Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Mom Proves that Parents Should be Their Kids' Friends

Christmas, 1967. Definitely the cutest I've ever been.
On and off throughout the day today, I've been contemplating what to say about my mom for Mother's Day.  I jotted a little list all up in my brainpan.  Then I sat down to write, and figured I should check my new list against whatever I may have written for the previous two Mother's Days that passed since I started this blog.  Oh yeah, that's right, I thought as I found an entry from last year that was exactly the same as my "new" mental notes.

So this is a rerun of the original post, entitled "A Bouquet of Bullet Points," but with a special bonus bullet to demonstrate the perspective I have gained over the past year.  And a poem that I didn't write.

Why My Mom Rules at Being a Mom

  • She has never given up on her kids, even when (some of us) have been thankless, recalcitrant, unreasonable, nihilistic, self-destructive, or unresponsive.  When I was trying my hardest, God knows why, to fail out of high school, she once told me she had had it--she was just going to let me fail.  The next day, she was on my back about my homework again.  And then for two years after high school, she never stopped trying to get me interested in college even though I constantly rebuffed her, until the day I woke up and said, "Hey--I think I'll go to college now," at which point she produced the application materials out of thin air and started helping me fill them out. 
  • She always sticks up for the underdog.  I don't think she realizes that she's doing this.  Whenever there were fights between the siblings, Mom always defended whoever was most beleaguered.  This could be frustrating, because the most miserable person wasn't always the one who was right.  It seemed unjust if you were righteously indignant but otherwise on an even keel emotionally; but it wasn't so bad when you were being a jerk and feeling terrible about yourself.  It took me a long time to realize that there are more important roles for a mom than meting out justice.
  • She doesn't take any bullshit.  I mean, from me she does.  But growing up, I saw her make some grown men look like they were going to cry after they tried to get over on her somehow, especially if they were patronizing in their attempts to placate her.  This is another thing she may not realize she's doing.  I've seen her intimidate incompetent waiters, amorous drunks, Military Police, and my obnoxious friends, to name but a few.  And heaven help the young smartass who makes a sexist comment within earshot of Mom.  This taught me to be less of an idiot and a dick than I would naturally have been inclined to be.   
  • She sets a good example.  Although she's not a big storyteller like (ahem) some other members of our family, she has led a rich life, from being a farm kid in hardscrabble North Central Montana, to a college sorority girl,  military wife, teacher, mom, public servant, non-profit maven, and hardcore backcountry skier.  The pace she keeps as a "retired" person puts most working stiffs to shame.  Her example, and her encouraging words, make me believe I can keep pursuing new experiences and charging off in new directions endlessly.
  • She sets a good example (addendum) Not only does my mom continue to set an example for how to be a good person in general; she also sets a good parenting example.  It's an article of faith these days that "being your kids' friend" will only ruin your children.  That's bullshit as far as I'm concerned.  Despite having the usual parent vs. kid struggles, my mom remained my friend throughout.  There were rough patches, as there are in any friendship, but we got over them.  And as a good friend should, she didn't cut me any slack when she saw that I was making terrible mistakes.  Like a good friend, she let me know when she didn't approve of my other friends.  She gave me space when I needed it, but brought the hammer down when I was being stupid.
Obviously, there's more to parenting than being a friend.  A friend can't really impose sanctions when you refuse to listen to their warnings, or offer incentives when you need to get off your ass.  At least not as effectively as a parent can.  But there's more to raising a child than making them safe and compliant, too.  Far too many of my friends--most of them successful grownups--had dysfunctional relationships with their parents, and have spent a lot of time and energy working through that.  Some of them have reconciled with their parents, and some of them have moved on.  Many of them still grind their teeth at the very mention of their folks.  I don't have any illusions that my kids will grow up without resentment toward their mom and me; but good friends can get over that.


Here's former poet laureate Billy Collins reading the poem that I wish I had been able to write for my mom, "The Lanyard."  Don't worry: it's poetry, but it's also hilarious.  And poignant.  Here's a text version so you can savor it.  


  1. Lovely poem, even though you didn't write it. Here's to your mom. May she always rock . . .

  2. You're a good boy, Beta Son.

    Always loved that poem. I'm tempted to send the kids to camp just to get me some lanyard love.

  3. Epic frickin' poem. I am now inspired.

  4. Wish I had known about this poem earlier. What a great piece from child to mother. Oh, and your post was good too.

  5. I wish I had a rocking kewl Mom like that

  6. I love my mom... Nothing else to say so I'll just click away.

  7. That poem almost got a tear until he said' and I gave her a lanyard'... I am sure we all have given lanyards... The point is that a mother/father appreciates the effort and love put into what is given... As far as qualities of what a mom/(dad) does, isn't that what is expected when they take one that lifelong choice? Believe me, it should.... Great post and the video is the icing.

  8. Thanks, my good friend. When I thought of Mother's Day and your May birthday, that picture came to mind. The picture, the lanyard (which is on my desk) and Collins' poem are favorites. The real favorite, of course, is my son, who is on his way to being the best dad ever. There's just one close competitor for the title.
    By the way, I'm taking the lanyard to the cabin this summer. Better there with bear bells on it than on my desk, don't you think?

  9. It's no surprise to me that you had such a great mom. None at all.

  10. If the frame isn't locked to the tire a thief could remove the front tire and get away with your bike.

    kids bike

  11. Mother's Day always sucks for me because my mom chose to be a raging alcoholic rather than a mother. But all the points you listed about your mom certainly sounds like one helluva great parent -- good on ya, and good on her!

  12. Sounds like you had a great role model. Thanks for sharing.


Don't hold back.


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