Mother’s Day: An Homage to My Life-changers
The number of changes I’ve experienced over the past fifteen years have altered my life in tremendous ways. What I’ve learned (mainly through mistakes) has made me a happier, more self-aware, and kinder person, yet there are key people who’ve enabled me to reach unexpected heights. Among these are three women to whom I want to express my thanks:
My High School English Teacher, Ms. Maude(-Harriet)
I remember feeling pretty bad-ass after registering for the college-level ENGL 1010 course as a senior in high school. In my mind, I’d be breezing through another English course while also receiving college credit. The bonus was that Ms. Maude, who was highly-recommended by my older sister and friends, would be teaching it. Word on the street was that she was funny, engaging, and flat-out REAL with her students. I found these things to be true. What I also found was that Ms. Maude maintained high expectations and didn’t allow those expectations to slip.
On the first day of class, she told us that many students go into and through college not knowing how to write, and if we took her class, we were going to learn to write. Based on the grades I received in past courses, I was convinced I already knew how to write; so bring it on. Unfortunately, the D+ I received on my first paper knocked me down quite a few pegs. I was pretty pissed, actually, but I was determined to prove to Ms. Maude that it was a fluke. Fully motivated, I absorbed and regurgitated what I learned, and my papers moved up to C’s and then B’s. I was being challenged, and I couldn’t get enough of it. By the end of the semester, I was writing “A” papers and damn, it was satisfying.
At college, I learned right away that Ms. Maude had gifted me with a tremendous advantage. Just as she’d said that first day in class, my peers didn’t have confidence in their writing; many of them lacked even the most basic skills. Yet my instructors were amazed by the quality of my papers, and my grades reflected it. After I graduated and began applying for jobs, I accepted a staff position at UW’s department of English (of all places). I was told by my supervisor that the search committee tossed out applications if they found any spelling or grammatical errors. Because of the quality of my application, I rose to the top, and my interview secured the job. This experience has been repeated as I’ve moved up the professional ladder.
I am by no means under the illusion that I have exceptional writing skills. But what I learned from Ms. Maude has enabled me to go further than I’d thought possible for myself. The coolest thing of all is that I can actually say I learned something in school that I use in every day life! Everything I’ve achieved has been made possible because I am able to present myself professionally through my writing. Thank you, Ms. Maude!
My Aunt Sharon
At an early age, I was very aware of Sharon’s independence. She was strong and successful, she achieved her goals, and she didn’t waste her time on nay-sayers. I noticed all of this, I respected it, and I wanted it for myself. So when the time came that she gave me advice, I took it.
I don’t know if every person experiences such a pronounced cross-roads in life, but when I did, my aunt was the one who solidified my direction. To provide a little background, I had moved to Laramie in June and enrolled as a sophomore transfer student for the fall. However, due to my not-so-great living situation, I chickened out, moved back home to Buffalo, and I was riddled with indecision on whether to go to school or move back down to Utah and work. If I went to UW, I’d have to face my long-time high school boyfriend, with whom I just couldn’t seem to cut ties. Our relationship was like a drug; I knew it was unhealthy, but I couldn’t quit. On the other hand, the thought of moving back to Utah after having lived there for a year and working a string of crappy minimum wage jobs wasn’t particularly appealing, either. So, with only a few weeks before the start of the fall semester, I had little time left to decide.
I’m pretty sure it was my birthday when I received the phone call from my aunt Sharon. She spoke first with my mom (and I’m not sure what was said about my situation, because I know my mom wasn’t keen on me attending UW and falling back into old habits), and then my mom handed me the phone. When I answered, Sharon jumped right into it, and she didn’t pull any punches. She demanded to know why I would allow anyone to keep me from my finishing my education. I was stronger than that, and I just needed to suck it up and go. She reminded me that this was my future, and I’d better be the only person determining what happens next. This conversation turned out to be exactly the push I needed from exactly the right person. I say this because no matter how many times someone gives you sound advice, unless it’s the right someone, you aren’t going to listen.
Although the first couple months at UW were no cake walk, eventually I was able to move on and find happiness. In fact, I fell in love and married my husband, I graduated with my BSW, and I secured a job at the university. This past year, I earned my BA in graphic design, and because of it, I will be moving into a career that I’ve dreamt about for the past eight years. I would’ve never expected that one decision could’ve lead to all this. Each day, I’m grateful I had someone I deeply respect give me the best advice of my life. Thank you, Aunt Sharon.
It’s a little harder for me to begin my story about change where it concerns my mother. Throughout my teens, our relationship was strained. We struggled with trust and respect, and our personalities were so different that we had difficulties relating to each other.
In high school, I took tremendous pride in my schoolwork, grades, and extra curricular activities. I won awards, secured lead roles in the school plays, made straight A’s, and I wanted recognition for it. However, it seemed to me that my mom wasn’t aware of the amount of work that I’d put into my achievements. It’s not that she didn’t tell me she was proud of my accomplishments, but the fact that we seemed to butt heads on almost everything else in life seemed to negate whether she recognized my triumphs in school. Oftentimes, I’d demand that she “treat me like an adult!”, and her unfailing response was always, “Then act like it.” This was extremely frustrating for me. What more could I possibly do?
My community college years weren’t any better. Due to my mother’s persistence, I filled out numerous applications and wrote essays in order to land enough grant and scholarship money to earn a full-ride those first two years. And for spending money, I was employed as a work study student between classes. I was completely self-reliant…except for the fact that Sheridan’s community college was only 30 minutes away from home.
At Sheridan, I was pretty anti-social, and I really missed my high school friends. I had fallen into an extremely dark place, and I went home almost every weekend. However, I found that running back to an empty town and semi-empty home only increased my loneliness. I don’t think she remembers it the same way, but to me, my mom and I were fighting even more. I can’t remember much of what we fought about, I just know that we were both terribly unhappy, and we each needed things that we couldn’t grasp. I accused her many times of never telling me that she was proud, and although she denied it, it didn’t make me feel any better. There was a huge wedge driven between us.
One Sunday, my mom asked me to attend church with her because she would be presenting in Relief Society (an organization for women based around service to others). We had to get there early because she needed to set up. When Relief Society began, I remember sitting in the front row listening while she talked about family (a very popular church subject). Behind her was a chalkboard with a curtain drawn over it. It was a nice talk and just as she was wrapping it up, she took a dramatic pause. She then drew back the curtain, and posted to the chalkboard were all kinds of awards, news clippings, artwork and other achievements of mine and my siblings—things that I had completely forgotten about, and things that she’d saved and kept safe from the elements over the years. She was crying while she told the ladies in the room how proud she was of her children—how they’d accomplished tremendous things and continued to do so. I sat there stunned, and my heart felt so heavy in my chest. I don’t remember if I cried at that moment, but since then, I’ve cried upon recalling this memory. It changed my feelings about whether my mom truly saw me. This was so much more than words, and it finally sunk in.
Although some of my adult life decisions have caused my mother pain, I know she has never stopped loving and supporting me. In fact, on just about every card that I receive from her and each time we speak over the phone, she ALWAYS makes it a point to tell me that I make her proud. I no longer question it, and I’m amazed that despite all the terrible things I’ve said and done to her over the years, she has always forgiven me. I realize now that when I was feeling jaded and under-appreciated, she was dealing with things beyond my comprehension. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to have worked full-time cleaning other people’s homes, raising four children (practically by herself), and also trying to satisfy my incessant need for praise. (Faced with the same situation, I could not have been that strong.) My mother has taught me humility and to apologize when I’ve hurt someone I love. She has taught me to recognize when others are doing the best that they can do, and that it’s important to step outside myself and give that person credit. My mother has even taught me to recognize that my actions really do have an impact on others. And for all of these things, I am so very proud of her. Thank you, Mom; I love you and happy Mother’s Day.