Mother’s way.

Dear friends,

My mother, circa 1985.

Like any daughter, I have a wealth of memories of my mother from my childhood.

But as a grown up, I have one abiding memory, a thread of recollection that runs throughout my life from young adulthood to now.

This memory is of my mother’s words – the question I most often heard her ask: How can I help?

How can I help?” is the question she asked more often than “How are you?” “How can I help?” are the words she offered more often than “I love you.” For my mother, service was love, and she stood by to help in any way that she could, on any day that she could, with anything I needed.

If Mom heard I was going to paint, she’d ask how she could help then show up with a roller. (My mother and I must have painted thousands of square feet together over the years.) If she heard I had purchased wallpaper, she’d ask how she could help then show up to watch the kids. (Strangely, she could do most anything but never learned the art of wallpapering.) Garage sale? She’d show up to tag and organize everything — and she was a master at pricing for a quick sale. Spring cleaning? She’d volunteer for the most difficult tasks, like tackling my oven. When I bought my first house at age 26 and declared I was going to spend Memorial Day weekend refurbishing the oak floors, she spent three days on her hands and knees beside me.

Mom, helping me string twinkly lights for my wedding reception, 1991.

When I was seven months pregnant with Kate, my mother heard me talking about taking a week’s vacation to decorate the nursery (on a shoestring budget, of course, because Mr. Mom and I had little money). She decided to take a week’s vacation, too. We set up two sewing machines, side-by-side, in the soon-to-be nursery, and together we made curtains, blankets, a quilt, a dust ruffle, a crib bumper and more out of coordinating fabric purchased on clearance. Then she painted while I wallpapered. I was 30 and she was 63 and it was one of the loveliest, albeit exhausting, weeks I ever spent with my mother. But when it was over, I had a dream nursery for my first child, purchased with not much more than the elbow grease of an expectant mother and her tireless assistant.

Sweet baby Kate in the nursery her mother and grandmother made, 1993.

And as if she hadn’t done enough over the years, she raised my children, serving as our nanny, cook, laundress and errand girl for the first 11 years of Kate’s life. She’d show up at 7:00 am so she’d have to time to prepare breakfast for anybody who wanted it — and, invariably, before I walked out the door to go to work, she would ask “Is there anything special I can do today?”

As a young woman with my own selfish interests, I always thought it odd that my mother was so eager to help. Every once in a while, I wondered why she never seemed to cultivate her own interests. As I grew older, I also grew to understand my mother’s heart and to realize service in any form – cooking supper, ironing a dress, scrubbing a shower – was a tangible expression of love for her, and expressing her love was her primary interest. I truly never knew a woman more selfless.

In recent days as I have contemplated Kate’s impending move and our diminishing time together, I have been unusually attuned to her needs, and I have stepped in to offer more assistance than is typical for me given that is Mr. Mom’s territory. As I helped Kate paint a sign Wednesday evening, it all of a sudden hit me – that’s why my mother was so eager to help! All that time she spent working beside me was not only an opportunity for her to express her love, it was also a chance for her to spend time in the presence of her “busy” adult daughter.

I can’t believe it took me 49 years to figure this out. I always thanked Mom for helping me, but I don’t recall ever thanking her for spending time with me.

And that was her real calling in life.

With gratitude {for the priceless blessing that comes with being loved beyond measure},

Joan, who will give her children an extra hug today on behalf of their Grannie who loved them so very much

I miss thee, my Mother! Thy image is still
The deepest impressed on my heart.

                                                             -Eliza Cook


  1. texasdeb says:

    You and your Mom were quite a team! (not that I think she isn’t still at the very least rooting from wherever her sidelines are). So yes. What you are really giving up when your Kate leaves for away school is the luxury of easy time together. You will still have your times, but it will require arrangements. Like when she has a thing, and you ask her, “how can I help?”….

    You clearly have always had a soft spot for the twinkly lights, Joan Marie. It is as if they are a necessary outward manifestation of your very sparkly personality. Have the loveliest ever Mother’s Day filled with joy and warm memories in the making.

  2. Such a lovely read to begin my Mother’s Day. She would be so proud of the mom and person you are!

  3. She did a good job, and so have you. D&H

  4. Love, love, love your posting today. Your Mom was truly loving and caring and easy to talk to. Glad I was able to meet and talk with her on several occasions. Hope you have an awesome Mother’s Day with your kiddos. (I still have the same Santa candy dish in the first pic of your Mother. My Mother had it made and gave it to me for Christmas long, long ago.)

  5. Yeah. My mom’s version of this was driving with each of us cross-country every blessed time we moved. Which, with three wandering children, was a lot. With me, she drove me back and forth from college innumerable times, from Colorado to Arizona and back twice, and then drove with me from Arizona to New York when I began life with my soon-to-be husband. She always claims to love driving, and I’m sure she does, but I think it was also her way of having time with her kids before they began a new chapter in their lives. And supporting us through the inevitable fear that accompanies that.

    I can only hope my own children have as many good memories of me as I have of my own mother.

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