10 on the 10th, It Takes a Village {Special Mother’s Day Edition}

In honor of the greatest American holiday in May, Mother’s Day, I decided to make this month’s TEN all about how the many parents in my life have influenced me. I believe now more than ever, after living the village lifestyle, that it truly does take a village to raise a child. Note: I use the term village lightly, because while we reap all the benefits of living in a small community in rural Africa, we still have the luxuries of indoor plumbing, reliable electricity and well, I’ve still not slain my own chicken, so there’s that little difference. Still though, I can see the way the people around us are shaping the lives of our children in the best ways and it reminds me of my own upbringing.

While I wasn’t raised in a village at all, I can still appreciate the variety of people who were in some form of leadership over me, shaping me into the person I am today. In my earliest years, it was those people whom my parents allowed into my life. Then as I grew older, those who I chose or who God allowed into my story to impact me. As I think about all the things that have made me me, it’s fun to realize that I’m really just a sum of all these little parts. It’s exciting too to anticipate the years I (and my children) have to come and to rest assured that, as the old 80s church song went, “He’s still workin’ on me, to make me what I ought to be.”

Okay, so without further ado…here’s to all the mamas (and a papa or two) who added a bit of stability, wisdom, organizational obsession, pizzaz etc. to who I am today!

My own, biological parents: This one’s kind of a given, but if I didn’t mention Granny K in my Mother’s Day post, I’d be one dead duck. I’m a lot like my Dad…you should see me take apart and fix a toy with the best of ‘em, any ounce of generosity I have is directly from his line, and I love cereal something awful….but since it’s May…I’m gonna focus more on my female parent. The older I get, the more Nancy Kling comes right out of my mouth. For instance, me to my child: “I know spending the night with so-and-so won’t make you too tired tomorrow, because you aren’t spending the night with so-and-so.” Or, “Let me think…where DID I leave your shoes the last time I wore them?!” I was also spoiled rotten, hugged often and allowed to slip into my parents bed at night….all of which I am happy to pass along to my three little cherubs. I hug, and sometimes kiss on the cheek, guests in my home. I am learning to love cooking for and feeding people. Hosting guests, whether it’s a group of 1st graders, highschoolers or grandparent types brings me great joy. And while I haven’t mastered the art of hootin’ and hollerin’ for my kids at ballgames like Granny can, I still do love being a part of the activities in their lives. These things about me, I realize, are all due to the fantastic momma I had and have. Now if I can just remain faithful to Jesus and serve Him all my days…I really will be the spittin’ image of my madre.

Martha Hales, aka Mama Hales, Margaret, Marg (As in “punch it Margaret.”): As close to a biological mom as I could get was my childhood BFFs mom. I remember being at her house nearly as much as I remember being at my own. One of the things I learned from her, as a kid, but didn’t realize it until I was writing a paper in nursing school, was how to see people with disabilities as equals. Marg has a son with Downs Syndrome who was like, still is really, a big brother to me. She didn’t discriminate amongst any of us, and in return, we learned to treat Alex just like everyone else in our lives. The older I get, the greater this lesson becomes. Mrs. Martha loves me like one of her own, smiles from ear-to-ear when I walk into her kitchen and is as proud of me during different seasons of my life as if she birthed me herself. She has shown me how to love my children’s friends and to open my home to them at any moment of any day.

Mrs. Peg: From my high school friend’s mom, I learned how to eat avocados and artichokes. Leave it to a Californian to educate this Southerner on green veggies. I still think of her every time I put out a bowl of fresh fruit for a group of hungry breakfast-seekers. She also taught me, all through my own observation, that sometimes Jesus wakes you up in the middle of the night to talk to you, that prayer is the best way to fight the problems in your life and even more so if that prayer happens with your best girlfriends and that the absolute best place to have a little quiet time with Jesus is on a screened back porch. She was also my first introduction to BSF….which I adore now.

Big Dave: I couldn’t help myself. I recently downloaded the Eagles Hell Freezes Over CD onto my iTunes. I think it came out in 1994 or so. As soon as I did it, I was transported back in time….you know how a song will do that. As I happily sang along to Desperado, I realized my musical tastes are pretty diverse and have all come from not just different eras of my life, but different people as well. So, besides being taught that girls can improve their free throw percentage by practice and lifting weights (this was a major eye-opener to a skinny 15 year-old kid) and probably a few other lessons I’d rather not share publicly (insert wink in Big Dave’s direction), his love of the Eagles and other great musicians who weren’t actually from my era comes in at the top of the list.

Coach Upton: My high school coach influenced me immensely. Hard work, dedication (keep on keeping on even if you’re bleeding from the hipbone!), choosing the right friends, penetrating the middle, how to be a leader, etc. She also gave me encouragement in the form of a handwritten note on yellow lined paper once. I love sending handwritten cards, especially ones to encourage. I’m thinking maybe that came from her too. She also taught me you can breastfeed AND coach softball at the same time. Here’s to frozen bags of breastmilk thawing on the home team’s baseline fence! Girl power at its height.

Cheryl: This is the mother of the kids I adored and babysat during my high school and college days. She taught me many things during our post-babysitting, late night chats on her front porch swing, but she showed me even more just by being herself. I can still remember one night when I wasn’t babysitting for her and I was out with a girl friend of mine. We were walking on the beach at night and in the distance we saw Mark and Cheryl hand-in-hand. I can’t remember if we were “totally grossed out” or if we thought they “were totally adorable” but either way, we were impressed that married people dated. Now that I have my own three little people to care for, I realize that dating my spouse is something I need to make time for. It certainly worked for Cheryl…she totally still has the hots for her hubs. 🙂 I also learned from Cheryl that it’s okay to let little kids be little kids. In the age of Baby Gap coming out encouraging kids to stop wearing smocking and to slip into denim (not overalls, but big people denim…wait, it was the nineties, big people denim WAS overalls…oh, you get what I mean) and other clothes that make them look more like tiny adults, Cheryl was still on the let them be little train. She didn’t push her kids to grow up too fast and I loved/love that about her. She may have also taught me that a glass of wine every now and then never hurts. Talk about a monumental lesson to a Baptist college gal. 🙂 Cheryl is still one of the best moms I know and I frequently try to channel my inner Cheryl when parenting.

Lou: I answered the ad for “Family Helper Wanted” and in turn, I got another great family of which to be a part during my time in college. Lou Anne is the first women I can remember who had an au pair so she could continue working a full time job doing what she loved after she had her precious baby girls. I remember her saying she wanted to be a wife and a mom, but that certainly didn’t mean she wanted to be a “Stay-at-home” mom. She had her cake and ate it too and I admired her for that. She was/is such a great mom to her girls. She’s also an event planner/consultant extraordinnaire. Maybe it was because I spent some months living in Lou Anne’s basement, or maybe it was because my time with her was spent mostly during my formative “who am I really?” college years…but I feel like she’s one of those ladies who I see in myself in the most random ways, but so very often. Every time I fluff a down comforter and add a couple extra pillows to a bed to achieve the greatest coziness factor, or think about starting a family notebook to make sure we are all cherishing our days as best as we can, or pulling a gift and wrap out of a gift drawer for a child’s birthday, or dirtying an extra bowl just so the condiments aren’t set on the table in anything other than a cute little dish, or arranging fresh flowers, or setting out little bowls of nuts and cheese and chopped fruit for after school snacks, or when I crank up the music and we all sing along (that may have been more her hubby than Lou herself, but it’s hard to separate the two), or saving momentos in an archives box, or giving away  clothes and goods to a charity, or keeping the same framed photo on my desk for years because it makes me smile, or using grown-up words in a conversation with my kids because they can handle it, or squeezing in exercise because its important…I think of her. And now that I have my own kids and still like to work a little doing the other things I love that don’t directly involve them…I can appreciate even more her desire to put an ad out for a family helper. What I wouldn’t give to have someone who loves my kids come over and play with them, watch with amazement at their dance lessons, put away laundry, empty the dishwasher, file the boring mail and help with the seasonal closet change-out twice a year. She was a genius to ask for help. And I was a genius to respond and get the job! Besides learning to stand up for myself and to think outside the box,  this little Republican-raised girl also learned what it means to be a yellow dog democrat and gained a love for all things theater during my years spent with this amazing lady and her family.  Ironic how the one woman in my life who didn’t really want to be a homemaker taught me so much about how to make a home a great place to be.

Mrs. Liz: I was only around this lady for a couple of years during college, but I still think of her often. She was probably in her 70s when I first attended her Bible Study. She was the one who helped me fall in love with studying the Bible with Beth Moore. (For more on how this kept on spiritually molding me, see this previous post.) Though 60 years my elder, she poured into me and was an amazing mentor and hostess. She wrote the best letters and kept up with me for years after I was married. When Natalie was born, she mailed me a hand-made pillow with Natalie’s name cross-stitched on it with the assurance that she was still praying for me. When I think about Mrs. Liz, I want to be sure to honor her by loving on the next generation like she did.

Sal Dawg: Sally was my college roommate’s mom. She taught me that if a girl is crafty enough, she has no need to spend hundreds on duvets, curtains or costumes! She saw the value in recycling long before it was cool, and made me want to plant something pretty every Spring. She also taught me that women can preach and that you don’t have to be Baptist to know Jesus. I was a pretty naive 19 year-old.

Betty Buck: After just a few weeks of working with Betty (at my first grown-up nursing job), during our lunch break, we had a co-worker ask us how long we’d known each other. We were pals from the start. She’s almost exactly the age of my Mom and was a great surrogate to me since I’d chosen to move halfway across the world to Kansas City. Betty’d been a nurse forever, so she had tons of wisdom to impart about how to thrive in the nurse’s working world. She’d welcomed many patients and their families into her heart and was all the better for it. She encouraged me to do the same. I’m so glad she did. Not only did Betty teach me tons about being a nurse, but she was a doctor’s wife and knew what that was like. I was only married to a medical student at the time, but it was neat to be on the inside, seeing what being married to a busy, work-loving physician was like. Betty was also the best of both worlds in that while she dressed well, wore great jewelry and always was in fashion, she also knew how to make a fun run to Wal-Mart at midnight to shop for random Christmas decorations and Bubba mugs (in the age before Yeti) before grabbing a Snickers at the checkout on the way out the door.  She showed me it’s okay to be fancy, yet down-to-earth, all in the same day. Betty was also the first friend I had who was a grandma. I can’t even wait to get to that stage and put into practice all the amazing grandparenting tips I learned from her. Sweet tea in the pool for a baby? Yep! The grandkids want Burger King? Let’s go!

And that’s just the first 25 years of my life. I could go on to add 11-20 to this list. I’d add the ladies who were moms before I was and taught me that some times you have to ask your kid to forgive you. I’d mention my Mother-in-Law who bought me my first real make-up and showed me it’s okay to have more than 1 pair of flip-flops (ahem, or 20!).  I’d tell you about the ladies who’ve shown me how to be a leader in the Church and the community. I’d write about the many missionary women who are salt of the earth and have taught me how to live a full life in Africa. And the girlfriends who’ve shown me what it means to give grace to folks time and time again. The adoptive moms who are exemplifying patience, and hope and unconditional love….already pushing me to want to prepare to be the best adoptive mom I can be. And the list goes on and on.

So moms, whether you’re at church on a Wednesday night practicing with the choir, or negotiating the next big deal for your company, or driving carpool for all the kids in your neighborhood, or JUST making another boring dinner (or picking up takeout) for your family, do it to the best of your ability. You never know who’s watching and you certainly don’t know how you simply being you may shape all the others in your world for years to come.