Back in my hometown, my mom is sometimes called “Saint Bonnie.” While that moniker might get the occasional laugh from her three kids, it’s more true than not. She runs a nonprofit health clinic and is one of the most giving people I know. She’s taught me some big life lessons from her example, and, in honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to say a big thank you to my mom by sharing some of those life lessons here.
Look for miracles everywhere.
Be they big or small, if you look at the world with a sense of wonder and a belief in the goodness at the core of people, you will find miracles everywhere. Whether it’s in the beauty of nature, the kindness of friends and strangers alike, or the perfect timing of something you desperately needed but never expected, if you look for them, miracles will find their way to you.
If you see something wrong and nobody else is fixing it, that means it’s your job to fix it.
This has such broad scope. It’s for the little things like emptying an overflowing trash can or making sure that the car that’s on E gets filled up with gas. It’s for the medium things like volunteering to lead the Brownie troop because no one else will. And it’s for the big things like speaking up when you see discrimination in action or offering a helping hand to someone in need. I grew up going to social activist meetings and lots of protests and demonstrations with my parents, helping hold signs that were much bigger than me. I had a bumper sticker for the first major female Vice Presidential candidate on my toy box. My mom and dad made sure that I knew that my actions and my voice matter. I learned early that it was important that I use my voice to speak up for people who couldn’t speak up for themselves, and that it’s important to stand up with those who need your voice to join with theirs so we can all make progress toward what’s right. (Probably much to the annoyance of my congress people, who hear from me on a regular basis.) This particular lesson is a big part of why I’ve made my career in the nonprofit sector, finding ways to help those that I think need it most. But, in any life path or line of work, you can step up to take care of the big and little things that you see that need fixing.
It’s OK to be lost, literally or figuratively, and to do things in your own time.
When I was a kid, my mom used to say, “Wanna go get lost?” And we would hop in the car and drive anywhere at all. This was in the days before GPS and cell phones that say, “Turn left in 200 feet.” We’d explore back roads and see the beautiful parts of the countryside we lived in. When it was time to head home, my mom would say something like, “Well, I think we need to go north for a while and then maybe a little bit west.” Then she’d pick roads that went in those directions and work our way home. Just like learning not to be afraid when you don’t know where you are quite literally, she also taught me that it’s OK if you don’t know where you are in your life plan or if it takes you a while to figure it out. And that every step of the way has value and meaning. She had a lot of different career paths before she found her true calling. She was a sister in the Catholic Church, she was a school teacher, she was a union leader, and many other things before she went to medical school in her 40s, finally finished her medical training when she was nearly 50, and then founded a nonprofit clinic a few years after that. When I start worrying about my career path or what the future holds for me, I remind myself, “It’s OK, I’ve got a whole lifetime to figure it out.”
Being kind is more important than being smart or talented.
There are a lot of big brains and talented folks in my family. But, when I was a kid, my mom taught me that, as proud as she was of us for those big brains and all they could achieve, you have no control over how smart you or how naturally talented you are. So, whatever your own personal gifts may be, they don’t make you better than anybody else. What sets you apart is not just those natural gifts and talents, but how kind you are to others. I remember her asking my nephew, “Who’s the kindest person in your class?” and asking what made them stand out. Imagine what a beautiful thing it would be if we all thought about who the kindest person we know is and how we could be a little more like them.
Empathy and benefit of the doubt are some of the biggest gifts you can give to other people.
Nearly every time I had some minor complaint about another kid, my mom would always remind me, “You never know what they’re dealing with at home or what kind of a day they had.” At the time, it always frustrated me that she’d never just side with me about what a terrible person the other kid must be. As an adult, I realize that was really a gift. She taught me to give a little grace and forgiveness to others. Sometimes, we have a tough day, a tough week, or even a tough year or two. Times when we’re just not at our best and kindest. I still cringe thinking about my poor staff at work or my husband and kids when I was amped up on hormones as I went through fertility treatments for a full year. I was definitely not at my best and kindest during that time, and I am still grateful for the grace and forgiveness I got from my family and colleagues then. When you acknowledge that you don’t know what other people are going through, and that those unseen challenges might be influencing their behavior, you can take things a lot less personally. And, you can act with the kindness that people who are going through a tough time might really need, even when they aren’t showing you the same courtesy.
Take care of yourself.
As moms, we get stretched thin all the time. We’re pulled in many different directions and we want to be everything for everyone. But, we can’t do that without taking a little time for ourselves. Sometimes you need to recharge your batteries or you just have nothing left to give. When I was little, whenever we kids were looking for my mom, my dad always said, “She’s probably in one of the three places”: in the bathroom (likely hiding from her crazy children in the only room that had a lock on the door), on the phone, or napping. I never understood the napping thing as a kid. But as a mom now, I get it. Whether she was putting herself in timeout because she was ready to snap or just exhausted from being a working mom with three kids, I learned from my mom’s many naps that it’s important to take care of yourself, too. So, mamas, when you are running on empty, don’t be afraid to take a little time for yourself.
Though it’s a few days early, from all of us at the Iowa City Mom’s Blog,
Happy Mother’s Day!