This is a re-post of a blog that I wrote after my mother crossed the rainbow bridge and started organizing the afterlife. She wasn’t big on excuses but she certainly left an impression on everyone that she met.
Today, July 21, it is seven years. There isn’t a day that I don’t remember something that makes me stop and think.
I am a project manager. Lessons-learned are a fundamental part of fixing things that are broken and continuing to do things that work. I decided that I would start a list of all the lessons that I learned from the people in my life. The heavy hitters came from family, friends and colleagues. Some of the lessons might come from a drive by meeting with someone that you have never met.
At the top of my list is my mother. It is too bad that I didn’t start this list while my mother was alive. We could have had a good chuckle. I still use Grace’s Rules of Living every day.
10 things, in no particular order, that I learned from my mother which I am grateful for:
- Putting us first. A favourite saying was “Do what you want to me, but hurt someone I love and there is no place on the planet for you to hide.” Retribution would be hers. A mother grizzly bear wouldn’t have a patch on Grace Wallace Young if you hurt one of her own. I can tell you that my ex-husband had better not cross her path even in death. In fact, I would be willing to bet that she’ll be waiting at the Rainbow bridge to impede his progress in the afterlife.
- Teaching me that there is no such thing as men’s work or women’s work, there is just work. I learned a little carpentry, a little plumbing, to cut grass, to weed (I still think Roundup is the best way to weed much better than the hands and knees method), to plant a garden (although I never saw any of the more esoteric plants like brussel sprouts much to my brother-in-law’s disgust), to read and interpret what I read rather than simply relying on others,
- Teaching me to only answer the question and never to volunteer information. You can’t lie if you only answer the question. If there is follow-up required, it is up to the questioner to ask the next question. My mother would tell you she had never told a lie. If you don’t ask the right question, it wasn’t her fault. As strange as that sounds, she was right. When as children, we would ask for something. If she couldn’t say a definite yes, she always said maybe. She never wanted to lie to anyone. This philosophy drives my brother up the wall. He is always in search of the answer because the three women in his family, my mother, sister and I, only just answer the question.
- Teaching me to show up and to be a member of the 200% club. My mother had always been a member of the 200% club. She never settled for mediocre regardless of the job. No job was beneath her and no job was worth doing poorly. She was a daunting woman to follow. When she retired from her job, they replaced her with three employees. She did so many things that everyone took for granted but she did them because someone had to do the work. In the words of the child’s game, it was a form of tag you are it.
- Teaching me the art of the subtle insult. My mother could insult you and it would take you about a week to realize that you had been insulted. What a magnificent talent! I am still working on the subtle part. I have the insult portion down pat.
- Teaching me that marriage takes work and the investment is worth it. She and dad didn’t have a perfect marriage but they made it work. It must mean something that after all that time she was content with her life. She has always said “the first 18 years of my life my father told me what to do, for the next 23 years of my life your father told me what to do, now I am in the driver’s seat I intend to stay there” followed rapidly by ‘besides anyone after your dad would be like cold porridge after eating steak”. Isn’t that a picture that a child doesn’t need to see! After 36 years with my husband, I know exactly what she means.
- Teaching me that kindness is free. There were many times when people came by just to visit. No matter how busy she was she always made time to visit and have a cup of tea. It was amazing as a child to see all these people come and go out of our kitchen. Even when they were people that I knew she didn’t like, she was polite and listened. My father-in-law just starts winding the alarm clock as a hint.
- Teaching me that service is about giving without the expectation of receiving anything in return. My mother was a selfless giver to causes that mattered to her. For years, she supported the Gurkha Welfare Appeal. She was convinced that the British Government was wrong when they failed to pay pensions to the Gurkhas who served with the British military. For those of you who don’t know who the Gurkhas are, they are Nepalese soldiers who are the finest warriors that the world has ever known. One wonders how they could put their all into an enterprise that treated them as mercenaries and, until recently, refused to recognize their contributions to successful military campaigns and the security of the British “Empire”.
- Teaching me that marriage is a partnership. When my mother married my father, she was a practicing Anglican. My father agreed rather half-heartedly to change his religion. I am not sure that either of them realized what that meant. My father was a very active Roman Catholic and very attached to his religion. It had gotten him through the worst times of World War II. When my mother realized what it meant, she converted to Catholicism and supported his involvement in the Knights of Columbus where he was one of very few people in Manitoba to become a 4th Degree Knight. He sure looked spiffy in all his gear.
- Not teaching me to cook. In retrospect, it had unintended consequences. I would never have learned that most valuable of all lessons “that stoves need to be turned off when you are finished”. When I was in my first apartment, I went to sleep without turning off the element under a pot of green peas. Of course, I left the lid on the pot as well. Around 2 am, there was a tremendous explosion in the kitchen. I jumped out of bed and ran into the kitchen expecting a burglar. I was surprised, read that to be stunned, to find that the peas had popped, the lid had blown off the pot and green peas were splattered all over the kitchen ceiling. I have often wondered what my landlord thought when he had to repaint the ceiling. I learned never to overcook a chicken. I called my mother and asked how to go about roasting a chicken forgetting to specify the weight of said bird. Needless to say, the four-pound chicken was cooked as long as a twenty-pound turkey. Fortunately, I had followed the basting instructions because when I took it out of the oven. I grabbed it by the breast bone and all the meat fell off. When I told her, she laughed and said next time give me all the facts.
My list of lessons is now at 55 and growing. She was definitely one of a kind. I know that she is with me every day. I can feel her winding up her ‘Gibbs’ smack’ when I am about to do something completely daft. By the way, she had a Gibbs’ smack before Gibbs. Those of you who watch NCIS know what I mean. It is the Wake Up Call. She has been gone 7 years today. But, the lessons remain.
Take the time to write your lessons down.
It is proof that you have grown, learned, and are capable of change.
The lessons are golden nuggets that will support you when you need them.
Reading them will give you a warm feeling. The feeling that means you still remember and appreciate them.