Some moms put themselves out there. They head up the PTA, the school committees, the Cub Scouts, the sports and music booster clubs. They get in and get things done. Such moms get out the vote, they run for public office, they stand up to give speeches in church and community meetings and make themselves heard. They lead the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary organizations.
My mom wasn’t one of these dynamos. Shy, retiring, and constantly coping with a lifelong illness that seriously limited her energy, she lacked confidence and preferred a more back-seat approach to life. My dad was the social member of the duo who served in leadership positions. He loved to talk and meet people. Mom was delighted to be his support person listening to his stories and conversations, meeting his friends, serving quietly where she was called and making sure things at home were in order so he could shine. If her life was a movie, she would win the award as best supporting actress. For her, getting even the details done on time required determination and planning ahead to allow for the frequent naps each day that her condition required. Dad understood, adapted, and supported her. They were a team. She was quiet and reserved in a myriad of ways, but Mom fiercely headed up our family cheering section.
She didn’t really care much for sports, but her husband and four sons were avid athletes and fans. So Mom could often be found in the bleachers at the football games, knowing when to cheer by following Dad’s lead and worrying the whole time that her boys might get hurt. She once confided in my football star brother that she didn’t go to all the games because she would rather hear about him lying out on the field hurt than to see it for herself. She headed a world of hungry, active, growing boys: bicycles, balls, ball games, occasional injuries, and noisy exchanges. Drawing herself to her full five foot two stature—head and shoulders shorter than her boys—she ousted wrestling matches from her living room floor to the back lawn in defense of her furniture, herded the wrestlers in to clean up for dinner and managed to keep them in order.
Initially at least, I must have been something of a relief when I came tailing in as the last child and only girl. But I idolized my older brothers, and set out to be like them. I ran the neighborhood, climbed joyously through trees and over sheds with my boy cousins and the neighborhood boys. There was little chance of my succeeding in following their footsteps, however, because the gene pool apparently ran out of athletic talent before I arrived. Besides, Mom was having none of that. Primarily at her insistence, I learned to sew, embroidery, cook, decorate, and play the piano. I even took dancing lessons for a time but my skills and attitude toward it became burdensome even for her. All of this was an approach/avoidance conflict for me. I wanted to know these things, but I didn’t have inborn patience to learn them. But Mom did.
Some of the scenes from my childhood are embarrassing now. There were tantrums about practicing and tantrums about seams that had to be unpicked. There was wheedling to get more time to be out with friends in the neighborhood when there was work to be done. I was no match for Mom’s tenacity. Sometimes she let me win the battle, but I never won the war. She stuck it out making sure I learned the things I needed to know to “act like a girl.” As she frequently warned me, I would someday thank her for her patience. Those skills she tenaciously taught me have shaped my adult life making me a better wife, mother, and homemaker. And I have learned to love doing those things and passed them to my girls.
After my brothers and I were grown with families of our own, we held a reunion at a campground in the mountains. We made quite the procession with station wagons, campers, and vans burgeoning with children, grandchildren, and all the gear required to set up camp for a couple of nights.
Our lives and jobs scattered us across the country, so our enthusiasm at all being together made us a pretty noisy bunch. In the evening, we gathered around a campfire chattering, laughing, and grabbing errant children before they could get too close to the flames or set fire to sticks and the campground while directing each other in the art of toasting the perfect marshmallow.
Mom slipped away to use a restroom 20 or so yards from camp. She never had much of a sense of direction, and it manifested itself that night. She got lost. She came out the door, turned the wrong way and began to wander. She could hear our voices through the trees, but the darkness and the sounds from other camps confused her. Frightened, she wandered for about 45 minutes to find her way back to camp. When she found all of us thoroughly engrossed in our marshmallows and campfire stories—totally oblivious to her absence—she got mad — and she wasted no time in letting us know about it. Here she was, she said, lost in the mountains, with wild animals abounding and no one even bothered to come to her rescue! She pointed out that her family should be more concerned for her well being and at least notice that she was missing!
She was right of course—except about the abundance of nearby ferocious animals—but her irritation did nothing to dampen our spirits. Instead of offering her the sympathy she deserved, we found the situation very funny. The story quickly became legend—a family favorite that often came up later to tease Mom.
She may have been directionally challenged in life, but Mom was absolutely clear about the direction toward her eternal goals. She knew where she was going and was resolute about how and when she was going to get there. Plainly and simply she knew where the iron rod was, how to hold onto it, and how to show us the way. She may have let us win minor battles over things like whether to unpick a seam now or wait until later, but she never wavered on eternal matters. Honesty was honesty—no rationalizing was allowed. Learning in school required study, and study we did. If we slacked off, privileges disappeared. If we gave our word on something, there was no backtracking—we followed through. If discipline was required, it was administered.
We knew we could trust her and dad. When we made mistakes, we were quick to tell them ourselves. In our minds, telling them was much less humiliating than letting it come from someone else. They held to their rules, and we were required to rectify our errors, but we always knew that they were on our team and that once the problem was resolved, it was resolved. They didn’t rehearse our errors to others or bring them up later to make us feel guilty. (When enough time had passed to erase the shame, some of these stories did however become family favorites—usually told on ourselves.)
Mom taught us by example and insistence that we could and must do hard things. She didn’t make a big deal of telling us so, but she believed in us and we knew it. My brothers and I have shared moments when each of us made right decisions in our youth and adult lives largely because we couldn’t bear to let our mother down.
Mom may never be famous and her accomplishments may not be publicly lauded, but her contributions have left a mark on generations. I sometimes think that Solomon must have known my quiet, shy little mother when he described the homespun talents of a virtuous woman in Proverbs 31. The verses don’t talk about fame and fortune but they do list much that describes her. Solomon’s summary says it all:
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies…
Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. —Proverbs 31:10, 18, 29
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