5/12/13

To my mother, on Mother's Day.

I remember being ten, lining up pencils alongside math books I had received for Christmas, intended for this purpose; these books were for my siblings, and I was their teacher. For as long as they would let me, I would pretend that this was a preschool, and I the greatest instructor that ever lived.

In college, I spent a few months believing that this was the path I was meant to take. I would graduate, teach second grade and move back to Connecticut, nearer to my parents and to the boy who had stolen my heart in high school. It was my father who changed my mind, ultimately. His encouragement in other directions, given what he knew of my professional strengths and weaknesses. 

At times, memories of that early passion return to me. Usually when I speak to my mother about the way that she spends her days. A teacher herself, she is the reason why I considered the job, after all. But the term does so little to appreciate the person that she is - more than an instructor, she is a lover of beauty, and she sees beauty in every student who has the privilege of entering her classroom. 

As I entered middle school, my mother assumed the role of principal at the school that she and a few other ambitious parents had started years before. We sat on the floor of my parents' bedroom when she asked me how I felt about her taking on the job. Middle school is hard enough without your parent acting as disciplinarian. Isn't it only natural that children should dislike their principal? Isn't this the stuff that movies like Ferris Bueller's Day Off are made of? Perhaps it was my naivety or the related fact that we didn't have cable (or access to movies like Ferris Bueller's Day Off) until much later, but I was thrilled by the idea. In fact, I was proud of my mother when I passed her in the halls. I was proud of how hard she worked and how passionate she was about that work. Certainly, there were downsides to being the teacher's kid, but the positives outweighed every time. 

For years, I worried that my choice to change career paths had let my mother down somehow. Had revealed less of herself in me and put more distance between us, beyond the years that were making me far less her little girl, and more of the adult that I was painstakingly becoming. 

It was only when I started my own work - this work that excites me and tires me and drives me and overwhelms me - that I began to understand how many of my best attributes are those that came from my mother. Much of the way that I approach my work, my home and my life has come from her. Where I was afraid of becoming too unlike my mother in the most literal ways, I turn around and hear myself speaking her words and seeing the potential that she's seen so beautifully in the lives around her. 

I believe that small cruelties and kindnesses have echoes that are felt through generations. Similarly, there are echoes to our mothers' examples, however derivative or differentiated those responses may seem. And my goodness, am I blessed to have this graceful, godly, beauty-seeking mother. In all the ways that matter, I do hope we're more alike than not.