Everyone remembers meeting my mom, even just once. She has a huge laugh, recorded on the video of every school play.
She would jump in and do things like frame an extra room into the garage of the house we were renting, after she convinced the owner of the value it would add. I have an early memory of her on the phone with her dad while nailing in studs, rolling in the insulation, and installing drywall. "It's not rocket science," she'd say.
From having an intense and difficult childhood, she decided to be a proactive and super-involved parent. Only as an adult have I seen how many troubles I was spared because of her vigilance.
I don't remember wondering about many things that my friends had to wonder about, and many of them liked to chat with my mom because their parents were too tactful for helpful advice.
When I asked about the facts of life, my mom just told me, with a drawing . When I asked any sticky question, I got a quick, honest answer, usually with empathy for the people behaving badly. She was very aware of how trauma shapes behavior, and why we should withhold judgement about the person regardless of the behavior.
If she thought a book would depress or unsettle me, she would let me know. She told me if was too adult and I wouldn't really understand it, though she wouldn't stop me from reading it.
I never had a bad sleepover, because she vetted families for months before I was allowed to spend the night. If she felt they were even a little weird, or if the girl my age had older brothers, she would host the daughter at our house rather than send me over there.
When a middle school teacher singled me out and asked me to read aloud to him after school until my mom picked me up, my pre-teen sixth sense was vaguely stirred, but I sat outside the school on a bench reading aloud a couple of times while the parents came. My mom told the teacher she would call the police if he talked to me outside of class again, and he should find himself another job. Once and done. She had radar out for my safety, in a way that most parents didn't 30 years ago.
While many times I felt that she was candid to a fault, I never had to grope in the dark wondering about feelings, motivations, and events. She would put a name to behaviors that my friends might never hear named, and size people up so quickly that it was challenging for her to do small talk. I ended up with nice friends partly due to her naming various kids' potential for drama. Because she had a good read on me, I always assumed that she would know if I was lying, and it kept me out of certain behaviors because I assumed I wouldn't get away with it.
While our childhood was simple and sheltered compared with my mom's, she shared stories from her childhood that showed us the realities of life. She told us about her friends and school growing up, and how her friends's lives were affected by the parents' decisions, including drug and alcohol abuse and suicide, race and class tensions in the South, and how people were treated (whether justly or unjustly) when they went outside the norms of that time.
She insisted that we siblings be nice to each other, which I considered only somewhat successful until I went to college and heard how some of my friends' siblings treated them. And we get along well as adults - visiting, helping each other out, and calling each other regularly. Every weekend, when I hear successive dings, I know it's the family text loop exploding as we share photos, comment, and tease each other.
All that candor shaped how I speak with my kids, because I don't want them groping in the dark when I could give them a quick explanation that will help them make sense of a situation. Naming certain behaviors is a big factor in helping kids grow, and having the vocabulary for human nature and behavior was a blessing as I navigated social life. I hope that my children are as encouraging (and still honest) to each other as my siblings have been to me. And I hope, like my mom, my honesty will equip them to encounter the world, even if, like my mom, I've tried to spare them many of the direct unpleasant experiences.
Happy Mother's Day, especially to all the fierce, candid moms! You're doing great.