Alyse: My mother teaches 6th grade now, but one of my favorite stories to hear her tell is from when she was teaching a younger, elementary-school-age class. While pinning up a series of posters of various careers and their labels– a picture of a firefighter and the word “firefighter” underneath, for example– she decided to swap the “doctor” and “nurse” labels to represent a female doctor and a male nurse instead of the other way around, which is what the set of posters had called for. Hearing her describe the confused, incredulous reactions of her young students is hilarious. When I got Barbies for my birthday from distant relatives, my mother never hesitated to take me to the store the next day and swap them out for Ninja Turtles. And when I came out to her, she accepted me with love and has been an amazing ally. Thank you, Mom, for raising me to be proud of who I am and for providing me with such an incredible female role model. You inspire me every day!
Sarah M: When I was a teenager, a friend of mine got pregnant and wanted to have an abortion. My mother was the only “adult” that we felt was safe enough to tell. My mother has always told me from as early an age as I can remember to not be afraid to come to her if I ever got pregnant. We had many uncomfortable and awkward sex-ed talks, but it was having that kind of support that encouraged me to have safe sex and care about my own reproductive health. More recently, as I was clearly struggling to plan a wedding, my mother told me that at anytime, no matter how much money was spent, if this wasn’t something that I ultimately wanted to do, that her and my father would support me no matter what. Her promise of support helped me find the courage to do some soul-searching and call off the wedding. I am extremely grateful to have grown up in a progressive/liberal home where my feminist ideas were formed and accepted.
Susan: I recently went to a spa to get a massage (wish I could say that every week in every blog post). The massage therapist was making small talk with me, and I told her that I was in a graduate school program in Virginia. She asked if my parents were supportive of that decision. Without any hesitation, I said “of course.” I feel so grateful that I have the opportunity to not only have earned my bachelor’s degree but to be able to continue my education and with my parents emotional support. Of course, this was not always the case for some generations for the women in my family. My grandmother was unable to go to college, because any funding for school went to her two brothers. She did work as a nurse’s aid later in life, and acted as an in-home nurse to my grandfather after he became paralyzed. She lifted a 230+ pound man from bed to wheel chair, wheel chair to shower, with both physical and emotional strength she probably did not even realize she possessed. My mother was fortunate to go to school and became a first grade inner-city teacher. Later in life, she also got her Master’s degree. If anything, my mother has been supportive in the decisions I have made to further myself, or even to go out on a limb to make a few mistakes on my own that I may learn from, which has been equally as important in educating myself about the world.
Sheila: My grandmother was an artful woman with an amazing recipe repertoire and, often, had strange and morbid advice. I think she believed she was being naughty for talking about that which others should not talk about. So every time she told me to make sure that I was wearing my best underwear just in case I got in an accident, I would giggle, and say, sure grams, I will. I specifically remember one piece of advice that affected me deeply, as a primary school student. It wasn’t until after her passing that I realized what her advice could have actually meant. She was talking about the common troupe of holding scissors in a firm grip by the blade when passing them (handle-side toward) to a person. She told me, we do this because in case you fall, the scissors go into you and not the other person. She gestured a blade toward her gut. I remember feeling scared that my grandmother could get hurt. This advice sounds shocking and haunting, yes, I know. And as I was growing up, I remembered this advice as meaning: other people are more important than me; my pain is less significant than their pain.
During my angry college years, I would think back to this memory and ask: Why do people give us such strange and hurtful advice sometimes? Why when we are so young? I was mad at her because I was a good kid and would never want to hurt anyone. But the point was not intentionality. The point was being aware of surroundings and understanding how we can so immediately affect people negatively sometimes. My grandmother encouraged me to pay attention to detail to help prevent me from ever having to fall if I could. She encouraged me to notice how I am about to interact with someone and to do so much to be respectful and to show them I care about her/his wellbeing.
Sometimes we don’t always know what we are saying until after we have said it. We just know that we wanted to make a good point even if it came out strangely. To every daughter and son, I hope we can remember that speech is not perfected, and those who love us provide us with wisdom in the oddest forms. If I had a glass, I would raise it now to patience in understanding, to open ears, and dedication to love through communication. I love you mothers, and guardians, and nannies.