what mom didn’t get

May 11th, 2010

When my sisters and I used to ask my mom what she wanted for Mother’s Day, her birthday or Christmas, she would say something like, “panty hose.” Or, she’d ask for stationery, stamps, measuring spoons or Tupperware lids. (Not needing the bowls, you see, but the lids that always came up missing.) These answers were ridiculous to us. We cracked jokes about them. We cracked jokes about her. We didn’t believe anyone could be so unimaginative, so uninspired by the opportunity to improve herself. She was only interested in the trifling, mundane things. We assumed that she just didn’t get the concept of getting, and that she lacked a grand vision for her life that could only be realized by seizing every opportunity to procure shiny, new things.

Mothers can be a mystery to us in so many ways. It took me more than 40 years to comprehend a fraction of my mother’s life. But I’ve been coming around on this front. My mother wasn’t what I thought she was. She never stopped improving things or keeping things going. She took every opportunity to make things better. She knew all along what I’ve only learned lately. Once you put yourself into the effort – your whole heart, your undying love – there’s really nothing else you need.

When Mother’s Day comes around, and even more on every day after, I remember the things my mother asked me for most often. And then I do them. In doing these five little things, I’m giving my mother her heart’s desire: I’m taking good care of myself, so she can finally sit back and rest easy.

1. Make your bed. The state of your bed is the state of your head. Making your bed enfolds your day in respect and gratitude. The five minutes you spend making your bed slows you down from your frantic, morning scrambling and creates a calm retreat to welcome you home at night. Plus, making your bed means you’ve already achieved an even more challenging feat: getting out of it. Your mother can stop screaming at the top of her lungs to wake you up.

2. Wear clean underwear. Clean underwear, clean socks, clean shirts, clean pants: when you have these to wear it can only mean you’ve been doing your laundry, one of the most consistently transformative events in our everyday lives. Doing laundry is a supreme act of responsibility. It requires maturity, attention and discipline, and it engenders happiness. Don’t believe me? Your mother smiles every time you do your own load.

3. Eat your vegetables. Moms have never been more right about anything. Making conscious, healthful choices about what, when and how much we eat may be the single largest contributor to our well-being and longevity. Coming clean about our food addictions and aversions is powerful and lasting medicine. Eating is so central to family life and culture that we can pass on our habits for generations to come. Make friends with broccoli and your mother’s wisdom will nourish your family well past tonight’s empty plates.

4. Go to your room. Mothers know well how to quell conflict and restore peace. When the stress of the day has you at a breaking point, when family friction erupts into open warfare, retreat to your room. Make sure it’s quiet there. Make sure it has a place where you can sit, catch your breath, reflect and relax. Take a moment or two or ten, all the time you need for a thorough time out. The tactic to manage a two-year-old can do the trick at any age. Go to your room. When you emerge calm and refreshed, peace and forgiveness await, and your mother is proud of you.

5. Do something nice for yourself. When I grew up and left home, gifts from my mother often came tucked inside a Hallmark greeting card. She would send a check with the simple instruction, “Do something nice for yourself.” After the beds, the laundry, the cooking and cleaning up; after the feuds and misunderstandings; mothers want one thing above all else. They want their children to be happy. So do something nice for yourself every day, and you’ll be giving your mother endless joy. You can start by making your bed.

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  1. Beautifully simple.

    I can’t make my bed when I wake up because my husband, and sometimes baby, are still asleep when get up for work. I do try to make it right when I get home so I can see it straightened for just a bit.

    The only veggie my son eats right now is corn. Will he ever eat a more variety of foods? Ok, that’s not being present. I present him with veggies every day and hope that he finds the goodness in them.

    I can also tell my mom is in a much better mood when I call her when I’m happy. I will remember to do that more often.

    Thank you!

    Comment by Imelda — May 11, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

  2. Thanks for this, a much-apperciated Mother’s Day gift.

    Comment by J, Connecticut — May 11, 2010 @ 4:00 pm

  3. Beautiful, and simply TRUE, as always.
    My mother always asks for “world peace.” Not actionable, but, I see now, a truly wonderful desire! I understand it better now. She was being flip, but not entirely.
    I can’t start the day without making my bed.

    Comment by Lindsey — May 11, 2010 @ 4:12 pm

  4. beautiful, timeless and so peaceful to read. grazie

    Comment by sperlygirl — May 11, 2010 @ 4:26 pm

  5. Oh my goodness, Karen…this post will be printed and given to my daughter and hopefully she will receive it in the spirit in which it is intended. Not as a reproachment, but as a guide. No truer thing could be said than this, “In doing these five little things, I’m giving my mother her heart’s desire: I’m taking good care of myself, so she can finally sit back and rest easy”. Except perhaps this, “mothers want one thing above all else. They want their children to be happy”.

    Comment by Karin — May 11, 2010 @ 7:38 pm

  6. wonderfully written as always. and much needed by me today. Thank you.

    Comment by melanie — May 11, 2010 @ 9:50 pm

  7. Reached my breaking point last night, and went to my room. Before I even read this post! Slept from 9-5:30, and look! A brand new 24 hours. Thanks for the instructions. I’ve been talking to Aviva lately about the importance of clean underwear, but she still needs some convincing…

    Comment by Jena — May 12, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

  8. I loved this. It’s amazing the insight we gain into our mothers when we walk in their shoes.

    Comment by 6512 and growing — May 12, 2010 @ 7:58 pm

  9. […] this morning when I was, lo and behold, rested and relatively ready. It turns out I was following another mama’s good advice without even knowing it: Go to your room. Mothers know well how to quell conflict and restore peace. […]

    Pingback by Female, Human, Children « Love your work, your life, yourself ~ life coaching with Jena Strong — May 13, 2010 @ 2:31 am

  10. “Once you put yourself into the effort – your whole heart, your undying love – there’s really nothing else you need.”

    Beautiful. I can relate to your story about getting gifts for your mom. Both my mother and sister (even as a kid) only asked for practical stuff, and I never understood that until now. Now I’m the one asking for measuring spoons!

    Comment by Grace — May 14, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

  11. My mom never had to tell me # 1-4. But I always loved her #5 gestures. Mothers seem to be the same everywhere. I’m glad.

    Comment by hadv — May 16, 2010 @ 12:29 am

  12. Okay, and so now I’m crying. Thank you for the post.

    Comment by Suzanne — May 17, 2010 @ 2:07 am

  13. Thank you for helping to keep the lines so beautifully open to my Mother who lives in my heart though not on this earth.

    Comment by Francie Kelley — May 18, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

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