Spoiler Alert: This post might make you cry. It also might make you laugh. You might do neither of these things; however, I promised that I would provide warnings for my blog posts, so that subscribers of mine who found these posts in their inboxes before work wouldn’t be led down some maudlin and sentimental trail, having to go face colleagues with mascara streaks on their faces unless, willy nilly, they chose to read on unadvisedly.
Something strange has happened over the last few years that I might have expected would happen, and yet, nonetheless, it has taken me by surprise. I’m turning into my mom.
A few days ago, we had to take my 21 month old to the ER to determine whether she had ingested medicine from the childproof Excedrin bottle which she extracted from my purse and dexterously pried open. Here’s the story. On Sunday morning, after tidying the kitchen before church, I rounded the corner from the kitchen to find our baby sitting cheerfully on the couch holding a bottle with one pill inside and one more damp one laying next to her on the sofa. Her sister and brother 3 feet in front of her had their eyes glued fixedly to the screen. Jeremy was in the shower. Utter freak-out ensued, as I had no idea how many pills had been in the bottle to start with thus could not conclude how many she might have taken. We called poison control who told us to get her to the ER. We called my parents to come get the big kids. We rushed off to the ER to hurry up and wait the four hours before she could have a blood test that would measure the right absorption. (I have to ask: why do we want to wait until the drug has absorbed?) Anyway, she had ZERO drugs in her system. All was well. On the way out of the ER, I heard myself look at the little darling and say, “Well, it’s an adventure being us, Little one.” It might as well have been my mom saying it to me.
I’m turning into my mom. I occasionally look in the mirror and see her smiling back at me. I find myself gluing my eyes to a book and ignoring my kids, just the way she ignored us when she was reading. (Mom, I deeply repent of interrupting your reading when I now realize how those few moments within a book re-link me to sanity.) Sometimes I find myself brightly optimistic, or excessively chatty, or saying “Absolutely!” with just her level of enthusiasm. Occasionally, when I’m feeling run down, I’ll take her prescribed handful of chocolate chips and shot of OJ and think, “Geez! No wonder she has so much energy!” But hopefully, I’m acquiring more than just the superficial qualities that lots of people would think of as just a “happy person”.
Lots of people have asked me through the years, “Is your mom always so happy?” And of course the answer is no. And yes. My mom is a happy person, but she is not always happy. She chooses to be happy.
Once a couple of years ago, she went with me on a couponing trip when my kids were little and I needed help schlepping them around. Even if I hadn’t been couponing, I might have needed help because after coming back from overseas, grocery shopping was paralyzingly complicated, especially for someone as indecisive as I. (Indecision is another trait I have inherited from her with which I am not quite as thrilled.)
I can’t recall all the details, but I do recall that after the shopping, either the car would not start, OR I locked the keys in the car, OR some combination of the two. I do know there was an ill-timed downpour of rain. Likely, frozen foods were melting. I’m pretty sure crying babies, public nursing, frantic cell phones calls, and rescues by my husband were involved. (I think I am remembering this story correctly.) But my husband has repeatedly reminded me of the one part of this story that genuinely seemed to flabbergast him. It was my mom, who laughingly said at the conclusion, “Well, honey. It’s an adventure being us!”
Hah! Locking keys in car!? Being stranded at the grocery store?! Schlepping cranky kids around?! I guess it seemed natural for me to hear her say this because, throughout my life, I’ve witnessed my mom choosing to be happy in seemingly the WORST situations. She chooses to see life, in all it’s frustrating mundane-ness, as a chance to smile, to find adventure, and to learn from the world. Some people call it making Lemonade out of lemons, but I think it is even more than that.
While both my mom and I have been blessed with a loving upbringing, times have not always been perfect for her. Despite this she’s definitely embodied and inspired this plucky attitude of adventurousness. “It’s an adventure being us” is surely my mom’s version of Helen Keller’s quote “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.”
My grandmother, my mom’s mom, definitely passed this same adventurous spirit to my mom. We all remember on a camping trip when, after tubing down a frigid river, Grandma chose to stand with her teenage grandchild squealing as we were pummeled by an icy waterfall. She remarked afterward, shivering, “You never know when you’re going to get another chance to stand under a waterfall.” I’m paraphrasing from memory, but what I retained from that experience is knowledge that my grandmother loved life and made a choice to do so. She passed that adventurous quality on to her three daughters and, I hope, to me.
In case you don’t believe my grocery story, here’s yet another example. This picture of my mom and her sisters was taken with a tow-truck driver they charmed when, while they were trying to go to lunch, their car broke down. Even though they only saw each other once or twice a year and the day’s plans were frustrated, you certainly wouldn’t know it from looking at this photo. It’s almost like riding in a tow truck was some sort of adventure. You know, if you’re going to get stranded in the blazing sun and ride with a strange man in the cab of a tow truck, you might as well enjoy doing it.
Recently, after I’d vented a glut of whining on my mom, she reminded me of an old poem that she’d occasionally quote called “Then Laugh.” (Did I mention that my mother passed on her love of books and reading?) I have to include the whole thing for you to really get the gist of where I’m going with this post.
by Bertha Adam Backus
Build for yourself a strong box,
Fashion each part with care;
When it’s strong as your hand can make it,
Put all your troubles there;
Hide there all thought of your failures,
And each bitter cup that you quaff;
Lock all your heartaches within it,
Then sit on the lid and laugh.
Tell no one else its contents,
Never its secrets share;
When you’ve dropped in your care and worry
Keep them forever there;
Hide them from sight so completely
That the world will never dream half;
Fasten the strong box securely—
Then sit on the lid and laugh.
Well, of course, being a bit of a cynical person, I joked that this poem sounded like the pre-feminist version of a recipe for a denial- ensued emotional breakdown. I can just picture some crazed aproned lady from the 1930’s, hair full of curlers, wild-eyed and maniacally laughing as she sat on her “problem box.” Some days, I’m pretty sure I am that lady. Because I also inherited, from my other parent, a delightful tendency toward melancholy, I can just get in my grumps and have quite a luscious pity-party. (Sorry Dad. I’ll make it up to you in a month during your tear-jerking post. I won’t let you down.)
On the other hand, this old poem might contain a secret that I sometimes forget. Our culture seems to praise cynicism and skepticism, seeing happiness and contentment as a crutch, and assuming that anyone who is happy just has an easy life. We’re so “honest” that we like nothing better than showing others how tough things are for us. We’ve kind of abandoned the notion of pulling up our boot straps and making the best of things. My own mom and grandma clung tenaciously to that old mindset and I hope I will too.
Don’t get me wrong. Feeling things deeply isn’t a bad thing; in fact, feeling a deep sense of thankfulness and optimism can be the perfect antidote for self-pity and absorption. For those of us who can really get down and dirty in our own wallowing sad moods, this poem reminds me that I can make the choice to dig down deep, find my sense of humor and put a lid on that other stuff that bogs me down. I’m not saying that we should live a false life of denial. I’m just saying, as my mom often did, Choose Joy.
Thanks, Mom, for teaching me as a child and now as a mom myself, that life is an adventure, full of beautiful, sorrowful, hilarious, and breath-taking moments to be cherished. Thanks for teaching me to laugh and not taking me too seriously when I was dramatic, pathetic, and whiney–perhaps as recently as this morning. Thanks for loving Jesus and letting him shine through your life.
In honor of my beautiful mother, I want to inspire all of you readers of mine to have a good laugh today and look for some adventure in the most mundane things you can, whether it’s that unexpected ER trip, a broken down car, or a tow truck ride. If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity, stand under a frigid waterfall. Then laugh. You won’t regret it.