Today would have been Mom’s 73rd birthday. It’s hard to believe it also marks 4 months since she left us.
Women are often afraid of becoming their mothers. I’m no exception, yet I cannot deny that mine formed the very foundation of who I am. The things people know me for, the skills baked into my very soul–my mother was at the heart of forging them. My volunteer work. Even my music and writing are at the forefront.
In my childhood memories of Mom, I recall a mother who worried about her children a lot. She worried about our grades. She worried about what opportunities my brother and I might have. She worried about our safety, about our health, about us going to college, and about finding the means to pay for it.
My journey to learn piano really is an odd one. Even when we couldn’t afford a piano, Mom found ways to expose me to learning how to play. Even if it was a self-taught situation. Borrowing a keyboard from church. Staying after school to play in the auditorium. Even sending me to summer keyboard camp at the local university when I’d never had lessons in my life and (still) didn’t have a piano at home. A place where I met amazing teachers and opportunities. After all, I was a spectacle every summer amongst the sea of kids who knew what whole steps and half steps were (and I didn’t). Those teachers told Mom they could help me if she could just get me a piano. Mom talked to family, and my aunt came forward to give me her piano. And one day, in my mid-teens, I finally had piano lessons at the university. And even though I was the most frustrating student Dr. McCollum ever had, with all my self-taught bad habits, it all set the stage for many experiences to come. Competitions. Performances. Dates. Even random lessons with savants.
When it came to my writing and research skills, my mother was the driving force behind my early successes. She and a certain principal I’ll always be grateful to. Mom even helped me develop my early public speaking skills, though it terrified me at the time. I was painfully shy and afraid of people. So she gave me homework to notice elderly church members who seemed to be alone and to go talk to them every week. To go listen to their stories. An activity I grew to love. And she signed me up for the 4-H speech contest when I’d never given a speech in my life. I bombed my intro joke for that speech, froze in front of an audience of strangers, and still won a prize. And I learned that I didn’t die.
As I think about Mom’s life and how she lived it, I’m reminded of the importance of nurturing vision in our kids and an undying belief in their potential. When Mom wasn’t sure how to help us, she found other mentors to put into our lives. She told me once that she prayed daily for God to make up the difference in her parenting and to see to it that her children had what they needed to grow and be wise. These are lessons I’ve carried in my heart as I raised my own children.
Mom taught me to be acutely observant of others and their feelings. And it was because of her that I learned the importance of treating others with kindness and compassion. We never know what someone else may be going through. Many stories are hidden, and what we see on the surface is rarely “everything.” A kind word or gesture can make a world of difference. It can shine a light of hope where there once was loneliness, fear, and despair.
She didn’t always do it for the right reasons, and we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but I’m grateful for the lessons my mother brought into my life and the faith she always had in me. Mom was the first to believe I could do things no one else thought I could, not even me. And somehow, in all that, even in adversity, she taught me creativity. And that I can create my reality if I want to. I’ll always carry her memory with me.
Happy heavenly birthday, Mom. Love you. Say hi to John.