Occasionally people say that I look like my mother. And that is basically true. We share some of the same features: the round face, the Birkemoe family nose, the ever-changing blue-green eyes. I always took the statement as a compliment. The similarities were also proof that I was not adopted as some of my older sisters jokingly insisted simply because my baby book was not completed. As the youngest of five girls, things such as empty baby books were to be expected.
Now, on the other hand, the older I became the more I would cringe when I heard myself utter such phrases as, “You sure you don’t want a piece of cake?” or “That’s okay, I can do that work overnight.” I felt like I was channeling my mom, even if I did not say, “What would the neighbors think?”* It was even worse when a sister would say, “You sound just like mother.” But now, as I approach middle age—oh, give me a break! I am not going to say I am old; I could live to be over 110—I not only see more and more similarities, but I appreciate them as well.
I wouldn’t say Mom is stubborn; instead, I think I would label her very self-sufficient. She knows what and how she wants things done—and she makes certain the house and yard are neat and tidy. I cannot say I inherited her housekeeping skills, but I am fastidious and a bit of a perfectionist. I am apt to do things myself if at all possible, to make sure they are done right. I do think that is a bit of mom sneaking through. “I can do it!” is almost our shared mantra.
A more prominent characteristic Mom demonstrates daily is her care and concern for others. It is at the heart of her insistence that everyone who visits enjoy something to eat or drink—you need to be a good hostess, after all. But the trait runs deeper than that. Mom has always been committed to service, to helping others. Along with taking care of her family, she always worked outside of the home—and most jobs were in the service sector: scout leader, church secretary, and daycare provider, to name a few. She even studied to be a nurse but the opportunity never presented itself to work at the vocation. I took Mom’s lead and devoted myself to service as well, but my avenue was through teaching. Even my leadership style is grounded in Servant Leadership.
Mom extended her love of life and kind generous nature to a love animals, especially dogs and birds. She had dogs growing up as did we—and Mom had dogs even once we all left home. As a kid, she tolerated my running string of pets: little frogs I found somewhere, a parakeet, a lizard, a tarantula, and a kangaroo rat that ran loose through the house only once, hiding out under the sofa in the den. I found my dog when I was in college, and Mom welcomed him to the household, even before he was fully housebroken. Together we would take good care of our dogs and mourn their passing, donate annually to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and take the time to feed the birds and squirrels in the backyard or the ducks and peacocks at the Arboretum.
My love of books, quotes and writing also trace back to Mom and her habits of mind. She was always one to write a personal note of thanks or greetings to others—“mail-mail” we called it in our house to distinguish it from bills and such. Her handwritten notes often incorporated a pertinent quote that she discovered in one of the books of quotes she always had around the house or gave as gifts. It has got to be in the genes, because I too love quotes and sprinkle them into whatever I write. One of Mom’s favorite poems was Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees” that ends with the line, “Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.” I bet that poem and the attitude toward life it represents are the seeds that generated my love of Nature and nature writings.
Right now, Mom is 90 years young, and she is succeeding at staying young at heart. She practiced throughout her life by taking time out to play. I have mental pictures of her pulling her young charges in the little red wagon, or showing another kid how to work the hula hoop. At times, she would even surprise Pastor at work with a funny mask or Groucho Marx nose, tolerating his usual reply: “Children will play.” Looking through a gift store, she could typically be found buying a little something for someone else, often a puzzle or jacks or a spinning top. When she started to reach retirement age, she vowed to wear purple and spit whenever she wanted. Just a few years ago, with some of her adult grandsons, she collected the golden leaves of autumn and took off running to fly a kite. To this day, she keeps Raggedy Ann and Andy sitting on her bed, so great grandkids have something to play with.
As you can tell, Mom loves to play! I sure hope I have inherited that quality too—I try to emulate her playful approach to life as I take off on my own adventures traveling to various state and national parks and collecting do-dads and toys to keep me entertained at work. You just have to enjoy life to avoid regrets—the basic message of one of her other favorite poems, “Maud Muller” by John Greenleaf Whittier: “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest of these, ‘It might have been!’”
Like Mother, Like Daughter
In many ways, I am not like Mom at all. I never married and do not have kids. I do not cook or garden like she does, nor do I attend church regularly any more. Although I like chocolate, I am not crazy about her favorite cookie—chocolate covered marshmallows on a crusty bottom. With me being so much heavier than she, we do not really even look that much alike anymore. But in the ways that matter, I am a lot like Mom—and that’s just fine with me. When I take Mom and Dad out to dinner for Mother’s Day, I will have to remember to tell her how glad I am to be her daughter.
Like Mother, Like Daughter? Sounds good to me!
*Mom, of course, insists she never said this!
“A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people,
promptly announces she never did care for pie.” Tenneva Jordan
“Sweater, n: Garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.” Ambrose Bierce
“What do girls do who haven’t any mother to help them through their troubles?” Louisa May Alcott
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! If you have not called your Mom yet today, do so!