One of my first memories is having my head cracked open by a toddler wielding an Etch-A-Sketch. As soon as I felt the blood running down my forehead, I began sobbing hysterically. My mother calmly collected me and held me in her lap as she simultaneously gave our Australian family friend, who was in for a visit, directions to the hospital. Despite my loud wailing and the confused out-of-town driver, throughout the whole ordeal I distinctly remember my mom staying levelheaded, comforting, and in control. From that time on I have believed that my mother was superior to all other mothers, even ones I had not met. Having such a spot on mom, she also taught me to be humble. Yet, I figure this is one instance in which she may be okay with me doing a little bragging.
In late 2013, a small lump in my mom’s left breast was detected at an annual mammogram. After a lumpectomy and biopsy, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily it was stage one, but it was also a “triple negative”, making it a more aggressive kind of tumor. Currently, she is more than half way through chemotherapy treatments, which will then be followed by radiation. Hair has fallen out. Work has been missed. Often times the strength to rise from bed cannot be summoned. Even still, not long after Christmas I was in the next room while my mother was on the phone with a friend. I overheard her say, “I actually kind of enjoy going to chemo. I get to sit and relax, play on my phone, and I’ve gotten to know all the other people there for treatment”.
My mother took a horrible situation and decided to turn it into an unexpected positive. When I was younger this drove me crazy, because by looking on the bright side I often felt like my woes were not being taken with the appropriate amount of weight (I can admit now that she was right, and that, no, the world did not stop turning when Geri left the Spice Girls). Now that I am older, I recognize her perspective as a certain kind of strength. I am incredibly grateful for her attempts to teach me that way of thinking through leading by example.
This ability, a superpower in my eyes, is not new to the women in my gene pool. My Oma (the German word for grandmother) was raised in Mannheim, Germany, during World War II. Awful things happened to her and my great-grandparents. My Oma, however, will tell you about air raids while at the same time discussing how pleasant it was when, after their home was buried to ashes, they got to move in with relatives who lived out in the beautiful countryside.
In the past I’ve found myself wondering how my mom would react to a situation, then emulating her the best I could. I assume that, somehow, I must have inherited it deep down in my bones, or that the years of her influence should have given me an unshakeable confidence. I’m not there yet. It doesn’t come as naturally for me, but I get better at it with every year that passes. I come closer to being a mom myself.
When I asked my mom recently what she thought the key to a happy life was, she told me that, to her, it’s always been to not care at all what anyone thinks of you other than a very small, select group. I’ve narrowed my group down to longtime friends, close family, and, most importantly, my mom, who works hard to teach me the strength that comes from knowing I too am worthy of a happy life.
Is your mother (or grandmother, aunt, or older role-model) a main source of strength and courage in your life? Tell us about her. How has she been there for you? How can you be there for her?
We love our moms here at Darling, too. Be sure to check out “Her Classic Plaids and Tweeds” on page 102 of our most recent Spring issue.
Images via Sarah Maizland