Advertisement

Szymanski: Take time this Mother's Day to write your kids a letter

Recently, I read an article called “Dear Kids,” by John Dickerson. Disguised as a light read for Mother’s Day, it was actually a call to action of sorts, and one that really made sense. The article made me think about motherhood, about how we perceive things when we are young, and about how much I still miss my mom.

Dickerson wrote, “This Mother’s Day, write a letter to your children. Leave them something for after you’re gone.”

Advertisement

I wish my mom had written letters to us. I don’t mean letters of advice, although I would have loved that, too. I am wishing for letters that showed me what made my mom who she was. I want to know about her past. I want to know what made her tick. Not only because her genetics have been passed down to me, my daughters and now my grandkids, but because it is our family history.

I knew my mom from a child’s viewpoint. What I know about her today, I saw through the viewpoint of my grade school self, and then the high school me, and later as a mom myself. But never, not once, did I make a point of learning more about her past. Why didn’t I do that?

For all families, there is a set of stories that are passed around. Those are the ones that we remember. But that little set of stories does not make a complete person. I wish I had interviewed my mom the way I interview someone for a newspaper article, but even more in depth.

“What was it like being born in Baltimore City to a German immigrant?” I should have asked. “How did it feel the day your mom sent you to the store for a spool of thread and you were hit by a car? Only 6 years old, were you afraid?” I know my mom struggled with school, and she had zero confidence in herself. How awful it must have felt to fight her way through subjects she didn’t understand. I wish I’d asked her about that, and had learned why she didn’t believe in herself.

When she was in grade school, Mom’s grandparents moved into the country outside the city. She must have liked that, because my mom was a country girl through and through. She wanted to carry daisies and honeysuckle in her wedding, but my grandmother insisted that wasn’t proper, so she carried roses, instead.

My mom was a hard worker. With seven kids, it seemed she was always standing at the ringer washer, knee deep in dirty clothes, or in the kitchen, canning beans and tomatoes straight from the garden. The work was never ending, and the kids just kept on coming.

I remember Mom telling the story of mine and my brother’s births. She said, back then, there was a law that a woman couldn’t have a hysterectomy unless she already had six kids or was declared mentally incompetent. After five, my mom told the doctor that she was ready to call the family complete. Sweet Dr. Saffle offered to declare my mom mentally incompetent just so she could be sterilized - if that was what she wanted. That’s when my dad jumped in. “I’ll be darned!” he said. “No wife of mine’s going to be declared mentally incompetent.”

So, my mom became pregnant for the sixth time. That’s when Mother Nature played a cruel joke, giving her my twin brother and me, closing out our family with seven kids. Even though we were not a family of means, Mom carried the additional burden like a trooper.

In John Dickerson’s article, he quoted President Obama. Apparently, the president was asked about regrets he had in life. “I regret not having spent more time with my mother,” he said. “I was so busy with my own life that I didn’t always reach out and communicate with her and ask her how she was doing and tell her about things.”

It must have been especially hard because President Obama’s mom, Ann Dunham, died from cancer at the young age of 52. During her lifetime, she’d set a strong work example for him with a career as an American anthropologist specializing in the economic anthropology and rural development of Indonesia. Obama was only 34 when she died and working on a busy rising career. Dickerson said Obama’s words struck a cord with him. During the years that his mom was sick, Dickerson called her daily. He mended broken fences, he learned things he never knew before about her life, and he absorbed her resiliency, to use later in his life.

What an amazing way to leave this world, knowing that your child loves you enough to call you daily. And what a remarkable legacy to leave behind.

On this Mother’s Day, I am thinking about sitting down to write a letter to my kids. But first, I am going to stop by my mom’s grave with a bouquet of daisies and honeysuckle. I hope you are getting your pen out, too!

Advertisement
Advertisement