Unspoken Lessons

“Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate”-unknown

The front room in my parent’s house is the proud keeper of most of our family’s photographs. Over the years, I tried to be fair, but please don’t count how many times I appear in these pictures because you might leave thinking I’m a bit of a narcissist. One of my self-appointed roles in our family was (and still is) “photograph changer & putter-upper,” and I may be a bit biased.

Photos hold time when our minds fail to remember. That’s why I love pictures so much. Sometimes, though, a sound, touch, or smell, sends me back. Back to the comfort of my mother’s arms as we rocked together in the old wooden rocking chair. Sitting by her side as she carefully prepared my hair in rag ties for an Easter celebration at my grandparent’s house.

Although I know I was a royal pain at times, these are the memories I cling to as I get older. Especially as I embark on the journey of parenthood.

Photograph by Nicole Bates Photography (http://nbatesphoto.squarespace.com/)

The first house that I can remember had a playroom downstairs in the basement. We had yellow carpet. Some of my Barbies and our beloved plastic kitchen set lived downstairs. I was afraid to play downstairs alone at times, so I’d ask my mom if I could set up my kitchen in the real kitchen.

She always said yes. I made pretend food, took care of my babies, and watched my mom carefully as she graciously kept the house in order. I also made a royal mess. Did my mom care? Not a bit! She let me build forts, play with shaving cream, and spread my dolls throughout the house. Sometimes she even filled the sink or bathtub with water and let us go crazy as we played with Barbies and figurines.

Without words, she taught me that a home is a place where children are welcome in every room.

Without words, she taught me that childhood is playful and messy.

My mom always told me that I had a knack for fashion. From a young age, I enjoyed putting outfits together even though they rarely matched. Even so, she let me choose my own clothes without flinching.

My first taste of teasing was when I transferred from the Lutheran private school I attended through second grade to a third-grade class in our district’s public school system. Still vibrant with the uniqueness that our small private school fostered, I wore a jean skirt and my brother’s purple and turquoise Charlotte Hornet’s jersey. Needless to say, I was teased right off the bat. I’m not sure I ever mentioned this to my mom, but I learned quickly about the importance of “fitting” in.

It wasn’t until quite recently, after having a conversation with my brother, that I became aware of how “hands off” my mom was in regards to my outward appearance. If I wanted to pierce my nose? Go for it! Get a tattoo? Why not? Wear rainbow tube tops? The world needs color! Looking back at some of my outrageous choices, I wondered why she didn’t step in. Why didn’t she tell me I couldn’t wear that? Well, besides the obvious tantrum that would ensue, she wanted me to express myself in ways she was not allowed to in her childhood. She valued my opinions.

Without words, she taught me the importance of letting children be true to themselves.

When I was small, I stayed close to my mom. As I approached double digits, I became socially aware and enjoyed being the center of attention. I also really liked to get my own way. The times I failed, was told no or needed to be set straight, were the times I would end up in a full tantrum.

“I hate you. I HATE you. I HATE YOU!” I would scream.

“I’m sorry. I still love you” my mom would answer, calmly.

This scenario would usually continue with slamming bedroom doors, tears, and at least an hour of me running down the stairs to express my anger and back up the stairs to retreat, cowardly, in my bedroom.

After I was done, I’d seek my mom out. I think I’d apologize, but I’m not sure if I always did. Either way, my mom always greeted me with open arms. There were never hard feelings, judgment, or the sense that she would hold a grudge against me. Actually, she would never bring up the tantrum again.

Without words, she taught me about forgiveness and the importance of being gentle with children.

One of my favorite memories was visiting my mom’s classroom when she taught disabled adults. Her students believed in her authenticity and she believed in them as whole, complete, valuable humans. She is retired now from her cherished profession, but her love for teaching left an impact on my heart as I followed suit and became an educator.

Without words, she taught me to EMBRACE different.

There were some turbulent times in my early teen years, but my mom and I stayed close. She is and always has been one of my confidantes and a trusted ally when times are tough. If I ever had a question about birth control, condoms, or needed to vent after a terrible breakup, my mom was there. She never judged me or acted disappointed in me for being human. She believed in me, but she didn’t put me on a pedestal or bind me to some unrealistic expectation of who a young woman should be.

Without words, she taught me that I had a voice in my decisions.

I’m married now with a beautiful daughter. As I juggle work with parenting, I fully value my mother’s patience and dedication for staying at home to parent for the first decade of my life.

I’m proud to be my mother’s daughter.

Thank you, mom, for your unspoken lessons.


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