One of my oldest friends lost her mom to the big evil cancer this week.
Damn cancer. I hate that it picked on her.
Her name was Mrs. Janey and she was a fireball of a mother in all the best synonyms of the word — dynamic, engaged, resolute. While I was only in the pleasure of her company for a handful of occasions in the 25 years since I met her daughter in my freshman year of college, she was one of my “model moms.”
What’s a model mom? A woman I look to for guidance and inspiration on how to be a mom myself. I think because I didn’t grow up with an extended family nearby, I have a short list of model moms from childhood — two distant grandmothers and a couple moms of classmates. As an adult, I’ve gathered a few more, including my top-of-the-list mother-in-law and some friends who became mothers at the same time as I did. I’ve learned much from them.
But Mrs. Janey, she was the model mom I met at just the right impressionable time. I was 19, in my first year of college, and only three years past the time when my nuclear family divorced and I lost my own mother’s daily presence in my life.
When I flew home with my friend during a school break that year, Mrs. Janey warmly welcomed me into her family. She showed interest, looped me into conversations, and gathered us around her table to stuff us with her famous meatballs. She was clearly thrilled to have her daughter home, back under her roof, and she was bold in demonstrating love. I could feel it.
At the time, I had met very few families like hers before: a family that visibly enjoyed being in each other’s presence, a family that gathered, talked and laughed together – and so East Coast loudly!
I grew up in a very quiet Midwest family that had some difficulty expressing feelings. As a child, I thought this was normal and how most families were. It’s not that we didn’t love each other, we were just lousy in showing it. Believe me, I wouldn’t trade my family for the Janeys, or any other family in the world, but I am also grateful that Mrs. Janey introduced me to another way. It was through her powerful and early example that I believe I began to re-frame what motherhood and family could be.
I am a different mother with my own daughters than my mother was with me. I am a different spouse to my husband than my parents were to each other. We talk, we’re loud, we’re generous with laughs and hugs and “I love yous.” I’m more like Mrs. Janey, I hope, but I can’t cook worth a darn.
I’m not always perfect — certainly a long way from it — but when my kids need me I try to do what Mrs. Janey would. I gather them around the table and feed them (at a restaurant, preferably); try to keep an open and focused ear; lend a hand to help where appropriate and where I can; and overall, provide what I hope is a comforting and constant presence in their lives.
The amazing part is this: As my daughters grow, I’m starting to see glimmers of them returning the same things to me. How cool is that?
Thank you, Mrs. Janey, for being a strong example of the possible.
I recently hung a little plaque in my kitchen that says, “Enjoy all the little things in life, as one day you look and realize they were the big things.” Most of us are still learning this. I think Mrs. Janey always knew.