As the holidays approach, I find my mind thinks of my mother more than usual. For those of us whose mother’s have passed on, we remember the many ways they made holidays special and think of the things that we miss so much about them. I miss my Mom’s stable, comforting voice, her cooking, her laugh and unwavering support. My love of the holidays comes from the importance my mother placed on the value of family and the traditions that celebrate what makes life meaningful. These gifts from Mom are truly special. She pops into my mind everyday and even when I’m not the best me, I think about how she would approach it and try again. My Mom shared her soul and gave my brother’s and I unconditional love.
I also received some other really great gifts from Mom that have lasted a lifetime:
Have a Open Mind. When I was a kid in the 60′s, there was often the time when racial bias reared its head. My mother was a professional opera singer and when she held parties for her Opera cast-mates, the guests were a diverse crowd that included African Americans, latinos, and gay men and women. I remember the neighbors looking out the windows in disapproval when mom’s “music friends” were over. One neighbor was bold enough to come to the door and challenge my mother, but with pleasant sarcasm she replied, “oh don’t worry at all – they won’t be staring at you or making faces or anything – just enjoy your Sunday!” and then winked at me as she closed the door and went back to serving punch. It was a little bit of a surprise that she had such a welcoming attitude towards all people since she grew up in the south which wasn’t known for that open attitude. But my brothers and I learned at an early age from watching her to be accepting of all people in our lives. (Mom is 4th from the right in the photo below).
Treat Yourself Nice. Mom loved to live each day like she was a guest. No paper plates for her, but fancy, themed or decorative plates for her after-dinner treat or snack crackers. She used her best silverware, and got out the placemats for every meal. Every towel in the bathroom was one you could use – there weren’t any “just for looks.” She put jello in what she called “foo-foo” dessert cups and burned candles everyday. And she was never, ever without a luxurious bodywash. Even when life was hard or days were long she said we had to remember to treat ourselves nice.
Break The Rules When It Means Something. If there was one thing about my mom, it was that she was a rule maker. As a single parent, it was kind of necessary to keep the chaos at a minimum. With working, 3 kids and their activities, music rehearsals and performances, she was a busy woman who needed routine. We had chores and responsibilities and we knew what it meant if we didn’t do our part. But the one thing that Mom mastered was strategically breaking the rules. Anything-You-Want-Night dinners, the “just at the right time” splurge on a pair of jeans, letting us stay up for a special event on a school night, or the excitement of money for the ice-cream man BEFORE dinner. It didn’t happen often but she knew EXACTLY the right time to peel off the rules, change the routine or forget the ‘have-to” parts of life when it really made a difference.
Say Yes to Stray Pets. I don’t remember a time that my mother said no to a stray dog or cat we brought home. She always let us get away with it and it was a kid’s dream. We always had multiple pets and they had names like Jacque and Beethoven (who’s in the photo below). She knew how to be a good sport and allowed us the gift of pets. A lot.
Sit on the Bench. Mom told us when we were grown that one way she made sure we didn’t stray towards bad influences was to keep us busy. We were in girls scouts, little league, softball, music lessons, school band and orchestra, and clubs. In her mind, if we didn’t have busy schedules for her to work around, something was amiss. She spent countless hours sitting on the bench (or in an auditorium) watching sports, plays, and musical performances. When I told her she didn’t have to come to every single thing I did she replied, “you mean not give you someone to look for?” One year she even worked the concession stand at the baseball park. I don’t know how she didn’t drop dead of exhaustion.
Make Life a High C. After years of being around a parent whose love was classical and opera music, my brothers and I know the arias, recognize the symphonies and distinguish Mozart from Rachmaninoff. It was her influence that gave us the ability to know ALL kinds of music. She sang La Traviata but she played Aretha Franklin when she cleaned the house. She played Debussy’s Clair de Lune on the piano, but she had an 8-track tape of Barbara Streisand in the car.
Music was always woven into our day and we never knew it any other way. But she also had a way of using it to give us a challenge, and push us to a goal. A high C was often her tough note to hit when singing that she’d say “takes everything I’ve got.” She’d liken a goal we needed to work on to what she had to do to always hit the high C. So if you expressed nervousness or didn’t have faith in yourself, she’d remind you to hit your high C.
Here’s Mom looking sassy in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel and with my girls on the right.
We also had some tough times in our household and like any parent, Mom wasn’t perfect. But what I grew to really recognize and appreciate about her as I got older and had my own kids was that she never strayed from making us feel loved, supported and her most important priority. No matter what she was going through or how hard it was to put 2 cents together at the end of the week, we never knew it.
What a gift.
Happy Holidays, Mom.