The Universal Art of Momming

I won the biological lottery and had a great Mom.  There were 6 kids, a small house, and a challenged budget. Chaos could have reigned, but it did not-ever.  Her formula for crowd management was simple:  withhold affection, then mete it out if earned.   The warmth of approval was addicting, and the chill of her disappointment or anger was withering.  She managed to trick us into being good kids.  We scampered to do good deeds within her purview so we could be the chosen one for just a moment or two.  We had to earn a kind word, or a privilege.  Jenny, the oldest, was best at it.  If Mom went to the grocery store, Jenny would race to the car to greet her and carry in the purchases.  If she was stuck babysitting the clan, she would clean the kitchen cupboards, fold the laundry, and dust.  Later, my other sisters hewed to this model.  Me, not so much.  I lacked their energy and discipline.  I still do. Still, watching Mom prefer my sisters taught me an important notion:  love may be unconditional, but appreciation is the result of effort and energy proffered. It is wonderful to be loved.  It is life affirming to be worthy of appreciation. 

The Joliat family portrait, 1962, by Elliott and David Skinner. Poor Jenny looks like the Mom, and she was 13!!!  I am upper right.  
I may not have been "appreciation worthy" as a daughter, but I turned over a new leaf when I had kids.  The word "me" dropped out of my vocabulary.  Steve would say that the word "Steve" dropped out, too- but that is for another blog.  I did not follow my Mom's example. I have the heart for mothering, but I do not have the consistency.  I could never withhold affection, and I was a constant approver.   The boys could have exploited my mushiness, but they did not. They were good kids.  Of course, I had my own special weapon:  Steve.  
Steve is not the sentimental type.  His emotions are not to be trifled with.  The boys know he is a lone wolf, and if they cross him, they will pay, big time.  Steve, unlike me, is able to snip people from his life, cauterize the juncture, and move on. Together, we just about equal the formidable power wielded by my Mother.  There was a year when the boys failed to remember Mother's Day.  I was crushed.  I had set the bar too low. My pit bull husband rocked their worlds, and since that year, my kids are religious in their expressions of love and gratitude on Mother's Day.  Compelled or not, I lap it up like a dehydrated dog. We all like to be celebrated!  
This day is a chance to celebrate all the people who "Mom" us.  It can be the friend who picks you up from a colonoscopy, makes coffee, dyes your hair, or sends you a cheery note when she knows you are low.  It can be someone who remembers hard days, and sends daisies.  It could be a stranger who sends a kind response to a blog post.  "Momming"  is composed of monumental deeds and microscopic impulses. Generally, this energy is directed along familial lines, but if we travel purposefully on our timeline, the trajectory expands. Every day brings us opportunities to give and receive kindness.  We need to make time for both parts of the equation.  
Sometimes our sisters or our spouses "Mom" us.  If we are fortunate, we live long enough to have our kids occasionally showcase the "Momming" skills we have demonstrated.  After both of my knee surgeries, Mike was standing by, watchful and didactic in his prescriptions for rehabilitation.  He scolded, and then he encouraged. Then he started issuing orders.  I basked in the support, pushed back from his authority, and did what I wanted.  Just like a kid.   Talk about your circle of life.   
The most essential role of a Mother is to knit the safety net of love and concern.  Life takes our own Moms away- that is an inevitable heartbreak. But the concurrent blessing is that we expand to nurture those around us, and we are, in turn, nurtured.  If you have a friend or neighbor whose family is far away- share your day.  If someone has helped you through a rough patch, or just been steadily annexed to your heart- it is a good day to thank them. If someone has patched your heart, supported your dreams, or accompanied you on a dark journey, they are family.  There may not be a Hallmark Card to commemorate their contributions, but  it is good to be appreciative. Facebook, a call, a visit, a bouquet- there are so many avenues to show gratitude for the Mother Love that sustains us.    
This, of course, is my purpose here:  to commemorate all of my wonderful friends, co-travelers in life, family and sisters who reach out to take care of me, love me, and make my life rich.  You are all pieces of a beautiful mosaic.  You make the sunny days blinding, and the dark days bearable.  I hope that I can reciprocate when you need me.  I love you all- kids, Steve, family, friends, co-workers, neighbors. Hell, even the dogs who curl at my feet when I am sick provide me with a gentle service.  I am strong when I need to be because I am buttressed and loved. I appreciate the energy directed my way, and I hope I remember to boomerang it.  You are all my Moms.  And you are in the spectacular company of my birth Mom, the legendary Elaine O'Donnell Joliat.   It is an exclusive, elastic club. 
To my "Moms" -you know who you are.  Thank You.  Happy Mother's Day!


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  • Janet, thanks for sharing your life with us, I always enjoy your insight.

  • Happy Mothers Day to a Great Mother - as evidenced by the family picture at Patrick's 30th. I couldn't stop looking at it. What a joyous, happy, attractive bunch.

    I hope the boys praised you like they should today.

  • Every day brings us opportunities to give and receive kindness. We need to make time for both parts of the equation.

    -Beautifully said!! Happy Mother's Day Janet!!

  • this is a great blog. sharing it.

  • Testing.

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