Mama told me when I was young, Come sit beside me my only son, And listen closely to what I say, And if you do this, It will help you some sunny day…
Lynyrd Skynyrd, Simple Man
My own Mom told me things when I was young that I still remember and use to this day (sunny or not). What’s more impactful now as I have my own children, is looking back on what was really happening in those early years. Watching my wife, the mother of my extensions, go through the same hard work, dealing with the same situations (even handling the same person manifest in slightly different ways), I’ve come to realize how important Mom is.
The Queen and first authority
For me, Mom is the first law giver and law enforcer of life. My Mom taught me rules and the consequences of breaking them. She was the first interaction with authority I can remember, even before preschool. She ran our home in ways I could never understand in those moments. With my Wife, I’ve come to realize the grueling labor that goes into steering, correcting, cultivating babies into healthy, obedient, and productive children. I’m not exactly looking forward to taking them into adolescence, adulthood, and later ages; but I know their Mother will always be a constant compass in their lives and source of wisdom when they need it most.
In time I hope my children look back like I have and understand what their mother has done and sacrificed for them. This, of course, requires them to have children of their own.
Lead by example: sacrifice thine self
Being a mother is a pure selfless act. You give up potential actions, mobility, comfort, health, and in days before modern medicine–your life could be forfeit. And then you give birth.
Watching my wife endure labor was one of the worst situations I’ve gone through, and I wasn’t even the one dealing with the pain. After our first, C-sections put the agony on the recovery side (rather than delivery), but still a tax of suffering levied to bring forth life into our family. My wife will have paid that tax four times by October 2017.
As an adult observing the bloody sacrifices, I was shocked. As a husband and father participating in a life with young (and growing) children, I’m still shocked. But my wife is seemingly built for it. She’s endlessly patient, smarter than me when outsmarting the kids, and always knows what to do when things go sideways. She’s prepared for anything, forgets nothing, and can fit everything into all the pockets of her bags.
It’s all quite seamless to our kids, I imagine. They’ll never know how hard it is to clean, clothe, feed, bandage, calm, carry, contain, and conversate with them–sometimes all at once.
My Wife: mother of my progeny, caretaker of my souls
Seeing my wife in action is like having the ghost of my youthful mother visiting me. “So this is what it was like,” I tell myself daily. With each new day, I see more of what my mom did for me.
While not exclusively, I see portions of myself inside my kids; each one contains a fragment of who I am, a copy of my soul. It’s blended and augmented with Hers, of course, but my material is in there, being lovingly cared for and nurtured, safely kept and fiercely guarded, hugged and kissed by my better half.
My Wife is indeed a biological mother to actual biological parts of me. In some weird way that makes her a partial biological mother to me. Life is mysterious in how these distributed forms emerge, and she is raising the one we created together. I’m sure her actions will be just as influential, memorable, leading as my own mother’s.
The things my mother/s taught me (Professionalism 101)
In no particular order, here are some of the most important lessons my mother (and other influential matriarchs) taught me:
Always give a firm handshake. I remember my mother testing my handshake as a boy. She always insisted that men shook hands firm and showed me what that meant. To this day, every handshake I make brings back that memory. I once shook hands with some colleagues from England, and they complained how much it hurt. I laughed and told them my mom taught me how to properly shake hands.
Always look people in the eye. This lesson always stuck with me. It takes time and confidence in your actions to do this comfortably. Whenever I have face to face meetings, I make a point to show myself clearly, which involves maintaining eye-contact and having an honest conversation. It’s said that the eyes are windows to the soul, I believe this to be true. You can tell shadiness from hardiness, talent from forgery, through someones eyes while they’re speaking. If you’re sensitive enough, you can see the gears of a brain turn through someone’s pupil. Pay close attention. Especially to those who hide their eyes.
Work before play. One of the most important lessons I strive to teach my children. Sacrifice and discipline are built into this one; you must learn to delay gratification to do what’s right, to do what must be done. Without work, there can be no life. No family life, no biological life. Even animals have to work. Bees, ants, monkeys, wolves. Honey badgers especially know about working hard.
But that’s not to say play isn’t important; it is. Now that I’m older and free thinking, I believe the best situation is to make work playful, but at the end of the day it’s the work that is the engine of our world. It’s work that provides food. It’s what pays bills, provides a living, sustains children and family. It’s work that solves problems, improves situations, and stimulates evolution. Play is fun, but not nearly as important as work. If you can do both at the same time, you’re in a rare and extraordinary situation–congratulations!
Never settle for less than your best. My mom was extremely supportive, but mediocrity never impressed her. She knew I was capable of a lot, so slacking off and bringing home less-than-A grades earned little praise. It was the A’s she expected to see, and the A’s I worked for. Instinctively I’ve always given the best of me to whatever I’ve attempted; from blowing up birthday balloons to building software to organizing vacations. I was raised to give 100% effort 100% of the time.
Prevent problems. My mom was constantly on the watch for problems. Sometimes to an extreme, but most of the time she prevented badness from taking shape. This has been a supremely helpful point of view as a professional problem solver. It is better to prevent fires than to fight them when they’re burning. While a rare attitude, this is not entirely new thinking: Henry David Thoreau put it well when he said,
For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.
It is going after the root of problems that I learned from my mother during the time she raised me.
Follow your heart. This one came from my wife. She’s always been my compass and has appropriately guided me to follow my heart in this life.
Smile at the rain. This one didn’t come from my wife or mother, but from a significant matriarchal mentor. When times get tough, keep your head up and moving forward with a smile.
Katie, I am one of your creations and can’t thank you enough for the lessons I learned under your leadership.
Stay positive. This one is from my mother-in-law. She’s always keeping things positive, even when times are tough. Having moved her family like twenty times, dealt with hellions for several decades, and been through extreme tragedy, she is well-qualified to speak to this. Every time I see her, she’s always embodying this lesson (and not on any valium as far as I know!).
Thank you, moms
There are other lessons my mom taught me, some things I’ll pass on to my kids and some things I’ll keep to myself. In the end I believe I am who I am because of my mom, and I’m still growing as an adult because of my wife. These matriarchs in my life have taught me so much, and through their teachings I’ve become a better person. For that I thank them, and owe them much.