Tuesday, March 8, 2011

You Get to Be the Mom


Someone mentioned to me that they had read a story similar to “You Get to be the Mom” in one of the “Chicken Soup” books. I was surprised to say the least. Though I often use outside sources in my teaching, I always acknowledge them. I have many favorite authors which I like to share. Most of my stories, though, are things that actually happened in my life, but I also make stuff up, change names, invent characters, emphasize creatively, etc. My husband says he remembers being much stronger, braver and more handsome than he’s often made out to be in my scribblings for example. The only iron clad criteria I have is that what I write or teach must be the truth. I even explain to youth groups that I always tell the truth in church. Even if something never actually happened it’s the truth. Once after saying this and then telling a story with a talking fish in it a kid came up to me afterward and said “Did that really happen?” Well, the story was about drugs and alcohol and how kids sometimes lose their lives or worse when making poor choices about these things. I’d told him that I never lied in church so I looked him in the eye and said “Yea, kid……. sadly it happens every day.” (Read the introduction to this blog for more details on this subject.)

However in this case I am perplexed. Even though I’m a geezer now, with a memory like a sieve, this incident actually happened to me over 48 years ago when I was a young teen. Many years later after joining the Church and filling calls involving teaching I expect that I’ve probably told this story to hundreds of people over more than 25 years. I was helped by this lady’s comment and hope that others have been also. I don’t know how the “Chicken Soup” thing happened but I hope people are helped by it too. Maybe someone heard my story, remembered it and passed along the inspiration that was given to me. That would be wonderful. My goal is to help and it’s the only reason I write. I don’t make any money from my writings and don’t expect I ever will. May blessings fall on you and yours.

Looking back over decades to one’s youth isn’t always a happy experience for everyone...depending on a lot of variables. But sometimes great blessings come at dark times. I remember an incident that was a pivotal point for me as a young teenager. A few words, spoken to me in passing by the mother of an acquaintance, changed my perspective and focus forever. You need some background to understand why this was so important for me.

I grew up in a loving home with 3 younger siblings and wonderful parents. There was great love between my mother and father and they were devoted to our family. My parents believed in God but didn’t raise us in any organized religion. I had never heard of Mormons and knew little except the snippets of the Catholic faith my grandmother brought with her when she visited.

Then one terrible day in early spring when I was 11, my 39 year old father was killed in a car accident on his way home from work. I remember my mother being completely devastated……put on sedatives by our doctor….and then after the haze of those first terrible days…sedated almost always by alcohol. I don’t remember seeing my mother as she had been before ever again. It seemed truly as if both of our parents had died in that awful crash.

Then, day by day, alcohol slowly killed my mother. I learned a frightening lesson watching her during my teenage years…drinking can end your life years before it actually kills you. And your life is not all that’s at stake.

Dad had thankfully provided well for us financially but things were not good in our home during my teenage years. I was the oldest of 4 kids….my youngest sister just a toddler when our father was killed…2 brothers who needed a dad…an alcoholic mom…you get the picture. It’s important to remember too that this was the early 60’s…a different time as far as accepted moral standards go. This was back in the day of the sit-com mom who supposedly cleaned house in heels and a string of pearls and was the picture of propriety and proper conduct.

Well, one Saturday I remember being picked up by the girls on my high school softball team to head to 6 AM practice. I came out the door at the first honk to a station wagon full of my teammates….someone’s mom driving the lot of us to the school field. Some of these girls were the most popular at school and I longed to feel a part of their circle. Nice girls, they were, from nice families, like ours used to be, with moms who did wear pearls while cleaning house, I just knew. As I opened the door one of them asked loudly…”Isn’t that your mom’s boyfriend’s car? What is it doing here so early in the morning? Did he spend the night?”

There was suddenly a deafening silence in the car while everyone began to think of the answer to that question and my face began to burn in shame. The mom who was driving quickly changed the subject and headed to the school. As we all were piling out of the car lugging bats and gloves, girls chattering all at once, the mother, a lady I barely knew, called me over to her car window. When the others had gone she said, “I just wanted you to know something very important. I wanted you to know that you can have a wonderful, loving family again. One with a mother and father. Parents who are happy and whole together…who love and take care of their children. It’s important that you know that.” Tears welled up in my eyes as I looked at her. I barely knew this lady. How did she know about me? You don’t know us, I said. You don’t know how things are. How? How can that possibly be?

“You get to be the mom,” she said gently.

She was right. Of course she was right. We each build our own lives. There was little I could do about my present situation but the future is what we each make of it. I never forgot what she said. It’s given me hope, comfort, and a kick in the pants many times since. I’ll always be grateful that she took the time to speak them.