The Coach is In…
This is the time of year that I reflect on my mother, and all those women who served as my mother, either directly or indirectly. It has been a while, however, since I wrote only about my mother. On this day, there are tears that accompany thoughts about “mom.” There usually are.
It has been 41 years since my mother died. She was 59. Her words to me three weeks before she died, when I asked her if she had any regrets, she said “No.” “I would have liked to have lived longer, but I have had a wonderful life; a wonderful husband, two boys I love and cherish, a God who loved and cared for me, students I had a chance to impact, and a chance to travel to many parts of the world.”
It would be easy to get stuck in the sadness of loss, but that would be a mistake. There is much more joy associated with mom, and a lot of laughter. She brought a lot of enthusiasm and energy to her life.
From a small boy I knew that mom was always in my corner, always encouraging me to do my best, always quick to comfort when life was harder. She would show up at plays or choral concerts, my baseball and basketball games. One fond, embarrassing, and funny memory was in high school. I was pitching against our archrival. In the middle of the fourth inning, there was a runner on second with two outs and no score. I had just taken the sign from the catcher when I hear my mother’s very distinctive voice above all others, “Come on Jim!” Everyone else heard her as well creating a lot of laughter from the crowd. What could I do? I stopped. Stepped off the mound, looked her way and tipped my cap! Oh, and then got the final out of the inning.
As a teenager, mom would often wait up for me until I came home. It was in those moments that we had many mother son conversations. The subjects ranged from life, high school, God, marriage, the dynamics of relationships, the importance of character, the importance of humor, where she was struggling (mom often battled depression), where I was struggling. Sometimes I would just sit and listen. Often, she would just sit and listen. I don’t know if it was out of that experience that I learned to love ‘deep’ conversations, or the reverse. What I know is that I love deep, meaningful conversations with those around me.
Mom was a substitute teacher. A very dedicated substitute teacher. I had her for a semester as my seventh-grade science teacher. She handled that well, and no, I didn’t get the answers to the tests. It took me until my senior year of high school before I began to get a glimpse of her impact on other students, and into college before I saw it in action.
I had returned from college for Christmas and went to see her after school to surprise her. When I arrived, she had a couple of students in her classroom. I could tell it was an intense conversation, so I hung in the hall for a while. She was mostly listening, and occasionally suggesting how they could handle the situation. There was a break in the conversation, and I walked in. Of course, mom was thrilled to see me. She stood and hugged me and introduced me to her students. Unsolicited they offered how great mom was – how much she cared and what a good listener she was.
After they left, I asked mom several questions about those conversations. She offered that several of her students would come to visit when they got home from college. She then said, “This is why I teach. Life is not easy for young people. They need an adult to listen, not judge, and occasionally offer some advice. Mostly, they need someone to listen. There was mom’s magic.
Two years before she died the local paper did a feature story about her life, and her role as a teacher, and ‘quasi’ counselor and friend. Seeing my mother as others saw her was such a great gift. I saw her up until then as ‘mom,’ and often, those things that irritated me about her. I found balance from those stories. At her funeral, and for several weeks after, dad received letters from mom’s students sharing something that mom had helped them with in their lives. As one student put it, “Mrs. Struck was the best.” You’ll get no argument from me.
After college graduation mom and I traveled to Gretna, LA to see the family’s first grandchild. She taught me how to hold Jenny, how to swaddle her, and how to change her diaper. I watched the love, enthusiasm, and energy that she poured out during that trip, and all the other things she did with Jen over the next seven years. They had such a great bond. For Jen, grandma was the best! Alan was born five months before mom passed. He did not get the chance to experience what Jen did, but he knows the stories and richness of the relatives he didn’t have a chance to know.
My piece is on mothers, but it is important that I expand the group to include those who serve as a ‘mother’ to others around them. These are women who often have no children of their own, or there’s are grown. They establish a special relationship with a child. These women can help kids navigate life in ways that the child’s parents or other adults might not be able to do.
I believe that mothers are special for many reasons, but especially because of what many of them have endured to be heard, to be recognized, to be treated well and as an equal. The ‘grit’ many had to demonstrate in living their lives has enabled them to build the capacity to show up when life is at its messiest, and hardest, often when children and others are barely loveable. These ‘mothers’ find a way to hang in and persevere during times that are most difficult. Mothers can be the bridge in a child’s life that helps them get to another, more positive place.
I don’t fully know how I got the best traits of my mother and father. But I stop and smile when I ‘bump’ into one of them and say a little prayer of thanks. I also say a little prayer for my daughter, who never knew my mom, but seems to have some of mom’s traits. Life and families are full of tendencies that represent the generations that went before them. My observation is that often these are traits that weave themselves in a way that demonstrate what has been seen and has been given. Mother’s Day is just one day we have to say ‘thank you’ to our mothers and those who served as our mothers. We would be well-served to give thanks daily. It is that important. You don’t know when those lives and the richness of who they are will be gone.
I’m sure you and I could sit in front of a nice fire with our favorite beverage and share many stories of our moms or people who served as our moms. I’m sure we’d tell stories that brought us to tears, and stories that filled us with laughter.
If you could think of one thing that you want to say to your mom, or a woman who you were that closed to, what would it be? Do it.
Toward a better you…