Silver Lining: the influence of mothers

May 10, 2015

the influence of mothers

A few months after my mom died, I saw an art exhibit I'll never forget.

I was in college, and I wasn't looking for an art experience. I was just walking to class. My class was in the arts building, and I passed a small collection of multimedia art presented by the junior class. One piece in particular really caught my eye.

The piece was so simple. It was a huge, weathered wooden beam. Large silver nails had been driven in to all sides of the beam. Almost every inch of the wood was covered with nails. I was intrigued, so I walked up to read the caption.

It was done by a student who lost their mom when they were young. They wanted to represent the influence a mother has on her child. One nail had been driven into the wood for each month of shared existence between her and her mother. I think I remember there were about 170 nails, because her and her mother were on Earth together for 170 months.

I haven't been able to get that wooden beam out of my head since then. Because here's the thing. A mother isn't something you just have, in the same way that you might have brown hair or a cell phone or a tendency to overwater your houseplants. Having a mother isn't merely a possession or an achievement or a characteristic. It's not just an arbitrary piece of information on a birth certificate.

Having a mother is a huge part of who you are. The mother in that beam of wood wasn't represented by 178 specks of paint that only went surface-deep on the wood. The mother wasn't represented by another beam standing next to the first beam. The mother was represented by nails driven deep into the wood, because mothers affect us deeply. Mothers make us who we are. I've seen this over and over as a teacher. Children need their moms. They just do. Around the world, children are so blessed by caring mothers, foster mothers, adoptive mothers, mothers on Earth, mothers in heaven, teacher mothers, neighborhood mothers, and a million other women who are doing their best to shape and help children they love.

Today, I feel grateful for my own sweet mother. Our beam would have 239 nails in it, because we had 239 months of shared existence. Think about it. 239! That's a lot! I can picture my mother snuggling me and nursing me when I was tiny. I picture her bouncing me on her hip, trying to keep me happy in the checkout line or at church. Holding my little hands and teaching me how to walk. Reading with me. Singing with me. Showing me how to put lights in one pile, darks in another, reds in another. Coaching me through the very first time I made chocolate chip cookies. Teaching me how to braid using the mane of yarn on my toy horse.

I think, since I became a mother to my own little daughter, I've been feeling much more appreciative of my mom. I'm indebted to her for what she taught me, for the example she left me, and for the type of woman I'm striving to become because of her. I'm also feeling so very grateful for a step mother, a mother-in-law, and so many roommates, mentors, teachers, church leaders, and neighbors who have been mothers to me throughout my life.

This is also the first Mother's Day that I'm a mother. Being Claire's mom is such a privilege. We've been looking at pictures of my mom lately. I tell my daughter stories about Angel Grandma, the amazing woman who shares Claire's birthday and deep blue eyes. I'm trying to be loving and patient and encouraging to Claire, the way my mom was to me. I'm trying to teach Claire, laugh with her, and hold her. I'm trying to always pray for her and lead by example. And I hope, one day, when there are hundreds and hundreds of nails in the beam of our shared existence, that I will have had a positive, beautiful influence on my daughter. Just like my mom had on me.

No matter where you are in the life-changing journey of motherhood, Happy Mother's Day! You are so loved and so appreciated.

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