My mama worked full time when I was growing up, as a forest ranger for the Corps of Engineers. Every other Friday she had the day off and she would be at our school, volunteering for the teachers, filing paperwork in the office or making copies for the classrooms. I know this was the last thing she wanted to do, but she knew that when you do this your children get treated better. It’s just the truth. She couldn’t be a PTO mom, but she would do what she could to be present in our lives.
With both our parents still working, my sister and I homeschooled ourselves through high-school. We loved it and learned so much more than we would have otherwise. My sister is a homeschool mom now, and I expect, given the chance, I will become one too. But in the human heart, there is always a tendency to imagine your choices reflect a superiority of self. I heard a mother say once, “I homeschool my children because I love them.” We all say things in ways we don’t mean, and if she heard herself, she’d probably take it back.
Having grown up, and seen both sides now, all kinds of moms and ways of rearing, it seems to me that motherhood, like the Christian life, is chiefly a matter of the heart. There is no substitute, and no thwarting, real love, but this you will find in the most unexpected places, and sometimes not where it should be. As the great Rich Mullins said, there’s a wideness in God’s mercy I cannot find in my own. He is a designer, after all, not a manufacturer.
My mama was perfect for me. She was stretched thin. She would wake up singing the Steven Curtis Chapman song well the day is just begun and I’m already running late… but she woke up singing. She would bring me coffee and cinnamon sugar toast in bed, then she would spank me with the hairbrush for refusing to brush my teeth. She taught us all the plants and trees of the forest and to revere our grandparents. She didn’t tell us Santa Claus was real, but she didn’t say he wasn’t either. She read out-loud to us as often as she could, and she didn’t pile ambition or expectation on us or ever wanted us to be especially good at anything, but she loved what ever small thing we accomplished. She never told me I was beautiful, but she would put the fear of God in me if I was unkind. She asked for my forgiveness more than she encouraged me to ask for it from others. She wasn’t better than your mother, at least that’s certainly not what I’m here to say. But she, in all her strengths and faults, even in all the TV dinners and episodes of Murder She Wrote, was perfectly suited to mother me, God helping her.
I called her this very morning, too sick to lift my head. She walked over in the 28 degrees with a plate of eggs and potatoes and cup of weak coffee. She sat me up in the oversized chair, put no pressure on my day, and told me to stay inside awhile and write, of all things.
There was a short period of time when I thought growing up meant doing without your mother, but now that I am one, however fragile, I see that she will always be giving herself to me, for as long as she can, because this is what she was made to do. She will receive her greatest joy in this, which is good, because I will continually need it. I think of my friends who have lived many years without mothers of their own, and I marvel at their strength and understand more their sorrow, and I know they would say it is a good thing to be able to live without, but it is a better thing to see what you have, while you have it, and be intensely grateful for it. I feel that way this morning. I know she will read this, so, Thank you Mama. You have been a wonderful mother, a true friend and surely the world’s finest neighbor, and you see I still, sometimes, listen and do just as you say.