I’ve learned so much more from my mother than I could ever list in one essay, though it would certainly make a fine topic for Mothers’ Day post.
But actually, what I found myself thinking about as Mothers’ Day ended yesterday was what mothers learn from their children.
An assignment for a story that was published in yesterday’s Boston Globe proved this on a grand scale. I had the privilege to interview Peggy McKibben, whose son is world-renowned environmentalist and journalist Bill McKibben. Toward the end of the interview, I prodded Mrs. McKibben for any insights on where her son’s passion for the environment might have originated, but she is a modest person and took little credit. “I’ve learned tons from Bill -- far more than he's learned from me,” she said about her son.
Well, so have the hundreds of thousands of people who have read his books or attended his lectures and rallies. But I thought of Mrs. McKibben’s words late in the day as I brushed my teeth and listened to my 9-year-old explain something about what was happening in fourth grade in the upcoming week. Suddenly she broke off in the middle of a sentence and looked down at her toes, which she had painted with sparkly dark-red polish earlier in the weekend. “My nails look great,” she commented. “I’m so proud of myself for painting them.”
I’m not the kind of doting mother who would let the fact that a 9-year-old can apply nail polish amaze me, but there was something so delightful -- and instructive -- in Holly’s unabashed pleasure in what she had done. I thought of all the other feats she’d accomplished in the past 24 hours. She’d washed all the dinner dishes the night before, written the first draft of a story in the backseat of the car during a long drive on Sunday morning, completed a six-mile round-trip bike ride without complaining, and followed a recipe of her grandmother’s to make a simple egg casserole. I knew of all of these accomplishments because I’d witnessed them firsthand, but also because at some point after doing them, Holly had taken time to mention her sense of pride, just as with her nails.
None of these exactly represents the work of a child prodigy. What interests me isn’t that she did all of these things but that it’s so easy for her to express pride. I thought of the things I’d done during the same amount of time and how unlikely it would be for me to say “I’m so proud of myself!” I’d had an article published on a section cover of a major metropolitan newspaper, baked two loaves of banana bread, run four miles, vacuumed the whole house, and made dinner for six. Yet, like the majority of women I know, it seldom occurs to me to look at what I’ve done and say “I’m so proud of myself!”
Holly’s pure delight with her nails reminded me that maybe I should do this more often, though. Peggy McKibben is learning from her son about global environmental challenges and how to confront them; I’m learning something much smaller in scale from my daughter. But on Mothers’ Day, a day traditionally devoted to celebrating mothers, it’s rewarding to stop and think about what we can celebrate about being mothers: the opportunity to learn from our children, whether the message is grand or minute.
And I’ll try to take a little more time to feel proud of myself this week, despite the fact that my toes are not painted with sparkly red polish.