Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The 5 Best Lessons I learned from My Mother

My mother is an incredible woman. I don't tell her that enough.

In fact, I'll probably spend more time writing this post than I have actually spoken to her in the past few days....because I am selfish, tired and full of twenty-something year old angst.

But she will forgive me, because that's what moms do. She will smile and tell me to stop wasting time talking and just write. She will tell me to travel in my heart to wherever I need to go because she will always be here when I get back.

"I'm sorry I'm such a brat, " I will say. "Yes, but you're my brat," she says in return.

So I've been writing a lot the past few days, and each time I do that, I remember three things a little more clearly:

Who I am. Who I've been. Who I want to be.

And when the dust settles she helps me remember it's okay if these three things don't match at all.

But no matter what, one thing is always true: when I imagine the woman I strive to be, each image looks more and more like her.

She says I'm stronger and smarter than she is. I think that's silly, because she taught me everything I know. I wish with all my heart that each person on Earth knows someone like my mother.

I'd love to share her with you. Our house is like a hotel, that's true, but for now....settle for some of my favorite lessons. I would not be me without them or without her.

1.  Learn How to Read a Map

Literally, go buy an atlas and keep it in the back of your car.  There is no excuse to not make it exactly where you want to go. Do not settle for technology holding your hand. When there's traffic, you'll be long gone off-roading it on an alternate route because you can read a real ancient map.

Some of my earliest memories are driving in the car with my mom. Strong women can drive anywhere, anytime. Get your sleep, map, coffee, and music. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't. Every state on the East Coast is dog-eared in my weathered atlas because my mother raised me to do anything.

On a life scale, she taught me I would never be lost if I knew where I came from. She taught me to use my resources. There is rarely one route to a destination; the trick is being open to changing your plan. The more maps you read, the more likely you are to know where you're going.

There are maps everywhere. In people's eyes. In your gut feeling. In common sense. Read them. You don't have to wait in the traffic of life. Use your brain and find another way.

2.  Aim High in Steering

It seems like I spend all my time with her in the car. What can I say, we're women on the go.

When she was teaching me to drive, she would say, "aim high in steering," which meant...anticipate that stop light a hundred feet away and break accordingly.  I'm still terrible at breaking smoothly.

This translates so perfectly because it means more than look ahead, it means see the big picture in front of you. It means raise your perspective to the horizon. Shoot, PAST the horizon.

I get caught up in the future so often. I worry. Looking ahead has never been my problem. But seeing more...this is such an important lesson.

When I aim high, I can see so much more than what's right in front of me. Any conflict, any heartache, any crossroad- there is always more.  The world is such a lovely and enormous place.

Sometimes there's a semi in front of you and it's hard to aim high. So slow down. Take a breath. Everything will be clear soon.

"In the big scheme of your life, is this really going to matter?" she asks me. Only you will know the answer to that question.

3. Adopt Family Members

I'm confident I could be just about anywhere on this planet (except perhaps the Arctic) and be in range of SOMEONE with deep loyalty to my mother who would come for me if I needed them.

I grew up with more aunts and uncles than humanly possible to have. Why? Because my mother's heart is very large and blood is not a family requirement. There are people of all ages, religions, races, and creeds in my phone that I call family because of her. Some people might think this is strange; I think it's the way life is supposed to be.

Aunt. Cousin. Friend.  I am (or will be) honored to have those names. I hope it means the person saying them knows they could find me, day or night, and I will do anything I can to help them. I hope I never keep score. I hope there is no limit to my generosity or faith in people. I hope I never stop saying I love you. I hope I care for people half as well as she does.

4. Fear Nothing, Least of all Greatness

Some of you might be laughing because you know I am, in fact, afraid of many things.  I am the token 'safety nut' in my group of friends and the word paranoid is not a far stretch. I like to think of myself as a worst-case scenario optimist.

Growing up near DC with my father in law enforcement provided an interesting childhood. We were taught to lock our doors, scan our surroundings, and be very careful with our trust. My mother is an extremely safe person, in many ways. I used to think this made me afraid of everything- but lately I've realized it only helped me face my fears.

Whether you're afraid or not- the world (though lovely) is a scary place. The choice is how we live with that fear. Ignore it, or worse, pretend the threat is not real- and you're likely to get hurt. The alternative? "You don't get scared, you get mad." If only I had a dollar for every time my parents said this. Things are less scary when you talk about them and have a plan.

So who cares if they did background checks before sleepovers and didn't let us wander too far from the block as kids? We sure as hell weren't talking to strangers. I could use more wilderness skills but I have a plan for most emergency scenarios and I'm proud to say that.

My mother, with her passwords and "parking lot safety," didn't teach me to be afraid; she taught me the value of life. And boy does she like living. She's one of the most fun and spontaneous people I've ever met.

She had me swimming at six months old. We bike, we run, we play laser tag in the dark. We love snorkeling and fishing on boats in the Florida keys. I've slept with her under the stars of mine fields in Germany and rocky fields of Spain. We dove in caves, zip lined and kayaked in Mexico. We've walked the streets of Italy, drank water from the depths of France, sunk to our knees and wept in Portugal. We've skipped school for midnight premieres, drove across the country with an hour's notice, and waited in many emergency rooms.

She helps me pack my bags to visit a new city. She googles directions from Maryland when I make a wrong turn in Florida. She helps me pick up the pieces when my heart is broken and try again. She likes to sing with the windows down. We can never see too many beaches. She is a problem solver, make it happen kind of woman.

She taught me what on Earth is worth dying for- so that pain and suffering seemed less terrifying if death was just the beginning.  God willing I never have to prove it- but she raised me to be a fighter.

I think that's why most of all my mother hates when I make myself small.  Not the small we all actually are- in comparison to the universe- but the inadequate small.

It's true we are imperfect. There is freedom in accepting we will never earn our existence. In this way, we are small but it is beautiful. Similar to the feeling I get when I look out a plane window at the clouds or get swept into the ocean.

The lie is to believe those who are small can not also be great. Greatness, for her, is more than success. It is being the best version of yourself. Sometimes this is scary.

The fear of failure is paralyzing. The sting of hypocrisy chips away at my hope. I often feel like I take one step forward and two steps back.

"Oh well," I hear her say. "Your failures do not define you. You have right now. Try it again."

Do not be afraid of greatness. There is only one you.

5. Pray So Much It's like Breathing

My grandma Clem, when she wasn't singing in Italian, prayed the rosary all day long. She had those beads wrapped around her fingers so tight I thought they might break.

It's a habit she passed down to my mother, and I'm grateful for my mother's prayers. She prays for me, for all of you. She humbles me with her strong belief in the power of prayer. It's something I wish I had more of.

I'm most grateful for her example of constant, everyday, informal prayer. She talks to God a lot. She speaks to her mother, her siblings, and her friends who have gone home before us. There will be a line to greet her in heaven.

From an early age, she helped me see God in everything. She helped me begin to speak to Him. She prays like she breathes- it just happens without trying.

She also instilled in us a deep respect for religion and tradition, two things that are so often mocked today. Whether we were at mass, a church service with our cousins, or the temple with our uncle- we were respectful. We were honored to be in the presence of Buddhist Monks and admire the shrines of our Hindu friends.  We thanked the Mayan priest for his blessings in a cloud of smoke before we climbed into a cave. She taught us there were no limits to God's love. No human beings without His image.

I don't really care if people call us holy rollers. This is America and we'll beg for mercy all we can.

I hope when I have children I am as faithful as my mother and can pass down her wise words.

Mom, I'm scared.
Then pray the Rosary as you fall asleep and Mary will protect you.

Mom, I really messed up.
Good thing Jesus makes all things new.

Mom, I don't know what the right thing is.
Ask God and He will help you decide.

Mom, I'm worried.
Trust Him.

Mom, I don't feel anything.
Be still, and know that He is God.

Mom, sometimes I don't believe in God. Sometimes I don't believe He cares.
You know what I'm going to say. Our favorite saying. He still believes in you.