30741381_1587385254720889_7378585026608234496_nIn honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share some of the things my mom tried to teach me as I was growing up:

  1. Beds should be made daily and sheets changed weekly.
  2. Every kitchen counter needs a matching set of canisters.
  3. Men take showers, but ladies take baths.
  4. Leaving a dish or glass in the kitchen sink is a venial sin.
  5. No silliness at the dinner table.
  6. Moms have eyes in the back of their heads.
  7. Close the front door. You’re heating the outdoors.
  8. No reading at the dinner table.
  9. If you cross your eyes, they’ll stay that way.
  10. A dinner should consist of meat, vegetables, and a starch.
  11. Dessert is not optional.
  12. No singing at the dinner table.
  13. The teacher is always right.
  14. No roughhousing inside.
  15. Wash your elbows.
  16. Do it because I said so.
  17. Don’t cry, or I’ll give you something to cry about.

Although I haven’t always kept all of Mom’s “commandments” in my life, my mother’s voice still echoes in my head when I’m running around the house tidying up and making sure the dishes are done. I find myself using her expressions, such as “Stop your dilly-dallying!”

And my mom also taught me:

  1. Honesty is the best policy.
  2. Put others before yourself.
  3. Have a treat at night before bedtime.
  4. Have music in your life.
  5. Work hard.
  6. Be frugal.
  7. Family comes first.
  8. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  9. Nurture your faith.
  10. The joys of having children outweigh the pain.

So Happy Mother’s Day to my beloved mother – and to all mothers, both literal and in spirit. May our mothers’ lessons give us the strength and courage to be good women and to nurture the next generation.

Wisdom Teeth



My youngest child needs to have her wisdom teeth out. Just as with her three older siblings (and most young adults), her third molars are impacted into her jaw and need to be surgically removed.

I still vividly remember having my own wisdom teeth extracted back in the days of chloroform and leeches. I was actually hospitalized overnight and can remember my mom coming to my hospital room with a milkshake to make me feel better. My own kids all weathered the experience reasonably well and were kind of funny as they slowly came out of their anesthetized haze. My older daughter kept telling me she thought the fish wallpaper in the oral surgeon’s office was so pretty, and my younger son kept slapping his cheek and exclaiming, “I can’t feel anything!”

Wisdom teeth are vestiges of our early millennia as homo sapiens. Early human diets were uncooked and rough, and people lost teeth on a regular basis. So third molars were very important to survival. As humans evolved and ate a softer diet, our jaws narrowed and now rarely can allow the wisdom teeth to break the surface of the gums.

So having wisdom teeth removed has become a rite of passage for young adults. For me, it has been a time when I could baby my children who are not really little kids anymore. For at least a couple of days, I could  park them on the sofa, ice their cheeks, and prepare Jello and other soft foods for them to eat. I could watch TV with them and wish these lazy summer days wouldn’t end.

My youngest child will be a junior in high school in the fall. She is driving and going out most nights with friends. Soon she will be taking ACTs and SATS, applying to colleges, and making her way out into the adult world step by step. I hope the presence of her so-called “wisdom teeth” indicates a maturity that will enable her to be sensible and safe. And I hope I have the wisdom to let her grow up and leave the nest, however hard it will be for me.

Still, I look forward to babying the baby of the family when she gets her wisdom teeth taken out. We still have a lot of TV to watch together.

Lone Star State



This weekend I’m “gone to Texas.” My trip to the U.S. state that defines the notion of “big”is due to my son’s impending graduation from the University of Texas in Austin. After four plus years of wearing cowboy boots and drawling, “y’all,” my boy is entering the great big world of adulthood.

My second born has been my high-maintenance child. From an early age, he developed life-threatening food allergies and asthma. Temperamental from birth, he took a lot out of me physically and emotionally. As he grew up, we had frequent skirmishes over behavior and school achievement. My husband has always said that of my four children, he is the most like me in personality, which is why we have so regularly butted heads.

At the same time, my son has always been highly intelligent, creative, and sensitive. At school, he always took up for the child who was being teased or bullied. At home, he could be found deep into a marathon Lego-building activity or creating a tableau out of action figures. Using our 8 mm video camera, he made silly movies with his friends. No doubt he has had his share of shenanigans in college too. It’s difficult to imagine him in the adult world.

Yet Saturday he will don his cap and gown and, in the words of St. Paul, “put childish things behind” him. He will step out into the adult world of work, taxes, and independence. We have come a long way from the days when I had to pack him peanut-free snacks for school or sleep away camp. A long way from sleepless nights cuddled under a blanket to let the cold night air soothe his terrible cough. With God’s grace, he has grown up to be fine young man, one of whom I am very proud.

So here’s to my lone star in that vast world of Texas. May his boots be shiny, his barbecue tender, and his Longhorns winners. Hook ’em!


Me First



I like eating the end pieces of a loaf of bread – the heel, as we always called it in my family. And that is a lucky thing. Most people dislike and discard the heel of bread as the least desirable part, but mothers are often willing to settle for it, or the toughest piece of meat, or even the leftovers on their child’s plate.

When I became a mother, my baby became the center of my life. I spent every waking hour tending to her needs or fretting over her discontents. Things I had really cared about before – my appearance, my clothes, my exercise regimen – all went by the wayside once my daughter came into my life. The only self-care I paid attention to was the nutrition I needed to be able to nurse her.

Over time, I learned to let go a little. I managed to part with her for brief periods of time, leaving her with a babysitter and myself with a lingering sense of guilt. I resumed exercising, usually with her nearby, and I even managed to put on makeup and a nice outfit for an occasional “date night” with my husband.

But mothering has almost always superseded my own needs. As a mother, I work around my children’s schedules. Before I can relax, I first make sure they have what they need, whether it be a meal, an item for school, or a personal necessity. I drop everything to take them to the doctor, help with homework, chauffeur them to activities, or listen to a tale of woe. I have no complaints. That is simply what mothers do.

But sometimes it can feel overwhelming to spend days and nights obsessing over my children’s lives. At some point, it becomes unhealthy to neglect one’s own appearance and even physical well-being for the sake of the kids. So I try, I really do. I have coffee with a friend or get my nails done or go for a walk. I make plans that don’t involve my children. Still, I have a sense of disquiet whenever this “me time” seems to conflict with what my kids want or need.

This summer at sleep away camp, my daughter learned the virtues of  “living third.” The motto at camp was,  “God first. Others second. I’m third.” It is the essence of the Christian ideal to put others before ourselves. And I’m so glad my daughter is incorporating this ideal in her life. Still, I hope she learns – and I hope I can more effectively model for her – that sometimes it’s okay to say, “Me first.”

Can’t Let Go



In a couple of weeks, I will be leaving my son at a college 2,000 miles away from home. Today it hit me really hard that he is leaving. I’ve decided to tell him that I’ve changed my mind. He can’t go. I just can’t let him.

I should be better at this. He is my third child to go away to college, and the older two were also a plane ride away. I shed many tears when first my daughter, then my older son waved goodbye and turned toward their new lives and their looming adulthood. Tonight at dinner, I was sharing a story about the day I left for college as a freshman. My mother stood at our doorstep and cried, “Mary, you’ve never been away from me for more than a night.” I had never considered what it might cost her to have me go away.

From the day my third child was born, he has been such a source of joy. He had (and still has) these fabulous eyebrows that point upward like arrows and make him seem surprised – or devilish. He has consistently made me laugh throughout his childhood. The day I forgot to pick him up from preschool, he informed his teachers, “My mom’s an idiot.” And once in kindergarten, he declared, “My dad is going to have a stroke!” I guess I love that he helps me not take things (including myself) too seriously.

He is also a person of integrity. If he says he will do something, he does it. No complaints, no rationalizations. Just action. In early adolescence, he began to realize how lucky he was to be born into this family and to live in the safe, comfortable environment of our small suburb. He has remained humble and very real throughout his high school career as a football player and popular guy.

Mind you, the boy is not perfect. I have made the acquaintance of the high school dean on his behalf more than once. And he can absolutely drive me crazy at times with his opinionated ways. But I can’t imagine what life is going to be like without seeing him on a daily basis and listening to his inventive lingo: words like “dank,” “dirt,” and “flame.”

I know I have to let him start the next chapter of his life. I know I will get used to the new (much quieter) world order at home. I still have a high schooler to dote on and fret over. But still, I will miss him more than words can say. He may have have a rip in that college t-shirt of his before I am able finally to let go.

First Born



Today is the birthday of my adored first-born child. Although she is now in her twenties, I remember her birth day as if it were yesterday.

I was feeling a bit melancholy as I contemplated the fact that my little world with my husband was about to change dramatically. A week past my due date, I was to undergo induced labor that evening. The nursery was ready, but I was not. I was scared.

The nurses in labor and delivery made me comfortable, and the doctor came in to check on me. She decided to wait until morning to give my little one one more chance to emerge on her own. I was hungry but not allowed to eat anything. It was hard to sleep that night.

The next morning I was given a labor-inducing hormone, and it slowly began. I was reading The Brothers Karamazov at the time, and that made the labor nurses chuckle. My husband tried by turns to entertain and comfort me, but several hours into labor, I was begging for narcotics.

We were convinced we were having a boy. Friends and even perfect strangers had insisted that the way I was carrying indicated a male was on his way. But twelve hours after my labor had started, in a fog of Demerol, I heard the doctor exclaim, “It’s a girl!”

“A girl?” my husband and I said simultaneously.

She was silent and blue because the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. My husband and the medical staff bustled off to a corner of the room while I mumbled incoherently, still in my narcotic haze.

Then all at once, a little red-faced creature was placed in my arms. She had a pink and blue beanie on her head, and she looked very cross. Interestingly, I’ve seen that same look over the years as she was growing up.

But she was mine, my daughter, my first-born. I was horribly exhausted, insanely thirsty, and deliriously happy all at the same time.

My daughter was born on a Monday. In the famous rhyme, “Monday’s child is fair of face,” and that certainly applies to my beautiful girl. More importantly, she is that special one, the one who ushered me into the world of motherhood, a world from which I have no desire to escape.

Happy Birthday, dear heart.