Ten Things I Learned From My Mom

May 10, 2013 in blog, Education, Inspiration, Travelogue

Mother’s Day is this weekend… I’ve been thinking about my Mom a lot… I miss her. This year she’s celebrating in BC with my brother’s family, awaiting the birth of her sixth grandchild. I wrote this a couple of years ago and it’s all still true. I thought I’d pull it to the top of the stack this week in honor of my Mama.

What have you learned from your Mom?

May, 2011:

Sunday is Mother’s Day and my card will probably arrive late, as it sneaked up on me this year. A late card, however, should not be confused with a lack of appreciation or attention to my mother. In fact, I’ve been spending a lot of time this week considering the gift that my mom handed me, wrapped with a silver bow, of eighteen years of her undivided attention and the very best beginning any girl could hope for. I didn’t appreciate it nearly enough, I suppose no one does, until they become a parent themselves.

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share ten things that I’ve learned from my mom over the years and why they matter to me:

1. Keep A Meal In The Freezer

I’d bet twenty five dollars (in any currency) that at this very moment in her freezer my mother has two pans of homemade lasagne and two batches of homemade rolls. They’ve been there my whole life. Not the same two pans, obviously, but she’s kept a rotating supply in the ever present expectation of guests arriving without warning. My dad was famous for calling from the ferry boat to announce that he was bringing someone, or, just turning up with a van full, unannounced. Out came the lasagne and rolls, and dinner was served.

We’ve long made it a practice to have an open door, to practice hospitality, to invite guests to dinner at least a couple of times a week. Even when we were cycling for a year we carried two extra sets of plates with us so that we could have guests on our picnic blanket. I learned this from my mom, how to maintain an open table, to share whatever we have and welcome the lonely, the stranger, or just the new person on the block.

This winter, when my mom visited us in Guatemala, she arrived home off of the boat one day and announced, “Dad and I invited some backpackers for dinner! I don’t know if they’ll come… I hope you don’t mind!!” Of course we didn’t mind, that’s exactly where I learned it!

2. Maintain A Creative Outlet

My mother is an artist. She always has been. When we lived in the forest when I was tiny she made little birch bark canoes to sell to tourists. Then, she learned to paint flowers on bread boards. Later she would crank up the generator after we’d gone to bed to run her soldering iron as she learned to make stained glass. Over the course of my life she’s filled an entire church, and more with windows, lamps, and sun catchers. After I left home, she went back to university and got an art degree; now she paints.

I think this is how she kept her sanity; when we were little and life was nothing more than laundry, diapers, laundry, nose wiping, laundry, whining and laundry… by hand, with a wringer washer, hung on a line, even in winter.

I have four kids now. Thankfully, they’re no longer toddlers and I can sometimes even go to the bathroom without someone “Mom”-ing me. Sometimes.

My mom showed me the value of keeping a little part of myself alive. A little slice of my personhood that was not related to taking care of my husband, or my kids, or the old widowers down the road that we used to visit and take cookies to on Sundays. She showed me that it’s not only “okay” to do that, it’s absolutely, vitally necessary to remaining sane and whole and vibrant as a mother. If we don’t nurture ourselves, what will we ever have to give to our precious families?

I can’t paint, so I write.

3. Teach Kids To Sleep

I was, perhaps, five when my mother put two marks on the analog clock by my bed. One at the “12” and one at the “7.”

“When the big hand gets to the 12 and the little hand gets to the 7, THEN you may get out of bed, and not a minute before!” Was the instruction given.

I was one of those dreadful 5:00 a.m. wakers.

We always went to bed at a reasonable time, 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. in elementary school, 9:00-9:30 p.m. as teenagers. Later on weekends or special occasions, but my mother valued our sleep, and her peace. She was right to do so.

Research now backs up what my mom intrinsically knew, that teens need as much sleep as toddlers. In addition, it gave her time to be with my dad, be by herself, nurture that afore mentioned creative outlet and just get a hard earned BREAK, for cryin’ out loud.

I took that page out of my mom’s book. My kids go to bed early. They always have. Even the teenagers, who no longer have bedtimes, are relegated to their own space after the littles go to bed because mom is “off the clock.” I’m so thankful my mother modeled this for me and that, as a result, I have no guilt in taking time for myself, spending some with my man and knowing that it’s a good thing, for everyone in the family.

4. Bite Your Tongue

My mother is the most patient, gentle spirited person I know. If you’ve met her, you know what I mean. I have RARELY heard her use a sharp tone and I can’t remember her ever speaking badly about anyone… she must have, at least once in my life, but I cannot remember it, if it happened.

I am exactly the opposite.

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say ‘nuthin’ at all,” was something quoted to me more than once and it’s something I aspire to.

Kind words, gracious words, words that build each other up, these are all things my mother is liberal with and things that I seek to grow in every day. What seems to come easily to her, keeps the end of my tongue bloody!

In addition, she’s never one time criticized me. She corrected me, as a child, of course, but that’s not the same thing.

She’s never uttered one critical word about my choice of husband, my home, how I raise my kids (and I’ve invited her to tell me where I need to improve on this front) or in any other way.

When I listen to my friend’s stories of push and pull with their mothers I’m SO THANKFUL to never have been through that with my mother. I’ve made a conscious mental note to give the same gift of grace to each of my children as they grow up and make their own choices in life.

5. The Value Of “Quiet Time”

One of our favourite family stories is of one particularly difficult night, parked in the middle of nowhere in Central America with my brother and I (and the dog) bouncing off of the interior walls of our camper van. My mother is remembered to have said, at the end of her wits, I’m sure, in her NICEST, sing-songy mama voice, “Okay children, quiet time! QUIET TIME!!!”

“Quiet time!” was a phrase often heard at our house. My mom has a low tolerance for crazy noise. Coincidence: so do I!

What a gift my mother gave me in the idea of Quiet Time. It’s OKAY to ask crazy kids to settle down, to ask loud kids to quiet down and to ask anyone in general to sit, reflect and be silent for a few minutes. Kind of like mini-meditation, or a time out when you’re not actually in trouble (yet!)

Quiet Time. I love that.

6. Play Scrabble

She’s a vicious Scrabble player. Truly. She’s been known to beat me, hop up and bounce around the sunroom crowing over her victory and then call my brother on the other side of the continent to announce her victory. It’s terrible.

Still, we play every chance we get. It’s a time to sip iced tea, shuffle tiles, chit chat about the island news and giggle a little.

I get to really look at my mom when we play Scrabble, usually because it takes her so long to find just the right word that will use the triple letter score and the J and Z at the same time. I get to appreciate the shape of her hands (mine are more like hers every year) and to study the perfect grey green of her eyes behind her half moon glasses. My mom is really pretty.

7. Stick With Your Man

I love my dad. He’s everything a daddy should be with an extra half shot of “character” thrown in for good measure. He’s been with my mama since she was 13 and he was 16; how many people can say that? As great as he is, no marriage lasts 40+ years without having it’s mettle tested and I’m sure my parents are no exception.

To their great credit, they never unloaded on us kids. We were never asked to carry grown up baggage and I never once wondered if my parents would make it. The stability of their union was a given in my little world. I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am for that. I wasn’t until I was well grown and married a while that I appreciated and understood what a rare and difficult gift that is to give.

My mother has always been the picture of patience, faithfulness, graciousness, love, and gentle care for my dad, at least from my viewpoint. If there was every anything other than that, I never saw it and what it taught me, was priceless:

No matter how hard life gets behind closed doors, there’s no sense in letting it ruin the daily life of the family, it’s no excuse for treating one another sharply, or poorly, and there’s no reason not get up each morning and try again, fresh and new.

I aspire to that as a wife and mother.

8. Keep Driving

When I was 8 and Josh was 6 my dad threw us all into his ’64 Ford Econoline Van, hooked a boat trailer to it (loaded with the boat he’d built in the upstairs of our house instead of finishing the bedrooms that first winter) and we took off on a long drive toward Central America.

My parents had backpacked and road tripped plenty before we were born and dad’s wanderlust didn’t diminish with our arrival.

My mother was less enthused.

There was some “discussion” as we headed south, about how the trip would go, who would be left sitting on the beach with Josh and I (who could not even swim at that point) and who would be off snorkeling and enjoying the ocean.

Somewhere in Texas, it came to a head. My dad climbed in the back to have a nap and declared to my mother, “Alright, fine. When I wake up, if we’re driving south, we’re driving south and if we’re driving north, we’re driving north, but that’s the end of it.”

When he woke up, we were driving south.

What ensued were some of the best months of my childhood:

  • Climbing ruins
  • Learning to swim and snorkel
  • Capturing hermit crabs on the beach in the dark
  • Keeping a shark in a tide pool for a few days before we ate him
  • Learning Spanish
  • Drinking coconuts
  • And having the tiny spark of wanderlust lit that would burn for the rest of my life


My mom’s tight lipped determination to live out my Dad’s dream, to give us the experience, no matter whether she had any fun or not, spoke volumes to me, both then and now. As a gypsy mama myself, I can appreciate how hard it is to travel with little kids, to keep people fed and rested and learning and happily moving forward in two or three languages at a time. I know what that cost her.

It taught me a lot about what it means to be a wife, to put my own momentary desires second to what my husband is passionate about and to throw my own resources behind someone else’s dream. It’s counter cultural, but it’s what makes a marriage work.

My mom taught me that marriage is not about the give and take, it’s about the give and give some more.

9. Sew Jammies

It’s the little things in life. When my kids were babies she started sewing them a set of matching pajamas every Christmas. Mostly, I think, this was because it was one way to ensure that they’d be clean and cute on Christmas morning, something that cannot always be depended upon with me as their mother.

When there were just two of them, this wasn’t such a chore. By the time there were four of them and she was having the cartilage replaced in both of her thumb joints due to the years of stained glass work, it was more of a project. She bought electric scissors that year.

My children are now aged 8-14. Well past the matching jammy stage, one would think.  However, when we returned to our camper two nights ago, fresh off of the road from our six month stint in Guatemala, what do you think was the first thing the kids did?

They dug out their “Grammy Jammies” and put them on… from two Christmases ago, the red ones with the white sparkly snowflakes that are now four inches too short on all of the boys because they’ve grown so much. They refuse to sleep in anything else.

It’s not just “Grammy Jammies” though:

  • It’s an ornament each at Christmas to build their collections for “someday.”
  • It’s heart shaped chocolates taped to pink cut out hearts on Valentine’s day
  • It’s ice cream every single night after dinner at her house.
  • it’s having worms in the fridge without being reminded so that the kids can fish the INSTANT they arrive.
  • It’s letting them lick the salt block for the deer when they took walks as toddlers along the paths.


My mom is the mistress of fun and funky little traditions that make all of the difference in the world: snow ice cream, craft projects, iced cookies for every occasion, raspberry pie instead of cake for my birthday, mint sticks after dinner for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the list goes on and on.

For those of you who wonder why I do all of the little ridiculous things I do: this is why. It’s my Mom’s best feature.

**Edit**My mom says she made the jammies because giving something handmade was important to her, not because she wanted the kids to be “cute and clean”… I pointed out to her that this was a joke and I was pretty sure my readers got that… but in case you missed the giggle, my mom couldn’t care less about how my kids look on the outside!

10. Ignore The Miles

My mother must have known, whilst raising us, that we’d be spread far and wide before it was over. I moved out of the country a week after I turned 18 and I’ve never looked back. My brother barely made it through university before he was on his boat and around the other side of the planet. We’re nomads at heart. We get that from our dad.

My mom has never once, NOT ONCE, complained about this. She’s never guilted us into coming at Christmas, just the opposite, in fact, she always says, “You don’t HAVE to come, you know, your dad and I are fine.”

  • When I’ve had my babies, my mother has been there before I’ve been out of the hospital, every single time.
  • Once, my parents drove 1,100 miles, one way, over a weekend to deliver a carved rocking elephant my dad had found for Hannah, she was only four months old and not nearly big enough to sit on it!
  • They’ve flown across continents to camp in the freezing cold on the sands of the Sahara with us and do crazy things like cheer on a fox hunt and ride camels for Christmas instead of remain tucked into their cozy log cabin like sensible people.
  • They’ve ridden chicken busses up and down volcanos to find us tucked into a highland lake in Guatemala.
  • They’ve come and camped in a downpour on the New England coast to celebrate Ezra’s 8th birthday with us and put up with 40 of our closest friends joining us for the occasion.


My mom has the wonderful gift of being able to ignore the miles and ignore the money it costs and instead to focus on the memories we make. And she always arrives with a suitcase full of love, no matter how far she has to fly to find us.

Maybe some people think that I’m over the top in how I talk about my parents, but anyone who’s met them in person knows differently.

They really are everything I make them out to be, and far more. Words aren’t adequate to describe my gratefulness to them both, but since it’s Mother’s Day, especially to my mom for the gift of my life, their selfless devotion to my growth and development, their tireless cheerleading of my cause, their undying support of my little family and their continual encouragement of my dreams.

I hope, one day, I can grow up to be just like her.