If You Can’t Say Anything Nice

Perhaps it is unfair, the amount of time I’ve spent on my mother’s failings.  Seriously, how bad could it have been with three kids that turned into functional adults, none in jail, all reasonably good people…  I’ve been talking about the red in her ledgers, but there was plenty of black.

She was a brave one, not because she was unafraid, but because she was terrified.  She was born in a mining town in northern Alberta on the edge of the Canadian Rockies.  The first daughter of a miner, according to the rules of the world she was born into, she was destined to become the wife of a miner with a world that began and ended at the borders of a company town.  New places scared her – in part because she was terrified of looking stupid.  I understand this fear.  But she did it anyway.  She moved a lot in her life.  From Alberta to Michigan to Washington State to Indiana (and some places between) to Virginia to DC back to Michigan and on to Florida.  She traveled to places that were well outside of her comfort zone.  In Morocco, she hung out with my mother in law, bartered for fossils and carpets, and thought the hamam experience was the best thing ever.  She got comfortable visiting New York City on her own.

She was determined and saw a thing through once she started it.  That determination saw her through a masters degree and a PhD.  Her mother completed a GED in her retirement and from that to a Doctorate in one generation – and not just any Doctorate, but a PhD in Education.  She increased the quality of the country’s teachers in her sphere of influence.

She fought for the women she touched.  When girls under her power got into “trouble” she fought for them.  There are several people in the world who owe their lives to her influence.  Adoptions she enabled, times when she intervened so that a woman could graduate and keep the kid.  As she scrambled for success in her field, it was never at someone else’s expense.

She had a wicked little sense of humor.  It didn’t always make itself evident, but it was there in the background.  Sometimes it was horrifying and inappropriate, but it was there.

She had great taste.  Before there were hipsters obsessed with Danish or Mid-Century Modern, she coveted (and got) this gorgeous flatware set that I am grateful to have inherited.  Her furniture was lovely.

At the root of it, she wasn’t malicious or bad.  She just wanted approval so badly.  The best approval came from authority figures and external sources, and she’d do just about anything to get it.  She grew, she really did.  In her 50’s, she made some brave choices because she’d finally found a place where her own opinion mattered more than what other people might think of her.  I was proud of her.  Wherever there is red in her books, there’s a 4 year old with a crayon needing desperately for someone to tell her she was pretty, she was loved, and that she was good enough.

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If You Can’t Say Anything Nice

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