My mom liked her schedule. Every day had regular chores, but a few had special tasks.
Wednesdays we made bread. On a snowy, wood stove-cranking sort of day, I would sit on the kitchen counter. As she measured ingredients, I put them in the bowl. Our 1970s wallpaper had strawberries. I was 4.
My mother’s Southern accent flavored the activity.
“When you grow up, Shannyn, you can have your own little girl and make bread on Wednesdays.”
“Do you get to tell me what to do when I’m a grown up?!”
I wasn’t an easy child. I know, you’re shocked. I wanted to know how everything worked: What would make something break? How could we to fix it? It wasn’t that I didn’t listen; I just asked another question after every answer. My curiosity was unrelenting.
Mom had a way of attracting the laser of my attention. She’d quietly confide a “secret” just for me. “Your dad will be home soon. He’ll want to play, so you’d better get all your toys cleaned up!”
A secret, a mission and a play date all in one whisper. I loved that.
I was crushed and slightly paranoid to find out in Sunday school that God already knew my every thought and I’d never be able to tell Him a secret.
So many distant hazy memories sharpen when I think of my mother. I’m quite sure the most amazing anecdotes for me weren’t necessarily the ones she would have realized as they were unfolding. Sometimes it’s only with time, space and perspective that we recognize such incidents.
My folks came to Alaska before I was born. Their mothers said goodbye to them for one year. They came as missionary teachers to a home for orphans and displaced Alaska Native kids. Their one-year agreement turned into 43 and counting.
After the three of us daughters were old enough to attend school, my mom returned to teaching. For the life of me I could never figure out why she wanted to be in a room full of first- and second-graders. But she absolutely loved to teach children to read. It was magic. It was her passion. She taught my daughter to read at Grandma Camp. I remember the first time Javin read a street sign and astonished herself that all those letters actually formed a word.
Mom grew up in a family with nine sisters and one brother. She took refuge at the library in her hometown, where she could “travel all over the world without going anywhere.”
When she retired, she became a hospice worker — for children.
Again, the unexpected moments stand out. Wig shopping with her in the midst of her chemotherapy made real the cancer I could not see. I broke down. Her bald head was a reality I wasn’t prepared for and could not accept. She became a breast cancer survivor.
Several years ago, Mom and Pop met with my sisters and me. They brought us around a corner I had dreaded and hoped didn’t exist. Mom’s cancer had returned, and it was untreatable.
She is not dying. In her faith, family and friends, she is living. Every moment.
Oscar Wilde said, “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”
I can assure you, my 4-year-old self — wondering if Mom would get to boss me around when I grew up, or my teenage hell-terror incarnation, or me a week before giving birth to my own daughter all would have said, “No way, I will never become my mother.”
Now, I can only hope to have a fraction of her strength and grace.
I truly never understood how much my mother loved me until I had a child.
Mother’s Day. We all have a mother, and I, without buying a ticket, won the ovarian lottery.
If you’re missing your mother today, for whatever reason, my heart goes out to you. If you touch her with a phone call or a champagne brunch with chocolate strawberries, I toast you. If you are a mother missing a child, through distance or death, I hold you in my prayers.