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My Mother Taught Me the Most Important Lesson: How to Be Myself

05/08/2015 05:13 EDT | Updated 05/08/2016 05:59 EDT
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My mother is a rebel. An octogenarian without a cause, she has stubbornly remained true to herself despite all odds. Born smack-dab in the middle of the Great Depression, she learned how to take "making do" to the level of art form. It's thanks to her that I understand things like the lost art of darning socks, how many loads of dishes you can squeeze out of one bottle of dish soap, and the concept of the culinary thrill-ride known as "hodgepodge." Who knew you could save three spoonfuls of 10 different things, re-heat them and serve them up together for dinner? Mom knew. Urp.

She is one of the smartest people I know, even though she wasn't allowed to finish high school. Never mind that she was raised in an era where women were treated like delicate and particularly dim-witted flowers. She is tough as nails, with the scars to prove it. A basketball player, a downhill skier, a WREN in the Canadian navy, a devoted little sister, a wife, a mother, a bookkeeper who swears she is horrible with math, she is a walking, talking contradiction in terms.

You know how everyone goes on about "artisanal" this and that nowadays? Well, my mom is one of the original artisans, baking bread, pies, cakes and cookies from scratch, as well as sewing all kinds of things, from sofa cushions to curtains to a particularly stylish black cat costume for yours truly back in grade four. (Talk about "me-WOW"!)

Mom has her quirks, for sure. Shy by nature, my mom sees herself as a loner, which is strange considering that she is regularly called on to be the "mixer" at any of her myriad volunteer functions. I've often wondered how my mother can think of herself as an outsider when she so effortlessly brings strangers together.

She can't swallow a pill to save her life (at least not without looking like a heron swallowing a particularly feisty sardine), and she's never met a piece of meat she couldn't cook into charred submission (see also: hodgepodge). She has the attention span of a cocker spaniel in squirrel season, changing subjects mid-conversation as quickly and easily as Amber Rose posts scandalous selfies, and is known for using words in a completely different context than they were intended. My mom used to call people she thought of as ridiculous wankers until I clarified for her just what that word meant. Hee hee.

She has zero patience for stories where people blame their bad behaviour on their unfortunate upbringing. Fair or not, she cuts others who've had tough childhoods about as much slack as she cuts herself. Which is to say: none.

Despite this, she is one of the kindest, most supportive people I know, the sort of person who always has a kind word for others. This includes her horribly ungrateful daughter, who regularly heckles her for her eccentricities, then hijacks those same quirks in order to entertain others at cocktail parties...or online. Ahem.

Truth to tell, my mom has taught me a lot through the years. Without her, I would never have fully comprehended the dangers of sitting on cold cement (who knew you could get a cold in your kidneys?), that nuns make for some wickedly competitive basketball players or that sitting home by the phone waiting for a guy to call is a waste of precious time. For the record: the kidney thing might have been an old wives' tale, but the stuff about not waiting around for that call was golden, if only I'd taken it.

Despite her fabulous qualities and hard-won life lessons, there was a stretch in my teens when I was convinced my mother was the lamest, most clueless person I ever had the misfortune to endure. Instead of listening to my mom's advice, I tuned her out like Muzak, wondering how she could possibly understand what I was going through. It wasn't til much later that I realized that I was the jackass in that scenario, not her. To this day, I'm just grateful she didn't murder me in my sleep or embarrass me in front of my friends. Oh. Right. Well, at least she didn't murder me in my sleep.

Most importantly, it's my mother who has shown me what it means to be a grown woman: one who stands out by dint of not fitting in. A woman who can laugh at herself, who regularly takes joy in the smallest of life's daily miracles and who knows that every line in her face is indicative of a life well-lived and not a reason for shame. A strong woman whose kindness most definitely has not, does not and will not ever equal weakness. A woman who has perfected the art of making lemonade from the lemons that life inevitably hands out to all of us. A woman who was content to wait for her daughter to grow up and see that "Mom" is only one role that she has played in her lifetime.

For better or for worse, my mom decided that being herself was more important than fitting in, even if that might have been easier. She has shown me the joy of being unashamedly yourself at any age, with no apologies. Perfection is not her goal, nor does she want or need it to be. She is, at nearly 80 years of age, truly herself.

To the woman who refers to herself as this old babe, yet still thinks of herself as being 23 or so, if I didn't know better, I am proud to say Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

By: Jo Holness

Originally published on BrazenWoman.com: Lifestyle for women 35+.

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