My mom had a major birthday milestone today. Mom taught me to never discuss the age of a lady. I want to share a few other enduring lessons learned from dear young mom. These lessons help me to this day.
After transplanting from Florida to Kentucky, long before I was born, my mom must have faced a terrifying new life. She had never learned to drive a car, was living a sparse lifestyle, and was starting fresh in an unfamiliar town. The stories I grew up hearing of earlier years in Florida involving moonshine, chicken coops, and barefeet just don’t seem to jive with the elegant, cultured woman that would blossom from this new home in Louisville.
Fast forward to my youth, and you see a woman who is not only driving a car by herself, but also rising quickly through the professional nursing ranks. Mom would often bring me to her office in the summers. This probably had more to do with childcare challenges than a desire to teach me leadership. While she was the traditional, nurturing mother at home, she was George Patton at work. I’m sure this is why I’ve never been plagued with misogyny. At the risk of bringing Freud into the discussion, I am happily married to a strong, smart, driven woman today.
If I had to pick just two main topics of maternal inspiration, it would be in ethics and the arts.
The Spiderman motorcycle is one of my earliest memories. Like most 5 year olds, I was fixated on the toy aisle of our little local grocery store. Mom would often leave me there while she did the shopping. It was an earlier, more innocent era. I could look as much as I wanted, but none of these toys were coming home with me. Not in the budget.
I coveted the zip cord Spiderman motorcycle. One larcenous day, I decided to make it mine. The meat counter ran perpendicular to the toy aisle. I carefully timed the butcher’s movements. There seemed no more powerful authority figure in the world. My heart was pounding. At the perfect moment, I jammed the motorcycle under my shirt, hunched over, and ran off to tag along behind mom.
At home, I immediately ran to my room, tore open the box, and ripped the zip cord. Spiderman was saving the world at top speed. My mom heard the strange new sound, and walked in.
“Jeff, where did you get the Spiderman motorcycle?”
“Uhh… Mikey let me borrow it…”
“Really? So, if I call Mikey’s mom, she’ll say that he has a Spiderman motorcycle?”
“uhh… ummm… Yes.”
Next I heard mom murmuring into the kitchen phone.
She soon returned with a dark look.
“Mikey’s mom says he does not have a Spiderman motorcycle.”
I burst into tears and confessed. Mom immediately put me in the car. What happened next appeared to be pure maternal omniscience. Mom took me straight to the meat counter and presented me to the butcher. I handed Spiderman over and sobbed in shame. I have no idea why mom would have turned me into the butcher… and, she claims not to remember any of this story! She formed me that day anyway.
Mom isn’t perfect, and neither am I. As a teenager, I watched her recover from a bad ethical choice. That taught me just as much as the butcher. Those were some of the most shocking tears I’ve ever seen. Be honest and be ethical. When you fail, take ownership of the failure and do better.
In elementary school, I would chat with mom in the bathroom while she put her face on for work. The “word of the day” was my favorite morning tradition. Mom would give me a new “five dollar” word every day. We would discuss the spelling, meaning, and use of “miniscule” or “melodious.”
Reading was always encouraged and modeled. There were plenty of big books around the house, and I tore through them. I remember reading Dune in the 6th grade. Mr. Young couldn’t believe it. He was reading it, too. If you read that level of book at that age, you can basically sleep through all English and writing classes to come. This is one of the most powerful gifts my mom instilled in me. I profit from it to this day.
My mom is a great cook. She was always trying adventurous dishes in the kitchen. That openness to the foods of other cultures also made it easy for me to relate to people from around the world. I’ll try anything twice… except mushrooms.
Mom inspired a love of music. She got me into piano lessons at 7, and forced me to practice for 30 minutes a day- even, after the bloom fell off that rose. The ethics lessons once failed, however, when I discovered I could tape 5 minutes of practice on my boombox- and then loop that playback 5 more times. The day I could play The Spinning Song as well as mom was a special day. And, even though I don’t play very often, I can still pull it off today!
Mom also made sure I experienced plenty of museums, musicals, and shows. While I’m not big on large doses of men in tights, I can certainly appreciate the beauty of such art. And, that appreciation certainly weaves itself into the more analytical side of my engineering sales career today.
Happy Birthday, Mom.
And, thank you!