“I Want You to Do the Right Thing Because It’s the Right Thing”

Published May 13, 2012 by Teresa

Me and my nephew, William.

One day, I hope to be someone’s mother. As I get older, I don’t know when or how that will happen, but I know that it will – whether I have children of my own, whether I adopt, or whether I have a series of foster children. I will be someone’s mother someday. I say this with confidence, because of all the things I do well, the thing I always think of as my best skill is my way with children. And the reason I have this confidence, as well as this skill, is because I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by some amazing mothers in my family who have and continue to teach me that it’s possible to nurture children completely and wholeheartedly without giving up on yourself.

(from top) Caroline, Janette, and Colleen.

I was in college when my older sister, Janette, had her first child, and I thought it was so weird. This was the same person with whom I’d go to the mall and Great Adventure. The same person for whom I took phone messages from many gentleman callers for a quarter each when I was a kid. Now, she was all married and having a kid of her own. It was weird.

She now has two daughters, and I continue to be amazed by how well she is raising them. She always seems to strike the right balance between “fun” and “parent.” She’s not stingy with discipline, but she also realized that discipline starts early – she took her babies out to restaurants and church and other people’s homes from the time they were infants, teaching them how to behave as they went, so they wouldn’t grow up to be the kids you see running around restaurants like little animals. She (and my brother-in-law, Denis) works so hard to give them opportunities that she and I didn’t have growing up – stuff like gymnastics, and dance classes, and martial arts, and Girl Scouts (I couldn’t afford more than a year), and sports. She encourages their talents without pushing anything on them, raising Caroline and Colleen to be caring, hilarious, intelligent, creative people. I don’t say this often enough, but my sister is an amazing mother.

Ann with my nephew William and his little sister, Hannah.

I met my sister-in-law, Ann, when I was a senior in high school and my brother took her on a date to one of my school plays. :) I liked her from the beginning. So much, in fact, that I wondered what, if anything, would change once she became a mom. You see, she was too cool to be a mom (despite the fact that she, for some reason, wanted to marry my brother!).

What I realized later is that the very things that made her “cool” – her laid-back manner, her friendliness, and the matter-of-fact way in which she’d talk to my brother – are also the things that make her an amazing mom. Her son, William, is autistic, which is not always an easy thing to navigate, but you’d never know it to watch Ann, who seems unflappable most of the time, never afraid to discipline him when needed and never unwilling to coddle him when needed. Meanwhile, she’s raising Hannah to be a brilliant, fearless, verbose girl who makes excellent imaginary tea and can recite Toy Story in its entirety. :) Ann is an incredible mom.

Dad and Mom at Lake Ronkonkoma – 1994.

And then there’s my mom, who managed to teach me some of the biggest life lessons in the smallest moments. The main thing she taught me? The thing that stands out, and dictates the way I try to live my life? One day she said to me, “I don’t want you to do the right thing because you’re afraid we’re going to get mad at you. I want you to do the right thing because it’s the right thing.” My mother was a person who taught by example. She hardly ever told me what to do. She showed me what to do. She just lived it, and because she was someone that everyone liked, who always made miracles happen despite not having much money, and who seemed to have God on speed-dial, she was someone I wanted to emulate. And so I did what she said. It’s because she (and my dad) did that that I now feel free enough to stumble and make mistakes. Because I know I’m not being judged, and I know that I only have to answer to my conscience and God, and I think I’m a better person for it. I never really had a “rebellious period” growing up. Don’t get me wrong, I was bratty plenty of times. But I rarely got into trouble, and I never really had an entire rebellious phase, because I never needed one. Because my mom never gave me a curfew (so long as I called when I was gonna be really late), never forced me to go to church, and told me how she felt about certain things (like smoking, drinking, sex, etc) without making it sound like “rules.” And so I always called, and I went to church on my own without my parents, and I never did anything overly sordid substance-wise or sexually (not as a kid, anyway). My choices were my own, and had nothing to do with rules set by my parents. It was about doing the right thing. And thanks to my mom, I think I’ve done the right thing more often than not. She made me believe that I could choose the right thing, and that there is power in that choice.

I have the pleasure of knowing so many amazing mothers. Eileen, who’s gone to hell and back for her kids. Jean, who stalks the playground like a lioness for Charlotte. Katie, who is raising her (now) two children with an abundance of love and patience. And even Robin, who’s become quite the stepmom to Marissa. And then there are my surrogate mothers, who’ve at various times taken care of me and taken an interest in me long after my own mother no longer could. Gloria, who’s opened her home to me from the time I was about six, and who worries (just like my own mother would) about when I’m going to finally settle down and get married. :) Arlene, who’s been treating me like a daughter since I was ten. Joan, who manages to make everyone her son (my good friend, Adam) cares about feel like family.

There are more of you out there, I know, but then this blog post would go on forever. :) Basically, I wanted to wish all the mothers out there a Happy Mother’s Day. And I’m grateful that, when the time comes for me to be someone’s mother, I’ll have plenty of amazing examples to follow. I’m a lucky girl.

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