Heartfelt Interlude: My Mom
by Jennifer Has Opinions
There’s a story from my childhood that always goes over well at parties about how I came to believe that Steel Magnolias was a pornographic movie. I must have been in middle school when I first heard of the film, and I remember asking my mom if I could see it. I also remember her looking at me very seriously and saying, “No. It’s very, very bad.” I realize that in a lot of homes this wouldn’t have been a big deal, but I didn’t come from a family that strictly regulated viewing material (and for what it’s worth, I graduated first in my high school class, never tried drugs, and grew up to lead a very productive life). I was not used to being forbidden to see a movie. I jumped to the only conclusion that seemed possible- Steel Magnolias must be a porno. Imagine my confusion a few years later when my cousins (who were great for teaching me things my mother didn’t want me to know) sat me down to watch Steel Magnolias. I believe the conversation went something like this:
Me (storming into the kitchen indignantly): Steel Magnolias isn’t porn!!!
Me: You told me I couldn’t watch Steel Magnolias because it was porn!
Mom: I did not. I told you you couldn’t watch it because it was sad, and I remember what you were like after E.T. and My Girl.
Me: You lied and told me there was going to be a sequel to E.T. where E.T. came back for Elliot.
Mom: Exactly. That’s why you couldn’t watch Steel Magnolias. No way you’d buy the sequel thing again.
I feel this anecdote sums up who my mother is as both a person and a mother. She is a really nice combination of tenderhearted and quirky. She can’t bear to see people, especially children, hurting. So, when she saw her (slightly neurotic) little girl sobbing uncontrollably over the separation of a boy from his alien friend, she made up a story about a sequel…and she made a house rule against sad movies.
Because that’s who she is, my mom. If she can spare you pain, she will. If she can make sure you get the piece of cake you want most by taking the piece that everyone else wants least, she’ll do that too. My mother’s heart is both tender and generous. She’s not the only person I know with those qualities, but she might be one of the only people I’ve known who is able to combine tenderhearted generosity with a complete lack of jealousy or bitterness. My life has been easier than my mother’s. I have gotten to do more and see more than her, but she has never been anything but so happy for me.
I can’t get the woman to come to my house just to watch a movie, but if I call and say, “Mama, can you help me clean the house?” She drops everything. She takes all the worst jobs, and she does it happily. It’s as though she can’t separate helping someone out and having fun. She never, ever does that thing where she agrees to do you a favor, but then subtly lets you know how much she’s sacrificing to do it. My mother isn’t a martyr.
Another characteristic of my mother’s generosity is that it is proactive. She doesn’t wait for you to ask for help. She also doesn’t exactly ask you if you need help- this might be a Southern thing, but it’s like she knows that if she asks, you’ll have to say no to be polite. She just jumps in and does what needs to be done.
Now, I think there are fair arguments regarding the wisdom of this style of being and parenting. When a parent gives like that, what’s to stop the children from becoming takers? All I can say is that, in my case, watching my mother go through everyday life so selflessly humbled me. It taught me to give and receive gracefully. I’ve been thinking about this a lot after reading this blog. I loved the point the author makes about how gratitude should be learned at home and applied in the world.
I am lucky, because I am largely surrounded by people who are better than me. I learn from them, and hopefully I become better as a result. I know many good people, but when it comes to how to give, my mom will always be the standard. And, on the eve of her birthday, I thought I should share my opinion that she is the very best one.