Dad didn’t understand why I needed a new dress. He said I already had a perfectly good one that I had only worn once. I tried to explain that I couldn’t wear a prom dress in a beauty pageant, but I could see his eyes glaze over. I had lost him. Thankfully Mom came to the rescue and bought me the dusty rose colored gown that would allow me to blend in to the crowd of big-haired hopefuls in the 1983 Miss EHS contest. Mom understood, just like she did when I absolutely had to have an Op-brand t-shirt for beach day. Dad thought $10 was excessive for a t-shirt. In all fairness, it was (back then). But I explained to Mom that “everyone would be wearing one” and that I would be left out. I wore that red Op shirt for years.
Suffice it to say, Mom understood much more than I gave her credit for when I was growing up. The tougher of the two parents, she was the one holding me accountable when I didn’t do my chores, calling me out on poor decisions and waiting for me when I stumbled home too late from a date. Like most mother-daughter relationships, we had some tricky years when I stubbornly refused her sage advice. Over time, however, we cultivated a more balanced relationship. I would learn my lessons the hard way, as most of us do, while she continued to toss out warnings that I ignored. I began to realize that her actions were based in love. Even today, in my 50’s, she still drops hints that soundly vaguely parental, and she still worries about me. That will never stop, and that is a good thing. It means she cares. If life has shown me anything, it is how difficult parenting can be, and how rare when it is done well. She did it well.
In the 90’s, Mom and I traveled a bit, taking road trips to Maine (with an accidental excursion to Canada) and New Orleans. She and I share a sense of adventure and learning new things, and I credit her for my open-mindedness, as well as my appreciation for people from all walks of life. I came to realize that I could ask her just about anything (except for technology or sports) and she would have an intelligent answer. She was my Google before Google was invented, and I often find myself telling people who ask me for advice, “I’m not sure about that. Let me call my Mom, and I’ll let you know.” As a retired social worker and avid reader, her grasp of a wide range of topics never ceases to amaze.
One of her many topics of particular expertise has always been money. Dad (like me) tended to err on the side of short-term, low-discipline financial choices, and Mom had to hold the family together. Budgeting, saving, scrimping and investing all became her strengths by necessity. I recall family meetings in the 70’s when we were told we were going to have to hunker down for a bit and cut some corners. I also recall in 2007, she told me that she was pulling all of her retirement money out of the stock market because she was concerned about the relationship between the dollar and the yen. Her financial adviser thought she was crazy, and then everything bottomed out. It was then I realized the full extent of her financial savvy, telling people that if my Mom told me to invest in dog poop, I would sign up on the spot.
While I never did develop her financial skills, I do credit her for my love of reading and passion for service to others. She took us to the library often as kids, leaving us to explore and encouraging us to bring home our prize finds. When a family in need came into her radar, she would send us to our rooms for clothes and toys to donate, and we would ride with her to the home of the recipient family, where we could meet and play with the kids who would later wear our hand-me-downs in their school photos. Those moments stay with me, and I am grateful for the perspective I gained from what was not only insightful parenting, but also leading by example. When I think about the successful parts of my life, and the good things about how I turned out as a person, I know without reservation that the credit for those traits goes to my Mom.