Lessons My Mother Taught Me

My mom was amazing. She had a life that could serve as the foundation for a novel, but to me she was just mom. The lessons that she taught me were a reflection of her time, but they have turned out to be good life lessons for any generation. Here they are:

  1. We are all citizens of the world. My mom was born in Japan to American citizens of Swedish descent; her first spoken language was Japanese. The family lived overseas due to my grandfather’s job, and she was raised in Illinois and Argentina. Along with the English that she learned in America, she was also fluent in Spanish and had some French on the side. After marriage she lived in Hawaii and Southern California. She had a cosmopolitan view of the world and would not tolerate any prejudice of any kind. If she didn’t like someone, it was absolutely personal. Lesson learned.
  2. People are more important than money. My parents valued service to others and the nation above making money. My mom was a nurse and my father was in the civil service. They gave as much money as they could to charity; one year they were in the newspaper because they had donated so much to The United Way. My mom was a pediatric care nurse when I was young, and she fostered some of her patients who needed homes after leaving the hospital. She always gave 10% of her income to her church. We weren’t rolling in money but we always had enough. I learned from mom that you don’t need money to be rich.
  3. The most valuable thing you acquire in life is your education. My mother was admitted to a university after finished high school, but her father wouldn’t let her attend. When I wanted to go to college myself she moved mountains to make it possible for me, and then entered college herself. We raced to graduation with mom finishing a few months before me. She told me we were making the best investments of our lives, and she was right. Cancer cheated her of her Master’s Degree, but I thought of her the entire time I worked on mine. The diploma on my wall is hung next to her picture. Thank you, mom.
  4. Get your vaccinations! My mom was a Red Cross nurse during the polio outbreaks of 1945. It was a dreadful time. She was a nurse at an outbreak in Illinois where hundreds of people became ill, and many died or were left with lasting damage. When the polio vaccine became available we were some of the first to receive our shots. She worked on the pediatric ward of a county hospital and saw many children die or suffer permanent injury from “childhood” diseases such as measles and diphtheria. Throughout her life she insisted that we get every vaccine available as soon as we could. To this day I regard vaccines as one of the greatest achievements of science.
  5. Take germs seriously when it is appropriate, but don’t worry about them the rest of the time. Wow, we learned draconian germ control methods when there was an outbreak of illness in the house. Safe food handling was a way of life for us. Otherwise, things were pretty casual. She kind of felt that your immune system needed to see germs to develop normally, and mom would have laughed at all the anti-bacterial products on the market. I have to say, I very rarely become ill. Mom knew what she was doing.
  6. Repurpose, recycle, reuse, and eat your leftovers! My mom was a child of the Great Depression. She did her homework writing in the margins of the newspaper. She invented Life Hacks before anyone else knew about them. She knitted, sewed, cooked, and made all of our presents. She empowered me to learn how to sew baby clothes, can peaches, tape drywall, lay tile and make plumbing repairs. This is also why I can’t seem to throw away all my biology teaching stuff in the garage. I just KNOW I can use some of it again for SOMETHING.
  7. It never looks how long it took you to do something, only how well you did it. Usually this was said as I ripped out a zipper to sew in for the third time. I think she meant it to comfort me, but it was really good advice. Don’t ever settle for less than your best.
  8. Feed your roses every month, prune them every three months, and if they don’t produce the way you want them to after a year, rip them out and go get some new ones. Mom took her roses seriously and her roses were amazing! People came off the street, knocked on her door, and asked her about them. I remember them as 6 feet tall and always blooming (OK, this was San Diego and such things were possible). When you think about this, her advice for roses is also good for life. Sometimes, no matter how much love, care and time you spend on someone or something, there comes a point where you should cut your losses and move on. You leave that job, your marriage ends, best friends get downgraded. That’s life, mom would say. Move on.
My mom in 1986. She died of cancer a few months later.
My mom in 1986. She died of cancer a few months later.

My mom died 28 years ago this week, but her lessons live on. It is not possible to minimize the effect that she had on my life. Her lessons grounded me, and I’m still trying to live the example that she set for me. She surrounded herself with books and read every day. She established a scholarship to allow a woman to enter the ministry, created nursing courses to meet the needs of her community, and wrote her congressman when she wanted action. She was a woman of faith who demanded evidence before she made a decision. She has been and continues to be the role model for my life. I love you, Mom!

Happy Mother’s Day!