May 7, 2011
That's my mom
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.
My mom grew irises and now so do I.
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.
June 7, 2010
My dad, Herman “Hy” Larris, died of a sudden heart attack when he was 50 and I was 15. I only had a child’s perspective of him. I knew him as Daddy, a man who loved his wife and three kids and worked hard to provide for us. He had a large extended family (more than 30 first cousins) and loved getting all of us together with them and their kids. My father was a man with a big laugh. He had a kind heart, apple cheeks and warm fleshy hands. He loved the beach, an occasional cigar, borscht, pickled herring, and my mom’s pot roast. He adored Broadway musicals. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel was one of his favorite songs.
I was his youngest child and his only daughter. As self-absorbed as I was (and believe me, I took self-absorption to gold medal heights), I couldn’t overlook the obvious – my dad got a lot of nachas (joy and pride, especially in one’s children) signing my straight-A report cards, watching me onstage and listening to me sing and play the piano. While I was growing up, he was my #1 fan. My eyes just filled with tears as I wrote that last sentence. I still miss him after 40 years.
I treasure my memories of my dad and I continue searching for new ones. I somehow believe I can make him more real by piecing together bits of other people’s stories and anecdotes. The family tree research I began a few years ago was motivated by a desire to reconnect with my father and to better understand the people he came from and the legacy I share with them.
With an eye toward legacies, I asked a bunch of close friends and relatives to send me recollections of what they learned from their parents. They sent me some wonderful comments. I posted life lessons from Mom in the May issue. Now it’s Dad’s turn.
My own dad taught me that a roll-with-the-punches attitude helps you keep your perspective when life throws you a curve ball. He used to tell a joke about a poor schnook who continued to laugh even though a series of terrible events had befallen him. An astonished friend asked, “With all that’s happened to you, why are you still laughing?” To which the schnook shrugged and replied, “What else am I going to do?”
Here is some wisdom from other dads:
- Honesty, loving-kindness, sense of humor, respect for life, importance of family
- Do your best and then don’t worry about it. You can’t do better than your best.
- My dad was/is (at age 89) a worker bee and lives life to the fullest as he sees it. If challenged by a physical limitation he finds something to do to stay engaged and creative at all times! Though he wasn’t a man of many words, he balanced my mom by showing with his actions a positive way to work and be in the world.
- Laughter, integrity, and the value of hard work
- Be clear, fair, truthful and responsible.
- Do those little things that often don’t require much more time or effort but which bring much joy into life: fresh flowers, a ripe pear.
- Follow your dreams. He’d say “I don’t care if you’re a truck driver, as long as that’s really what you want to do”
- My dad usually wasn’t around so I learned to handle things on my own. As I grew older, I found that he usually wasn’t very wise about life, however I could enjoy his company more because I learned to let him be.
- Learn a little about everything and learn everything about something.
- Happiness is much more important than money.
- Possessions aren’t very important. You never want to be stuck because you have too much stuff.
- “The greatest thing you will ever learn is just to love and be loved in return” This is a line is from the song “Nature Boy” My father often sang this song to his children. This notion of love and being loved was so much an integral part of my father that we engraved it on his tombstone.
- Be kind, be generous. Don’t steal.
- Unfortunately from my Dad I learned more about what not to be than any positive lessons. Don’t be too harsh with your children, supporting them emotionally is at least as important as anything financial. Show your family how much you value them, not how much you expect them to do for you.
- Love the ones you love
- Earn your own money to buy things – it builds character.
- It’s ok to cry.
- With construction, everything takes at least twice as long and costs at least twice as much as your highest estimate.
- Do what you believe in and to hell with what others think. I used that philosophy to repel his constant pressure to be a good little clone and become what he wanted. I doubt he ever realized he’d given me the ammunition to repel his own attacks.
- Sometimes patience is more valuable than untimely action that can actually do damage. Don’t just do something. Stand there!
- Family is number one so give yourself selflessly to the support of your family, friends and community.
- There is a time for being vulnerable and vulnerability isn’t weakness.
A father’s love plays an invaluable part in the life of a son and daughter. My children have been blessed with a dad who never holds back encouragement, support or affection. David’s helped our daughter and our son become grounded, self-assured, and responsible young adults. As a fatherless daughter, let me tell you, it’s been a joy to witness his relationship with them. It has given me back something I missed.
When I think about my dad, a part of me feels disappointed that he never saw me and my brothers grow up, become parents and accomplished individuals. He would have been very proud of his children. I’m sorry he and my mom didn’t have more time together. When he died, she was left with a gaping hole in her heart that never really healed. As for me, I’m sad that I never got to say, “Thank you, Dad. You were exactly the kind of father I needed to become who I am.” But then, my dad’s spirit still guides me, so he knows.
Happy Father’s Day to you and yours. Dads, keep up the good work.