Mothers are our first teachers, our first cooks, our first enemies and our first best friends.
Babies don’t arrive with instructions or a return label if you’re not satisfied. A new mother often feels overwhelmed, but still perseveres. Many new mothers do not have their own mothers available to help show the way. Some have their mothers at hand for help with a new baby, but discover them to be hovering too closely or too critical of the way the new mother is coping. Nonetheless, the vast majority of mothers around the world manage to figure child care out, and successfully raise amazing children.
My own mother, Jeanne, passed away in 2001. At her service, there were a number of photos of her placed around the funeral home, which my sisters and I spent many hours choosing. Those who knew our mother only in her later years recognized her immediately and commented on her youthfulness and energy for a woman in her late seventies. Those who knew her for twenty or thirty years were also amused to see themselves in the shots of long-ago parties, poignant reminders of their own lost youth.
All, however, were struck speechless by the pictures of my mother as a young woman, before she married and moved north to raise a family. The elegant sweep of her evening gown, as she leaned against a winding staircase at age 16, for her “coming-out” in Society; her poise and classic grace in the newspaper engagement photo; her slim form and richly tumbling dark hair beneath the bridal veil in the formal wedding portrait – her stunning beauty as a young woman shocked nearly everyone. My mother was always elegant, always well-groomed, always “coiffed,” but I imagine all her friends and acquaintances took that for granted as much as they did her personality.
My mother did not consider herself a beauty. Her own mother did not give compliments or believe in positive reinforcement, but as she grew into her teens, she slimmed down and became lovely. My sisters and I also took her beauty for granted, because children do, and because we as girls were much more concerned with our own looks. Probably only her father and her husband truly appreciated how physically beautiful she was. How sad, I think, that she did not find her self-esteem in the eyes of others.
I’m stopped in the middle of that thought by the sudden understanding that my mother’s beauty was indeed reflected in the eyes of others – but it was the beauty of her spirit and soul and heart. That was the source of her self-esteem, for she knew that the secret to receiving love and respect was to give love and respect. Her life, therefore, made an impact on the lives of countless others in her seventy-seven years here on Earth. One could not meet her for the first time without smiling, or know her for any length of time without considering her a dear and beloved friend.
I recall thinking at the funeral, as so many moved toward my sisters and me, to hug us and share our tears, that they were not so much surprised that my mother was so physically beautiful in her youth, but that they only really noticed her looks when her soul had departed and her warm laughter could no longer be heard.