I believe in the power of example. When my first child was born sixteen years ago, my mother did not visit me in the hospital or stay with me for a week. She had died twenty years earlier, when I was fourteen. I could not call her when my son was colicky or wouldn’t take a bottle. Instead, I called on memories of her when I was growing up. My memories of her are how I learned to be a mother.
When my son cried in the middle of the night, I wondered if I should pick him up or let him cry. I wracked my brain, but could not think of a time when my mother did not comfort me as a child. So I picked him up.
I create alone time with each of my kids: a girls’ night at the movies or shopping with my daughter, watching ESPN or taking a walk with my son. “This is nice,” I say. “Just the two of us.” My mother and I ate the best hot dog I ever had at the counter in Kresge’s department store in downtown Bloomfield, New Jersey. My three brothers were left behind with my father.
“This is nice,” my mother said. “Just the two of us.”
“Yeah,” I sighed. “No boys.”
From her, I learned to cherish the fact that my kids aren’t like me. I love that my daughter is outspoken and thinks outside the box, nearly the opposite of me at her age. I was a shy tomboy who loved baseball, climbing trees, and riding my bike fast enough to leave skid marks when I hit the brakes. My mother was articulate and ladylike and had no interest in sports. When I asked her why she didn’t accompany us on our annual journey to Yankee Stadium, she said, “It’s boring. I used to read a book when I went with your father.”
“You read a book at Yankee Stadium?” I asked with the righteous indignation of a seven-year-old.
She smiled and packed our lunches and jackets for Opening Day, and feigned interest in the game when we returned. She encouraged my love of sports, let me run wild in the neighborhood, and never told me to act like a lady.
When she was dying, she lived in the moment. “I’m only going to die once,” she said. “There’s no point putting myself through it over and over again in my mind.” Her face bloated, her hair prematurely gray, she attended my brother’s eighth-grade graduation in a wheelchair and threw a party for him that night. She died two weeks later.
Her example taught me not to fear death or any scary challenge in my life, including a job loss or my father’s failing health last year. I try not to put myself through such experiences until they actually happen. Like my mother, I want to live in the moment and be grateful for what I have in the present.
I hope to pass that lesson along to my kids, too.
Mary Lou Hurley is a medical writer and editor. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and two children, who have very different personalities but are both avid fans of the New York Yankees.
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