I am not going to get into politics on this blog. For one thing, I have dear and respected friends on both sides of the aisle. For another, I think most political conversations just get people mad and usually accomplish very little.
I don't generally talk too much about my faith either. I used to but now that my readers skew younger, I'm uncomfortable doing that because I think that it is a parent's role to teach their children about faith and their religious heritage (actually, ditto with politics) and anyone outside the family ought to tread very lightly in these areas.
All that being said, let me briefly wade into the highly charged waters of religion and politics.
I am a Mormon (actually, that's not the preferred name of the Church, but that's okay). I am the only Mormon that many of my friends and acquaintances know.
As the presidential campaign has heated up, I have sensed in many of them a curiosity about my beliefs. Usually, I sense that they want to ask something but maybe don't quite know how to go about it. If you are my friend or acquaintance and want to ask me something, it won't offend me. The only thing I ask is that you be willing to listen to the answer, and understand the context, which might take more than a few words.
Beyond that, though, being the only Mormon many people know, I have been increasingly frustrated by reports about my religion in the press. There is a spectrum of stories out there from maliciously false to just sloppy. There have been some very fair pieces, as well, but these have been in the minority.
I don't like having my faith be a political football, or a weapon to be used in what will be a hard-fought campaign.
There are so many beliefs and practices in any faith that could be made into scary or strange without the right context. Any faith could be made to seem bizarre or threatening with very little effort--not only faiths, any deeply held belief system or ideology.
So it bothers me that people I know may hear weird things about my church and believe them, or think I believe them.
At the same time, I have too much to do and no desire to respond to every half-truth, inaccuracy, misunderstanding, or distortion about my church--and, as I mentioned earlier, I don't want to do that on this blog.
Happily, there is an answer! My brothers--both very smart guys--have started a blog in which they respond to incorrect and unfair statements and characterizations. One brother has a law degree from Georgetown, the other has a Master's in International Affairs from Columbia.
Anyway, if you are interested, here is a link: www.mormonamerica.com
So, if you hear something crazy, I encourage you to go there and see their response.
It is summer. Everyone here at bradenbell.com breathes a huge sigh of relief. Life gets pretty crazy at Mockingbird Cottage during the school year and summer is the time we catch our breath and get reacquainted with each other. There is a palpable sense of relief right now and we can pause the marathon sprint that is normally our life.
Last night, I went to a work function and ate barbecue and potato salad and banana pudding. Then I went home and watched the fireflies and listened to the frogs and crickets. And I remembered how much I love summer in the south.
So, here is the incredible Kathleen Battle singing George and Ira Gershwin's incomparable paean to summer. Enjoy!
It is the season of commencements, of graduations and movings-on. The time of the year when we gather to wish graduates the best and express our pride in their accomplishments as well as our hope in their future. Over the years, I've attended a number of commencement exercises and I've had a little speech that I wish I could give. So, here it is.
Dear Graduates, Faculty, Parents, Honored Guests:
Today we are celebrating the fact that you are graduating, moving on. It is appropriate that we do so because you have worked hard to get to this point. But I would like to make an important distinction. Today, we are not celebrating you. By that, I mean that we are not celebrating you just because you are wonderful and deserve a ceremony and party. Rather, we are celebrating your choices. You made choices that brought you here today. You worked and struggled and acheived. Had you not made those choices, had you not done the work, you would not be here.
I make this point because it is an important one for your future happiness and well-being. It is easy when we are young to think the world revolves around us. We think this because, in many ways, it is true. If we are blessed, then we have parents who take care of us, who order their lives in such a way as to see that our needs and wants are met and fulfilled. If we are blessed, then we have gone to a school where our needs are addressed. Skilled teachers and other specialists have spent untold hours trying to figure out how to make content appealing to us. They have worked to interest us, to excite us about learning and to help us master a skill or content.
But it is important to understand that teachers and parents do this because they love us and because it is their job. It is why they exist.
The rest of the world, however, is very different. The older you get, the less you will be rewarded simply because you are wonderful, a unique individual. The older you get, the fewer trophies there will be for coming in fifth or fourth. Or even third. The older you get, there will be a sharp decrease in the number of people who order their life around you. In fact, you will be one of those who is expected to order your life around others. Remember this: after today, it's not about you. To the extent you think it is and try to make it so, you will be unhappy and will squander your precious energy. It's really not about you.
This is not a bad thing. Not at all. To the contrary. You will find that real happiness in life comes from sacrificing your own wants to make someone else happy. You will find that real happiness in life comes from investing yourself in relationships and taking care of other people more than you worry about yourself.
You will find that lasting satisfaction is linked inextricably to what you earn and achieve, not what you are given. You will find that there are fundamental laws of nature that cannot be overturned, no matter how much you smile, give puppy-dog looks, or even cry. Work will bring rewards that nothing else will. Real success and meaningful achievement must be earned.
The longer you live, what you meant to do will often matter less than what you did. You will be judged on your actions and not your motives.
Life will not be fair. Don't waste your energy complaining about that. Life will be hard. Don't be surprised when it is difficult beyond anything you imagined. There will be times when your dreams seem to fade to ash, when your heart feels like it will be wrenched from your chest, and when you don't think you'll ever be happy again.
While your situation is unique, these feelings are not. These are the common lot of humanity, and they are often the motivating factors that push us to change our lives--and sometimes the world around us.
Don't be afraid of hard work. Be afraid of laziness and entitlement. Don't be afraid of failure. Be afraid to never try. Don't be afraid of sadness and hurt. Be afraid not to care. Don't be afraid of making sacrifices. Be afraid of having nothing worth sacrificing for. Don't be afraid of being overshadowed by others who are brighter, faster, or better at whatever. Be afraid of not pushing yourself. Don't be afraid of not achieving as much as someone else. Be afraid of not achieving all you can--and be very, very afraid of jealousy and envy. These two traits will conspire to make sure you never have a happy day for the rest of your life.
Learn to listen to people who are older and wiser than you. It is a fairly recent conceit to honor young people for nothing more than being young and not as slow, fat, and tired as the rest of us. For thousands of years, humans were solicitous of and attentive to their elders--those who had walked the same paths and climbed the same mountains and lived to tell about it.
As most of us get older, we realize our parents were right about 95% of what they told us. We realize that the other 5% really didn't matter all that much.
Life can be good. It can be very good--beautiful, enriching, and ennobling. You can be happy even in imperfect circumstances. Your futures can be bright without them being perfect. You can be happy without having everything you want. You can be successful in spite of challenges and failures.
Don't try to avoid the storms. Learn to ride them out. Don't expend your energy trying to get around the eternal verities of life. Learn how to work with them. Don't seek the easy way--grow strong enough to take the road is it, not how you wish it would be. Life if the best preparation for life. Don't wish it away. Savor it. Love your family. Work hard. Hang on when it gets rough.
It will get better. And you will too.
Good luck and may God bless you.
Well, as the school year wraps up (at least here at bradenbell.com) we are thinking about exams and graduations and so on.
May I make a suggestion? If a teacher has touched your child's life this year, she or he would probably appreciate a note or an email telling them so. Most people choose to teach because they hope to make a difference. Heaven knows it's not for the money or the social status. So, if your child's teacher--or if you had a teacher who touched you and you've never told them--it would be a generous and gracious thing you might consider as the year comes to an end.
Now, since the students are all studying diligently to prepare for exams, I thought that this might be a good time for a quick exam here. I'm actually planning on posting over the summer as well, but as the release date for The Kindling creeps up, I might get a bit sidetracked.
1. The worst thing that can happen to your child is:
a) Encounter difficulty and adversity in middle school
b) Not be treated fairly in everything
c) End up cosseted and pampered and unable to face the difficulties that come with maturity and life.
2. If your child has problems with a teacher:
a) The teacher is an idiot
b) The teacher is evil
c) The teacher is a flawed and fallible human being who is probably trying to do the best they can.
3. In light of "2," when you disagree with something that happens at school you should:
a) March directly to the principal
b) Take to Facebook and Twitter and denounce the teacher, the school, and Western Civilization.
c) Decide if the stakes are really all that high and whether it warrants a response at all.
4) If you carefully weigh all the options and considerations and decide a reponse is warranted (realizing that this is probably going to be the minority of occasions) than it would be best to:
a) March directly to the principal
b) Take to Facebook and Twitter and denounce the teacher, the school, and Western Civilization.
c) Email the teacher (or call) and ask if you can set up a time when you can talk.
5) Adolescents are different than adults in that they:
a) Have very little ability to make good decisions in the moment.
b) Respond well to force and compulsion
c) Are aware that they are quite immature.
6) Most adolescents respond well to:
a) Incentives and rewards
b) Threats and punishments
c) Calm, reasoned discourse.
7). With adolescents it is important to:
a) Fight to the figurative death to make sure they do everything you want them to.
b) Decide on a few priorities and then be unyielding, while being flexible on everything else.
c) Be willing to let most things go.
8) Adolescents look a lot like small adults. Therefore,
a) They should be encouraged to dress, act, and talk like adults.
b) They should be given lots of privileges and freedom.
c) It is important to constantly remind yourself that they are not adults and are very different creatures.
9) We should:
a) Celebrate how wonderful adolescents are, tell them they are amazing, and encourage them to be themselves at all costs.
b) Love them and help them understand that they are works in progress who have great, but unfinished, potential.
c) Lock them in a tower on short rations until they are 21.
10) It is good to:
a) Be actively involved in your child's social life and be one of the girls (or guys), in the know about the latest gossip.
b) Use lots of current phrases and cool terminology to relate to your teen.
c) Have your own life and be aware of what is going on in your child's life, while maintaing your status as an adult.
11) Dealing with failure, adversity and grappling with the consequences of bad decisions will:
a) Stunt an adolescent's soul and turn them into warped, frustrated zombies.
b) Destroy their chances to get into a good college.
c) Help teach valuable lessons that will contribute to a successful, happy life.
12) The overall goal in raising an adolescent is:
a) Getting them to be productive, happy adults who can have meaningful relationships and do good work in whatever endeavor they chose.
b) Having as little conflict as possible.
c) Reliving your own youth.
d) Making sure they encounter as few difficulties and obstacles as possible.
13) When your child has social problems the most productive thing to do is:
a) Take to Facebook and rage about how mean people are.
b) Talk to the other parents about how mean so-and-so is and see if you can lead a campaign to get that child excluded from social events.
c) Help them assess honestly and see if they might be contributing the problem somehow, if necessary, seeking the opinion of objective observers who might have some thoughts.
d) Tell your child that they are wonderful, it must be entirely the other person's fault.
14. When you are frustrated and want to scream about your adolescent remember:
a) The law takes a very dim view of justifiable homicide.
b) These years will pass and when they do, your child will be leaving home, probably for good (unless the economy doesn't getter in which case they may be with you for a long, long, long time to come. However, also remember that you may one day depend on them to provide a home for you when you are elderly).
c) If you do the best you can and use a little judgement and wisdom, your child will probably turn out to be a wonderful adult.
14. Adolescents have more going on in ther brains, bodies, emotions, and psyches than we realize. Consequently we should:
a) Cut them lots of slack.
b) Be unyielding and firm and endlessly loving and forgiving as the limits of our own flawed humanity will allow.
c) Beat them with willow switches, wooden spoons, and hairbrushes.
(Extra Credit): I am pleasantly surprised by the large number of people that end up reading
these posts. I've never met or heard from many of you, but you show up in my traffic report. If you have found a particular post or thought interesting or helpful or thought provoking or anything at all, I'd love to hear from you in the comments :)
In case you are interested, I posted Chapter Two of The Kindling.
You can read it here. I hope you enjoy it.
Before I started writing, I read a great deal. My predominant recreational activity has always been reading--I prefer it to TV,movies, talking, and certainly any kind of athletics. No matter how late it is at night, I can't go to sleep until I've read at least a few lines of whatever book I'm currently reading. When I do yard work or exercise, I'm nearly always listening to a recorded book, and often listen to a recorded book when driving, which is frequently.
In other words, I have derived a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction, enlightenment and entertainment over the years from books. While not everyone is into books to quite that degree, I think that many of us at least have books or authors we particularly enjoy and cherish.
Until I became a writer, though, I didn't think much about the relationship between readers and writers. I didn't even consider that it was a relationship--in the sense of there being give-and-take and that each party had, or could have, a part to play.
Now that I'm an author and know some other authors, that has changed and I spend a great deal of my time thinking and worrying about how to connect with readers, how to start and maintain a relationship and so on.
One other thing I didn't realize was just how much a reader can help a writer--which seems only fair since the writer has worked so long to bring me so much enjoyment.
On the assumption that there are readers out there who are like I was, I thought I'd post a few suggestions on how you can help the writers or the kind of books you really like.
I'm going to tell you how, in about 5 minutes a day you could seriously help authors you like.
Some writers have big publishers with big marketing budgets. Most don't. Consequently, most books live or die by word of mouth. If you have a book you like, or an author you like, talk about it. Tell a friend or two.
This is easy to do in the age of Facebook and Twitter. Just write something like, "Reading xxxx by so-and-so. Love it!" Little things like that can go a very long way. Many books and authors have pages or groups on Facebook and liking those can be a good way to help as well. You can also follow them on Twitter. Some agents and publishers pay a lot of attention to how many blog followers, Facebook fans, and Twitter followers authors have.
You can also join Goodreads (www.goodreads.com). It's very easy to go on and rate books. You can leave a short (or long) review if you like, but that's optional.
Another very helpful thing to do is to rate books you like on Amazon. Getting good ratings helps the book get more attention and signals other people they might like it.
I've started writing a short review in a word document. I then paste it in on Goodreads, give it a rating and do the same on Amazon. It's fast and easy and many authors would appreciate this.
One note: if you are going to rate a book, please read it all the way. Every author I know has received bad reviews. This is part of the business and it's life. Wise authors learn from these and improve.
But it's incredibly frustrating to write something and get a bad review and then realize that the person writing the bad review has not read the book all the way. Or has missed something. I got a tepid review that drove me crazy--not because of the lower rating, but because the reviewer completely missed a major plot point, and the commented on how the book wasn't believable. That was maddening. Honest criticism is fine, but if you are going to do a review, be careful that you are accurate.
Those things are incredibly easy and fast and I have decided to do this for every book I read that I like.
One other thing that is important to realize is that most authors make very little money. Some lose it. A few make huge sums--but that is extremely rare. Most authors write because they like to and hope that what they read will please someone.
I don't hang out with big-time authors like Stephenie Meyer, J. K. Rowling, or Orson Scott Card. I'm sure they get more fan mail than they can manage. But most authors in the middle and lower ranks really enjoy hearing from readers. It's incredibly personal to write a book and there is a great deal of vulnerability that comes with publishing your work. Beyond that, it's something you spent hours and hours working on. So, hearing that someone liked it is validatin was enjoyable to someone out there. Most authors have websites or blogs and it's easy to write a quick comment: "Hey, I really loved xxxxx."
Many authors enjoy talking about their work--the characters and worlds in their books are so real to them. Likely, though, their family and close friends are tired of hearing about it all. So if you have a book club, an author might be thrilled at the chance to come discuss or answer questions. A lot of authors do this via Skype. Some will come in person. Some will at least answer emails. Of course, everyone has their own preferences and most authors are working other jobs and so they can't always do stuff like this because it takes away from writing time.
But every author I know (and again, I don't know every author) enjoys getting thoughtful questions about their work.
I've been posting these pictures and memes on my author page on Facebook, but I realized that not everyone who reads this blog is in that group (why ever not, I have no idea--it's a constant party. But that's your business.) At any rate, I thought I'd put them up here as well.
These pictures were taken for the book trailers I'm working on. I thought they turned out quite well. I've only got two more pictures to take and then I can start putting the rest of the trailers together. If you missed it, there is a quick teaser trailer here.
There will be more to come, photos and trailers, so stay tuned!
Here is the inciting moment of the story--Conner Dell does something that lights the school bully's gym shorts on fire.
Conner's twin sister, Lexa, who has a problem.
Lexa's best friend Melanie Stephens, who overhears some unsettling news.
The three of them facing something unpleasant.
Mrs. Grant, the English teacher.
Madame Cumberland, the French teacher. Yes, I need to fix the lettering. It got a bit wonky.
Last of all the three teachers--Mrs. Grant, Dr. Timberi, and Madame Cumberland getting ready to fight. You would be amazed at what can be done with a red pen, conductor's baton, and yardstick.
I thought that since it was Mother's Day this weekend, I'd take a minute and reflect on the gifts that my own mom gave me when I was in middle school--the things she did as a mother that have served me well throughout my life.
Just for the record, I was one of the biggest pains in the world during middle school. I was a tumultuous, stormy little beast back then. I really was.
My mom wasn't perfect. She made mistakes. However, I have realized something important over the years. The mistakes she made have all been washed away in the ebb and flow of time. None of them matter any more. The things she did well have blessed me continually.
Here are some of the things my mom did well:
1. She didn't interfere. She knew where I was and with whom I was, but she didn't intrude or insert herself into my social life. I had rules and parameters--curfews and so on, but she really didn't care about the lastest gossip--which of my friends were going out with girls or things like that. When I had spats with other kids, she always refused to get involved and told me I'd have to work it out myself.
This empowered me to make my way in the world and feel confident in my ability to solve problems. It gave me sense of agency and independence. When it was time for me to leave the house and be on my own, I was ready. Going away to college and then a two-year church mission were not difficult (at least in that aspect) because I was used to solving my own problems and being independent. By letting me work things out on my own when the stakes were fairly low, she gave me the gift of being able to work things out when the stakes were higher. She was there to walk me through things, but she would not intercede.
2. She made me work. Growing up, I had various chores. Weeding, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, mowing the lawn, making dinner and so on. This was a real pain for my mom because none of us kids ever did the job well the first time, so she had to invest a lot of time checking and re-checking and listening to our excuses, protestations, and arguments. She could have done all this herself in probably 1/3rd of the time it took to get us to do this.
I hated the work more than I can say. But when I left home at 18, I knew how to cook. Well. I knew how to do laundry, iron, and clean a bathroom, a refrigerator, and on and on. When I got my own house, I knew how to garden, weed, mow a lawn, and other basics of home maintenance. I started my adult life already knowing how to do all these things and that was a huge help.
3. She was an adult. Instead of sinking to my level and trying to be cool, trying to talk or dress like a teen, my mom was an adult and I got the idea she enjoyed being an adult. That gave me something to aspire to, and it gave me someone to respect, even when I didn't like her very much.
As I got older and the storms of adolescence faded, I came to see what a great gift this is. Teenagers are naturally egocentric. They will naturally think they are the center of the universe. My mom helped me understand I was not and she helped pull me out of the roiling seas of adolescence to the firmer shore of adulthood. And I find it much more congenial there.
4. She refused to be manipulated. As I mentioned in number 2, there were times I didn't like her. Times I was mad. Times I raged and stormed and bellowed at the unfairness of all she required. She was immoveable and unyielding in sticking by her guns.
5. She sided with my teachers. Always. I hated this. But any trouble in school would be met with swift retribution at home. This really forced me to focus and do my best in school. I hated school, quite frankly. I was lazy and undisciplined and probably had ADD (it wasn't known back then). So, I hated every minute of it. If I had known that I could get away with slacking or goofing off, I would have done it in a second. I would not have pushed myself, I would not have tried at all. I would have checked out completely. I was a pretty creative kid and would have been able to do a lot of wiggling and weaseling had I thought it would avail. I would have played my parents against my teachers if I thought I would have been able to get away with it.
I hate to think of where I would have ended up. Happily, mom insisted that I behave and wouldn't let me check out. This was a lot of work for her. But I knew I couldn't slide by with not turning in assignments or things like that. I knew I couldn't misbehave and then say things like, "Well, Mr. S0-and-so just doesn't like me."
6. She made my go outside. In our house, TV was strictly limited. We were expected to go and play outside for most of the day and we did. I have such happy memories of those times, now. My siblings and I entertained ourselves and made up all kinds of fun, imaginative games. I also did a lot of reading, which has obviously blessed my life as well.
7. She put my dad first. My dad did the same. All of us kids knew that the marriage came first and that Mom and Dad were one unit. We couldn't play them against each other and knew better than to try. They lived for each other and they were (and are) the center of each other's universes.
As a kid that sort of bugged me when I saw friends who were the center of their parent's universe. But even at the time, it provided a great deal of security for me. I knew that my home was built on a rock solid foundation and that my parents were together for the long haul. In the long term, it helped prepare me for my own marriage and taught me how to be a husband first.
8. She encouraged our imaginations. As long as I can remember, we had a big drawer full of paper and there were always markers and paint and other art supplies--a big basket of them, in fact. Mom encouraged us to use our imaginations and make things. She kept up with the latest books in children's literature, and our bookshelves were stocked with Newbery award winners and other books that had merit. We had library cards and used them. She kept beautiful music playing.
9. She didn't spoil us. My parents were affluent--my father was a successful lawyer during the boom years of the 80s. We lived a comfortable life, but had very modest possessions. Their philosophy was that, as parents, they owed us clothing, but not Reeboks and other expensive stuff. So, they would give us a dollar amount they'd spend on our clothes. If we wanted something above that, we came up with the rest of it.
When we wanted something fun or nice--a bike or a stereo--they would always pay half and we would save the other half.
They put a lot of money into savings and life insurance and so on, building an emergency supply of food and other necessities (this was in the Cold War, and we lived near a major Air Force base). This all created a feeling of security and stability. We felt safe and secure.
It also taught me to be frugal and careful with money. They spent lots of money on lessons and family vacations and a boat so we could water-ski together--but they were very careful about how and what they spent their money on.
10. My mom loved us. She loved us far more than herself or her own comfort or hobbies. She devoted herself to us and our happiness. She expected things of us and she was firm, but she was not harsh or unkind. We knew she would do anything for us. I remember in 11th grade procrastinating a huge research paper. This was back in the days of typewriters, and I sat at the dining room table plunking away with my tw0-fingered technique, going nowhere fast. It got later and later. Somewhere around 11, Mom appeared. She took over the typing and, since she actually knew how to type, it went much faster. But since I was just making it up as I went, not a lot faster. I had some notes, I think, and I was using generous quotations from an encyclopedia. I fell asleep at one point. When I woke up, it was 2 am. Mom was still typing.
11. She welcomed my friends. Even though they were strict with curfews and what movies I could go see, my parents always welcomed my friends. I could have a party anytime I wanted, and she always kept ice cream and chips and other teen-friendly foods on hand when our friends came to hang out. Smart woman.
In short, my mom loved us enough to do things that would bless us in the long-term instead of doing things that would make her life easier in the short-term. At the time, a lot of this bugged me. My frustration at the time is matched only by the gratitude I have felt ever since leaving home. The more I live and see, the more grateful I am that she was the way she was. That's what I mean when I say that the effect of her weaknesses or mistakes have long since been negated, but the good things she did were investments that continue to pay dividends.
As I write this with a father's perspective, I realize that most of what my mom did that was good was also hard. It took discipline on her part and an eye to the long view. It meant loving us enough to do hard things.
And that is a lesson and of itself.
One of the things I dislike most about our contemporary society is how polarized we are, and how nearly everything has become a political issue. Since mothers have been a campaign issue not-so-many-news-cycles-ago, I was a bit reluctant to post anything about mothers today. But then I thought that was stupid. Just because some people have politicized it doesn't mean the rest of us can't still honor mothers and motherhood.
Being a teacher, I've spent a lot of time over the years with mothers. Mothers and teachers are sort of a natural combination as we do similar things with and for similar people.
Over the year, mothers have monitored dressing rooms, created props, sewn costumes, painted scenery, run concessions, managed ticket sales and so on. They've driven trucks and pulled trailers, gone over lines and a myriad of other things. That's just in my program. Around our school they do so much, so very much that keeps the school going. Everything from shelving books in the library to running our professional art show, which is a two year commitment and basically makes them CEO of a large non-profit organization.
One of the things I think we don't always appreciate is that mothers do a huge amount of volunteer work outside of the home and work, accomplishing a great deal of good in the larger community. I've spent my life working at non-profits and I can say without hesitation that our greatest volunteer corps has always been mothers. Without them, non-profits would have a serious, possibly life-threatening, problem.
I come from a long line of mothers who don't like Mother's Day because it makes them feel guilty. They focus on mistakes they've made, things they wish they had done differently and so on. I know this is not a happy day for a lot of women. I also know there are women who want to be mothers and aren't, or who have family situations that bring pain--and on and on as people deal with the trying vicissitudes of life.
To me, this day is not about celebrating perfect, idealized mothers from a Norman Rockwell painting, because that mother doesn't exist. Nor is it about arguing about whether Claire Huxtable or June Cleaver is the better mother.
It's simply a day to acknowledge that mothers do a lot. They do a lot for their families. They do a lot for their schools, churches, synagogues, and communities. Frankly, they do a lot for our civilization. A world without mothers, even imperfect ones, would be a grim and unlovely place.
I suggest it should also be a day to acknowledge that mothers don't need to be perfect to make a huge difference.
A few years ago, my wife went to take care of her parents after emergency surgery, so I took over at home for a week. I'm competent at keeping a house, so my children had clean clothes and food and I got them where they needed to be in time. In operational terms, no one would have noticed that my wife was not there. I was able to successfully execute all the necessary tasks.
But during this week, one of our small children got hurt. Not a serious injury, but it hurt him a lot. He cried and cried that he wanted his mom. I could clean and bandage the wound, hug, and love him, but there was something he felt was missing. There was something about my wife's presence that he needed and wanted. It went beyond what she did to who she was, what she has inside of her.
I think that moms are like that. Their love and empathy is a powerful balm for skinned knees or broken hearts, some kind of divine spark that provides comfort and love for us--and not just when we are young children. Christina Rossetti referred to her mother as "my heart's quiet home" and that is an elegant, incisive way of putting it (h/t to Luisa Perkins, from whom I first heard that quoted).
Moms provide this whether they work inside or outside the home, whether they do laundry or send bundles to the dry cleaners, whether they bake bread or buy it at either Whole Foods or Wal-Mart. Mothers provide this whether or not they are impatient or lose their tempers sometimes, and they provide this even if they don't measure up to self-imposed standards. Mothers do this just because they do. Just because they are mothers.
I would add that, over the years, me and my children have been blessed by the actions of women who were not their mothers. So many women have mothered so many children that were not theirs in the biological sense. We've seen this time and time again, and I am grateful for these women.
After every play, my students usually call me come out to take a bow. I don't like this. In fact, I really, really don't like it. It embarrasses me because I don't want it to be about me. I don't want the audience to think I've told them to do it. I feel like the success of the play is attributable to far more hands and hearts than my own. So, last time we did a play, I told the kids they were not to bring me out. They obeyed and did not call me out for a bow on opening night.
That night, my wife found out and discussed this with me in unusually stern terms. She told me that the kids loved me and wanted to express that publicly and this was the way they knew how. It might be clumsy or uncomfortable for me, but it was ungracious to not allow them their chance to show their appreciation.
She was right. So I countermanded the order and let the kids bring me out for the last two nights. It was uncomfortable for me, but I could see that it actually did make many of the kids happy.
May I suggest that this applies to mothers today? I know that this is not a happy day for many of you, that you don't relish this day. But we love you! Individually and collectively. We need you! You do so much for us and we want to tell you that. We want to make a big deal of you.
You don't have to be perfect and you don't have to fit specific externally-imposed models and meet specific criteria. You are wonderful and you do so much good in a million ways. Just by being you (I think Mr. Rogers was the one who said that. I know it's cheesy, but it's so true).
Thank you to all the women in my life. To the mothers who supported the activities I enjoyed when I was a kid, to the mothers who support the activities I now offer to my students. To the mothers everywhere who raise responsible children against difficult odds. Most of all, to the mother who raised me and to the mother who shares a home and family with me: Thank you! I love you.
Happy Mother's Day.
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