Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mothers' Day!

On this marvelous day, I would like to honor an amazing woman who has shaped and influenced my life in many ways: Tina Fey.

Just kidding. I’d like to recognize my mother, the fabulous Kelly Sue Thomas Stoddard.

How can I briefly capture my mom? My mom is seriously awesome. I know that EVERYONE says that about their mom. Especially on MOTHERS’ DAY.  But for reals. No mom is as crazy awesome as mine. My mom is hilarious and warm and talented and kind and did I mention hilarious? Instead of trying to draw examples of every great quality that my mom possesses and list the many ways that she has exemplified such qualities, I am going to share a few things that I have learned from her.

Be sincere. My mom is not perfect. And, fortunately for us, she has always been confident and secure enough in her own imperfection that instead of some collection of tricks and pretenses aimed at earning our respect or getting us to toe the line, we get to just enjoy the real Kelly. My mom is okay with who she is. That doesn’t mean that she thinks she’s perfect or isn’t trying to improve. It just seems to me that she likes herself as a person. Maybe it’s easy for her, because she really is just an awesome person. But I choose to believe that her self-assuredness is the result of deep soul-searching and conscious effort. My unpretentious nature is something that I learned from her.

Snuggle with your kids and tuck them into bed at night. When we woke up in the morning as kids, we went straight to mom’s bed, climbed in and cuddled. She wasn’t the type that would wake up an hour before us to have hot pancakes ready, but I value just as much those memories of snuggling up against my mother, sometimes having to fight my brother or sister for the warm spot closest to her. As time went on, it got more and more interesting, with three teenagers at once trying to cram into mom’s queen-sized bed with her. Perhaps this was not the most productive way for all of us to begin the day, but it did help to nurture a sense of closeness.  Also, at night, my mom would always come and visit with each of us before we went to sleep. It was a great way to decompress, a good time to share things with each other, and one way that I knew that she cared about me uniquely and separately from my siblings. Even when I was a teenager, she would routinely come into my room and sit on my bed and talk to me. If any mother wants to know how to get her child to talk to her about things, this is the secret.

It’s okay to take off your bra. My mom did this all the time. If we were watching tv, or just lounging around the house, or going on a long drive, that bra was coming OFF! Even when my brother was a teenager, my mom was never ashamed to afford herself this basic comfort. I am typing this currently without a bra on. I learned this from you, mother!

Friends are important. When I was very young, I remember my mom hanging out with other moms of young kids. It worked out- we kids got some play time in while they enjoyed a little adult conversation. But it went beyond that. She enjoyed chatting with other women from church- I know this absolutely because when we would drag her away from church immediately after our meeting ended because we wanted to go home and eat lunch, she got very upset and spent the drive home telling us how angry she felt that she didn’t get to visit with the other women. As we got older, she made more friends from different, adult circles and they sometimes came over to our house to visit. They might sit out on the back porch and have some adult time. My mom talked to us about them, we knew who they were. One younger, single friend even came to live in our basement for a stint! My mom showed us that she valued her friendships. As a kid, I never thought much of it. But now, as a mom, I sometimes feel so busy with my kids’ social lives that I forget that I need to have one, too, and that it’s not only okay, it’s important for moms to have adult time with friends. My mom also expressed interest in our friends. As a teenager, she knew many of my friends and they knew her. It was okay to invite friends over to our house and she made it a place where we didn’t feel embarrassed or afraid to bring people over. She encouraged us to build friendships, and sometimes would tell us things that she liked about our friends. It meant a lot to me that she cared who I was spending time with and it probably gave her some peace of mind to know the types of kids that I was hanging out with as well.

Share your knowledge and talents. My mom may not have gone to a fancy university or competed in the Olympics (although, she could have!). But she knew a lot of practical things and never hesitated to share them with us when the opportunity arrived. As I go about my daily life, I am constantly noticing the things that my mother taught me. Things like putting the brush that you use to wash dishes through the washer once in a while. A little baby powder in your sneakers to help keep them dry. Don’t  buy generic graham crackers, they taste like cardboard. She always taught so casually, succinctly and by example, that her lessons really sunk in. She taught me that you plant marigolds around your vegetables to deter rabbits and deer. She taught me and my sister to drive a manual car and she is possibly the best parallel parker currently walking the earth. She can ride a unicycle. And drive a motorcycle. And give really good massages. And pretty much everything she cooks or bakes is amazing. 

Shrug it off. One of my biggest pet peeves: frequently practiced traffic violations. You know, the ones that everyone commits so often that we forget that they’re even illegal? I am the worst backseat driver ever and adamantly criticize rule breaking. It has caused a lot of fights between me and Micah. Once while we were riding with my mom, I snapped that it was illegal to change lanes within 100 feet of an intersection. Instead of an irritated retaliation, she waved her hand and just said, “oh, poo”. It may seem simple, but I think that her attitude of shaking off criticism has made her resilient enough to overcome lots of discouragement in life. Through her personal life and her career, I know that she’s encountered a lot of criticism and though she has her sensitive moments, she doesn’t mull over it and stay discouraged and depressed. After she has done her wallowing, she gets over it and moves on. Also she’s not one for huge emotional reactions. I remember a few distinct occasions when she was really angry or upset and I can remember them because they were out-of-the-norm. Usually, she was a very roll-with-the-punches type of mom who didn’t overreact to the little ups and downs of life.

There is a time and a place for nudity. Skinny dipping, in the right circumstances- not a huge deal. But so deliciously liberating.

Don’t take things seriously. Many people have described me saying that I don’t take myself too seriously. I owe this all to my mother. She could start out trying to discipline us and the confrontation would end with all of us laughing, especially her, because we all knew that she just wasn’t the tough, hardball type. She was constantly doing and saying ridiculous, silly things. We teased her and she teased us right back and we all laughed. I feel like our society is moving towards this state of hypersensitivity- we can’t tease and poke fun and risk hurting each others feelings. In our home, feelings were never hurt. My mom had the marvelous gift of being able to laugh at herself and, in turn, taught us to do the same. (My mom might call me after seeing this post and pretend to be offended that I shared such a hideous picture of her, but I will know that she is just pretending to be offended and we will both enjoy a hearty chuckle knowing that, in reality, it is a pretty funny picture.)

It’s okay to make a mess. “Clean enough to be healthy, messy enough to be happy”. That was my mother’s mantra. I don’t remember our house being particularly messy, but I remember that she would occasionally work up the energy to do a deep clean of one room and it would inevitably lead to a bunch of stuff being moved to, and cluttering up, a different room. When we were kids, she didn’t get mad if we came home covered in mud. My mom occasionally hosted “panty painting parties” in which my sister and I were joined by our best friends from down the street, stripped down into our underwear, and given paint and paper. It always digressed into us smearing paints all over ourselves, after which we would get hosed off in the back yard. My mom refinished our hardwood floors once- a pretty heft job that created a good mess while it was going on. Another time, I remember my mom canning homemade applesauce and I looked around the kitchen and was shocked by the heaps of dirty dishes we had created. But my mom never seemed to take big messes in stride, understanding that messes can be cleaned and she would get to it.

Say sorry. My mom was not a big yeller, at least not to us kids. If she ever did lose her temper with us, she would come to us later and apologize. This was huge. I didn’t think much of it as a little kid, but looking back now, I think that this is one of the biggest reasons that I always knew that my mom loved me. It’s easy for kids to feel their parents love when the parents are acting kindly towards them. But it’s in those moments when a parent does yell or criticize or otherwise freak out that kids need the most assurance of their parents’ continuing love. My mom gave us that. When she was harsh with us, she sought reconciliation and instead of trying to teach us what we as kids should be doing differently, she admitted the things that she as a mother needed to do differently.

Try different hairstyles. My mom has done it all. She has grown it long, chopped it short, permed it, and dyed it every color that occurs in nature. And some hairdos looked better than others. But it’s hair. It grows back. Even when she was really not pleased with a new hairstyle, she didn’t make a huge deal out of it.

Have a taste for adventure. Once upon a time, my mother suddenly found herself an empty nester. After nearly 20 years living in the same house, she gave it all up and began working for a company that lined her up with traveling gigs. It has been a blast just to see all the places she has gone. She is always up to try something new and she isn’t afraid to explore a new place by herself. Kayaking in the Ho Rainforest west of Seattle? Sounds fun! Halloween in downtown Salem, MA? Cool! Hot springs in the mountains? Let’s go! She is like a modern explorer, savvy enough to keep herself safe but in-tune enough to appreciate the wonder of new places and experience.

Really, this is quite a short list. I could go on and on if I had all the time in the world. My mother has taught me so much. I feel more prepared to be a mother because of her example and I hope that I can do as good of a job raising my kids as she has done raising us. I love you, mom!

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