Growing up, my mom was the oldest of 9 children… 8 girls and 1 boy. So, she knows a thing or two about loving babies, peeling potatoes and making do with less. Friends call her “Nice Nancy” because of her gracious heart and thoughtful nature. She has an incredible ability to make any visitor in her home feel welcome, loved and special. Planned visit or not, if you stop by the Dirksmeyer homestead, she and my father drop whatever it is they are doing, clear the kitchen table, usher you to sit down and promptly offer you a beer.
Our family often teases my sweet mom about her complete inability to tell a lie. This endearing quality shows up most notably upon the receipt of a not so great gift. “Yes,” she would say with a forced smile, “I love it…” trying to sum up every ounce of pseudo enthusiasm she could muster, but instead looking more like her beautiful face just swallowed a moth. I truly think whatever mechanism that allows liars to align their facial expressions with their words was not bestowed upon my mom… some synaptic neurons in the brain just blinking away, but never firing. And, I completely love this about my mom: all honesty, all the time.
I have learned so much from my mom over the years. She is book smart without having read the book and has more common sense in her pinky than most people possess in their entire body. And, I have always felt lucky, like a little girl who won the mama lottery. Looking back now as a mom myself, I realize all the little lessons I learned from her, added up to be the big lessons in life. No one’s childhood is perfect, but my parents knew how to strike just the right balance of love, encouragement and practical grounding. Roots and wings. I had them both.
Today marks not only the first day of summer, but also my mom’s birthday. And, because I am inspired by my mom in so many ways, I want to pay tribute to her by sharing some of the many lessons I learned from her over the years. Even if I questioned any of her advice in my youth, I find again and again that if enough time and life experience pass, she continues to be vindicated. And, the universe politely nudges me and says, see, she told you so.
Without further ado and in no particular order, I hope you enjoy my Lessons from Nancy. There are many more not listed here, but these are some of my favorites. I bet many of these lessons you learned from your mama, too. Moms are the best that way, aren’t they?
1.) Don’t Burn Your Bridges ~ People in your past can and do show up in unlikely and wonderful places. We live in a relatively small town, so this advice heeds itself particularly to us, but the creator of this great cosmic universe continues to throw us together in new and interesting ways. Nancy’s gentle reminder to pause before action translates beautifully into being kind instead of regretful. I think about her words with this quote in mind, “Let us be kind to one another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle” (Ian MacLaren). I found this advice especially pertinent in school when we tend to whittle off into the safety of our own little group of friends and we tend to avoid those who are different like the plague. But the truth is, that shy, nerdy kid in school who you didn’t know much about and who you probably didn’t think much about, he just may be your boss someday. He may show up as a nurse in a big hospital when you arrive in labor with your first child and graciously put you out of your misery with a swift wheelchair ride up to get a room (yes, that actually happened). Or, maybe his someday child is going to be engaged to your someday child. I’d like to think that I always treated others the way I would want to be treated, but I didn’t. None of us always do, but we can always try to do better.
2.) Most politicians will let you down, but vote anyway ~ No matter what team you rally for, this is true. And maybe you prefer to just enjoy the view from the sidelines or maybe you are just at the hot dog stand wishing the game would be over already, but men & women throughout history have sacrificed their lives, their children’s lives, their everything, to give us the rights we have. Use them, vote and hope for the best. Admittedly, I’m still holding out hope that maybe there really is a politician out there who remembers what his job is, who he works for, and who will try not to screw things up more than they already are. A girl can dream, can’t she?
3.) Write Thank You Notes ~ We attended an Open House recently at our local grade school and I asked one of the veteran teachers if they still taught cursive. She said yes, but recounted a story about some of her daughter’s high school classmates having a substitute teacher write in cursive on the board and many of the kids couldn’t even read it. Wow. I had no idea some schools had decided years ago to stop teaching cursive because they felt it was not necessary anymore. Sure, I get that handwriting is becoming less and less critical, but what about signing your name or writing a letter? I love to send and receive handwritten thank you notes. Writing them makes me sit down and focus on relaying my gratitude in a real and genuine way. And receiving them makes me feel like someone else sat down in the midst of their hectic and crazy life, thought about me and smiled. I want to make others feel that way. My mom makes me feel that way. She has written me and many others countless thank you notes over the years. She did that to make that person feel loved and appreciated. I realize some people get thank you notes or cards, look at them for a brief moment and then they hit the dust. And, that’s okay. You can’t keep everything, but I hope before you toss that note you stop and smile, because someone else out in this great big world cares about you.
4.) Pick Your Battles ~ I remember more than one occasion when I would be all fired up about something, dishing all the details to my mom, and strategizing what it was exactly I was going to do about said something and she would wisely remind me that I didn’t have to show up to every battle that presented itself. Not only is that exhausting, but completely unproductive. And of course, she was right. The most effective people I have come in contact with both in the business and parenting worlds practice this lesson daily. Focus on the big stuff and let the other stuff go.
5.) Engage in your creative passions to make you happy, not anyone else ~ I am an apple who did not fall far from my mom’s creative tree. And I’m sure there have been times when others have looked at us and thought, “Wow, I can’t believe you are spending all that time and energy on…” fill in the blank here: this thing, that thing, etc., etc., etc. For my son’s 2nd birthday I spent multiple hours making him a quilt for his gift. Now when my sweet boy opened said quilt, he promptly dumped it on the floor and looked earnestly back into the bag hoping to see where his real gift was. Yes, his reaction made me laugh, but I didn’t make that quilt for the thank you. I didn’t do it to hear him say, “oh my gosh, mama, this is the best gift ever!” I did it because I love him and I love to sew. I did it because I was envisioning future nights cuddled together under that blanket reading books, and I did it because it fills me up with joy to spend time making something heartfelt for one of my littles. I don’t know what you love to do, but whatever it is, I bet you relish the ebb & flow of being in the zone when you are doing your most favorite thing. That thing in which you don’t know what time is, you have no concept for how much time has passed and you don’t care. You are just enjoying being creative or brilliant and feeling alive. So, if you want to stay up until all hours of the night and spend countless hours working your creative hands to the bone, do it. Do it for you if you love to do it, but don’t do it for praise or appreciation because it rarely follows the way you think it should.
6.) Don’t be a slave to your house. ~ I have found this to be an especially good reminder if you have kids and need to cut yourself a little toilet scrubbing, window cleaning, knickknack dusting slack. My mom likes to say, we exist to love and nurture people, not make masters of our stuff. Our purpose is greater than taking care of “things.” Yes, you can drive yourself crazy making sure every last dish is always put away, your bed is made and every last tractor, ball and lego is neatly tucked away in its place, but sometimes it’s okay to just let it go. It will be there tomorrow, kids and life are messy, and as Ruth Hulbert Hamilton said, “Quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep. I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.” So if your child wants to pull out every crayon, marker, sticker, coloring book and piece of paper you own, its okay. Creative messes are good and if they want you to get down on the floor and play with them, do it. Do it even though you know you should really put another load in the laundry, clean the bathroom and pay some bills. And to those of you amazing women who can do this all simultaneously, kudos to you. I am not saying never clean your house; in fact, I thoroughly enjoy a clean, organized house, but I am saying, don’t let it rule your world. By the way, if you see my husband, don’t tell him I said this. He likes the tractors, balls and legos all neatly tucked away.
7.) Give the gift of confidence to your children ~ One thing I learned upon having children is that all sorts of folks have advice about these tiny bundles of joy once they enter the world; how to fed them, burb them, nap them and on and on and on. And, I’m not going to lie about my naiveté here; I really did think previous to being blessed with my 2 beautiful boys that all you needed to do as a parent was love and care for them. Kiss their sweet Johnson & Johnson smelling heads, snuggle their wriggly little bodies and provide them warm meals and a cozy, safe place to sleep. Sure all of these things are a good start, but you’ll notice my list skips all the unpleasant parenting duties like discipline, potty training and paying for college. One shining benefit of my blissful ignorance was that it probably kept me from worrying a lot more, had I known all the things I should have been worrying about. But I can say this, my parents always instilled a lot of confidence in me and I always felt like I could do anything I set my mind to and worked hard for. My parents built me up to hold my head high and go out and chase the things I wanted. There are so many things I want to pass on from my parents and my husband’s parents to my children, but this is definitely a priority. I want my children to know that I have faith in them, that I know they can do whatever they set their hearts and hands to and that strength of moral character bestows confidence in itself because you already know you are doing the best, right thing.
8.) The Joys of Gardening ~ My mom is an amazing gardener. She is very modest, but her perennial gardens are extraordinary. And if you asked her about it she would probably minimize its awesomeness, but to me it really is awesome. She has taught me how to split perennials, appreciate colorful leaves in addition to beautiful blooms, and savor the peace & quiet of digging in the dirt. Because of Nancy I know that the 3rd year after planting a garden of perennials is usually its peak and hardy plants can be a girl’s best friend. I can rattle off all sorts of flower names that I scarcely knew existed just a few years ago, and Nancy kindly restamps them in my brain each spring as they come to life after a long winter and I ask her… what is this flower called again?
9.) Measure Twice, Cut Once ~ This one, I still can’t do. I just want to go, go, go. Nancy’s practical nature lends her to making samples and experimenting and double checking. Me? I just want to get right down to it, whatever project I’m working on. I want to eyeball something and think oh that should be plenty. Sometimes I just start to sew or craft not exactly knowing how something is going to turn out and I just go with it. When I make a mistake, I paint over it, unthread it, or just start over. This I have learned is not the most efficient process. So, I’m trying to do less winging it and more planning it.
10.) All Things Debits & Credits ~ I have a marketing degree and previous job experience in sales, which has skilled me to do… I don’t know what exactly, but somehow I ended up as the keeper of the company books. I went from selling beans to counting them. Thankfully, I can consult Nancy on all things accounting and she keeps it simple for me. I’m convinced that the IRS, GAAP and other financial wizards go around throwing all these fancy terms out there like debt to asset ratio, leverage and tax credits so they can intimidate us and charge more. Things I can say to Nancy and not our real Accountant include the following: “Okay, explain it to me like I’m 5,” “Really, the IRS requires you to do what? That is just stupid,” and my all-time favorite, “Okay, I still don’t get it… maybe you could try to explain it to me like I’m 3.” Through the frame of Nancy’s looking glass, I look at business financials like this. You want to bring in more money than goes out. You want to give as many people as you can good jobs so they can support their families. And, if there is any money left after insurance and taxes… bonus! Simple right?
I hope you all have a beautiful and blessed summer. And, I raise a brandy old fashioned sweet with cherries to you mom, for all the things you have taught me so far and so much more. I love you to the moon and back.
What lessons did you learn from your mom? I would love to hear about them.