I remember the first time someone told me that I sounded like my mother, I was horrified. She was overbearing, nosy, and always in my business. She was constantly concerned about where I was, what I was doing, and, of course, if I had on clean underwear.
At 4’10”, Mom was a tough bird. And as hard as I tried, I couldn’t get anything past her. She reminded me constantly that there wasn’t anything I could pull that she hadn’t done when she was a kid. I have a book of war stories of being grounded, spanked with the wooden spoon, and eating my fair share of soap; I still hate Irish Spring to this day. I vowed at age 15 that I would never be like her.
It’s funny how our immature brains function. I recently read a study from the University of Rochester Medical Center that explained our brains aren’t fully developed until we are about 25 years old. The study suggests that adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. So, up until that time, we are thinking with the part of the brain called the amygdala, which is primarily associated with the emotional processes.
The study goes on to say, “And the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing – usually at different rates.” Now it makes perfect sense why our “bless-her-heart” 29-year-old daughter is finally realizing that her parents aren’t as dumb as she first thought. And truth be told, I travelled that same path. I thought my mother was old fashioned and out of touch. Her ideals seemed archaic and uncool. It wasn’t until I had my own kid that I realized those ideals would be ones that I embraced. I am sure that my mom didn’t know anything about the amygdala and probably wouldn’t care. She had a few hard and fast rules: Respect your elders, say please and thank you, and love people for who they are. It was that last one that has been the hardest and most rewarding.
About nine years ago, my husband and I started working with the homeless. Our commitment began with cooking a meal once a month and has since turned into a weekly gig. Early on in our serving journey, we met a middle-aged woman named Jackie. She was gruff and suspicious of everyone. She had been living on the street for over a year due to some bad choices she made. She didn’t like being on the street, but she wasn’t willing to take the steps needed to get off it, either. My vain attempts at explaining what was best for her were not well received. So on a whim, I asked my mom if she would be willing to become a part of this service program. She agreed, and the strangest thing happened; Mom connected immediately with Jackie. She saw past Jackie’s hard exterior and loved her for who she was. It was that encouragement that helped Jackie succeed.
Mom passed away a year ago this week. I am sad that she didn’t get to share in the joy of knowing that, due to her unconditional love and encouragement, at the age of 60, Jackie just finished her associate’s degree at Valencia Community College and is working toward getting her bachelor’s.
Jack Layton once said, “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
My mom gave love. My mom gave hope. My mom changed the world. And if someone tells me now that I sound like my mother, I count myself blessed.