willing to put the time behind her injunction to “use your head, Fred” as she creatively and determinedly put all her energies into every problem at hand. From her, I learned, "there is always a solution" and "we'll make it work" and with enough resources, problem-solving, hours and creativity, "Yes, you can do Halloween as a human-sized tarantula complete with 8 moving legs and venomous fangs."   For her, sewing shows love and so she stitched my dress for the wedding reception and her own dress for my wedding.  I remember seeing her for the first time--after the sealing had finished--in the dressing room, resplendent and glowing and gorgeous in a hand-sewn purple dress. "No fair, Mom, you're going to steal my thunder."

Mom taught us to do hard things, and not only do them but improve with hard work and humility. I remember having a spit-fire-hissy-fit-tantrum once when she looked at a self-portrait I'd blown off quickly for the 4th grade parents-to-school night because "I'm not an artist." 

"You can do better," she responded (to my shock), and she sat me down and taught me about proportion, angle and perspective. After an hour or so of tearful sulking behind a slammed door, I realized I really could do better, and tried, and did better, and changed my perspective of myself forever afterward: "I can do new things, and if I'm humble enough to take correction, I can improve."

I remember Mom inventing ingenious new methods for boring tasks like patiently brushing Ian’s teeth reciting A, ">Apatosaurus, B, Brachiosaurus, C, Corythosaurus, D, Deinonychus,and all the way through the alphabet every single night. This was the only tactic that would hold his attention long enough to stand still and have his teeth brushed. 

Whenever she watched a friend or neighbor's crazy, filthy children, she would teach every single one--individually, and with utmost love and attention, and often with a humorous story or illustration--why we put away our toys, and why we washed our hands. She taught us that children are creative, intelligent, important and worthwhile---by treating them as though they are.

I'm hoping to keep learning from her for a long, long time, because though I've got "person" down OK, I still need so much help in learning how to teach personhood to a new little person. I hope my little person can learn just as much from Grandmother (Nina's) mantras as I learned from her.