My mom, Martha Scolnick Larris, has been gone for 17 years. I’d be lying if I said we had an easy relationship. It was often contentious and frustrating and hurtful. (As much for her, I’m sure, as it was for me.) But there was also a lot of good stuff.
Memories of Martha pop in throughout the year… her impressive vocabulary and quick wit, her instant rapport with every young child she encountered, her self-reliance and her sense of fairness. But it’s springtime when she comes to me most often. As I admire my neighborhood in bloom, pick aphids off my roses… I think of her. The fact that I have a garden which gives me so much pleasure is a direct result of being my mom’s daughter. Let me tell you, that woman knew her flowers and because of her, so do I.
Maybe it seems a small thing to know a freesia from a forsythia, a hydrangea from a hyacinth. And who really cares if those irises I got from my neighbor seem bluer this year than ever before? I care. I can’t help it. This special awareness of plants provides me… no compels me to pay attention and celebrate color, light, form and fragrance. If I saw them all as “just flowers” I’d be missing most of the show. Seeing at that level ain’t small potatoes, so thank you, Mom.
I’ve been thinking about parental legacies so I asked friends and family what “life lessons” they had learned from their mom. Here’s a sampling of what people said:
- Don’t take too long to shuffle the cards. It drives people crazy.
- Don’t be so dramatic.
- Don’t be like me.
- Don’t waste money, water or electricity.
- It can’t hurt to ask.
- Be kind to children.
- Always put your best foot forward whatever you do.
- Go for whatever you want in life.
- Creativity is a good thing.
- Do for each of your children what they need.
- When you go to dinner at someone’s house, bring some cake.
- When you get a gift, write a nice Thank You note. Do it now!
- Taste it, you might like it.
- Enjoy life today, you could be hit by a bus tomorrow.
- Honesty, loving kindness, selflessness, humility, femininity, grace.
- Aging is in the mind of the beholder.
- A women needs to be educated, to have a career and a profession. You never know what is going to happen to you, you always need to be able to support yourself and to stand on your own two feet.
- Live in and enjoy the moment. That became an internal positive tape – that I can do anything and that I’m beautiful.
- Due to my mom’s inability to handle her own life, I learned to do many adult things and my opinion was heavily relied upon even as a small child – of course, that greatly prepared me for taking on adult responsibilities and taking for granted that I could do those things.
- My mom taught me about unconditional love and acceptance. She was very tolerant/accepting and allowed me to experience things for myself without judgment. She also was accepting and helpful to many of my friends during my adolescence – something I tried hard to do as well for my kids and their friends!
- Mom had two distinct personalities, one usually light and happy, and one dark and unhappy, so I had to make adjustments in the way I thought about her. I began to see the light and dark sides in others, also, but with others, the line of separation was not as distinct. As I grew older, I learned how to fight the dark influences from others and enjoy the lighter sides that people offered.
- How to listen without projection or attachment and lovingly to others, especially those you love. Trust that they will find the right way for their unique path.
- At my mother’s funeral an actor who’d worked with her on stage in her later years (she started out on Broadway before she met my father) told of a local parade where the cast was asked to participate. This actor was resistant to doing it. My mother chided him “You’ve got to love it!” He said it shifted his attitude completely and that he’d learned much from working with her as a professional actress. This is a side of my mother I never knew. I now throw myself into projects with more abandon remembering her words.
My glasses aren’t so rose-tinted that I see all moms as a positive influence on their kids all the time. I know that people, including our own parents, come into our lives for a reason. Even in a less than wonderful childhood there are positive lessons we can take from our relationship with our mothers.
As you take a moment to look back, see what you can find, from all that you learned from Mom, that’s been helpful to you. Acknowledge that contribution in whatever way makes sense. Now think about the long and short-term choices you make in relation to your own children… that’s a legacy you’re handing to them. Hopeful it’s a life-affirming one.