This Mother’s Day I will once again be thinking about my mother, Elizabeth, and the many ways she was a spectacular mother to me, and my six brothers and four sisters. My mother passed away in 2000. Through the years, I honor her through setting the best example I can as a mother to my own children.
I remember three distinct things about her…
…and her dedication to our shared-meal ritual.
Here are a few things about my mother that I find memorable:
She didn’t like the nickname “Betty” for Elizabeth. She would squint her eyes, waiting with baited breath to explain to whomever might dare make a “Betty” reference why they never should. (As I grew older I learned the reason she didn’t like “Betty” was because a childhood neighbor taunted her with it for years.)
Sometimes when addressing me, she would say at least two names of one of my other siblings before landing on my name (“Mary, Vera…I mean…Carol!“)
She recalled as a toddler in an orphanage (she was there briefly after her mother passed away), the magical way she felt when she received a pretty pink dress, sent from a relative in NY. She loved to tell the story that the relative was taking steps to adopt her, but another relative intervened so that her sister and two brothers (in different orphanages for some reason) could wait for her father to return from Italy with his new wife and all the children could be reunited (and they were…)
Whenever dining out at a local coffee shop in our hometown in Bristol, CT, she would routinely order a hot dog and tell the waitress to “burn it“ –she would say those two words chuckling, with a devilish grin way to make her point. Often the waitress would be startled with the intensity of her cooking instruction. As a sensitive teenager, I would cringe each time knowing that the “burn it!” cooking instruction was about to happen!
During the local “Mum Parade” every year in our city, she would embarass one or more of her children performing in the high school marching band by running out in the middle of the street and planting a giant smooch on her kid(s) cheek mid-performance (She did this to me on several occasions when I played trombone in the marching band. It was a rite of passage in our family.)
When there was a “Happy Birthday” being sung, her very deep, low voice would be an octave below everyone else’s. She would sing with gusto, and her voice would stick out like a sore thumb. Being a musical family, we loved that it was my mother who sang “bass”, in such a low vocal range!
She would get joyful tears when hearing the song “New York, New York” (She asked me to sing it once at a relative’s wedding. I declined because I wasn’t feeling well–my two young kids had ear infections and I was very low on sleep. To this day, it’s one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t sing that song for my mother that day–as it turned out, it was my last chance).
She practiced the art of bellydancing in her later years (starting when she was about 58 years old) at the local “Girl’s Club” recreation center. She enjoyed the dancing classes and the annual recital so much. She loved mastering a new skill and having an activity that was reserved for her, and we all encouraged her– the way she did for us. We’d say, “Keep it up! You’re doing a great job, Mom!” At the time, my mother was considered very ‘cool’, and we were all proud of her for doing something that (especially back then) was a little unusual and brave.
My mother spent countless hours in the kitchen preparing her family specialties from lasagna, Sunday morning French toast, to rum pudding pie, to penne and meatballs. Many meals she served were Italian (or French, because of my father’s heritage). One memory I have of my mother at the dinner table was when I created a Thanksgiving plate of food for her just prior to everyone starting to eat. She had been running around putting the finishing touches on side dishes, so I wanted to be sure she’d be ready to join us. She was so used to taking care of others, she was giddy at this small gesture of someone preparing her plate. When she noticed that I had forgotten to give her turkey, she laughed wildly like it was the funniest thing she had ever seen. She then grabbed me and gave me one of her giant, consuming hugs and a big fat kiss on the cheek.
How I miss the kind of affection you can only get from your mother.
Here is a picture of my Mom, Elizabeth.
We had so many truly heartwarming, comforting times at the dinner table. It was in my mother’s DNA to be sure we had three meals together a day, no matter what else was going on. It was her top priority, and we learned a lot about our family culture, each other, and being part of a group through these meals. Never did she waiver from her goal of creating and enjoying our daily family meals. Fortunately, as the years passed and culture and society changed, she had helping hands from her children and our father, and our meal ritual became more of a group effort–a best practice I’ve identified for sharing meals today.
By the time we were grown and off to college or jobs (35+ years of raising a household teeming with kids)
….my mom lead approximately 35, 135 shared meals.
As author Michael Gurian says, “Protect your family rituals like they are gold.”
As I became a mother to my own children (daughter Jini who is 29, and my son, John, 26) I always tried to channel the spectacular, fiercely committed, joyful, effervescent spirit of my Mom. Naturally, a shared-meal ritual with my kids was featured in our home as they were growing up.
My Mom protected us, and she protected our family’s rituals. It was my mother’s commitment to our meals together that initially prompted me to research the family meal ritual, and pursue writing the book “The Shared-Meal Revolution” It was then that I gained a full understanding of the importance and benefits you can receive from this simple activity. I so value the role of being a mother, and understand firsthand the challenges mothers face, especially with today’s lifestyle of overcrowded schedules, work demands and distracting technology. It was my recognition of how modern living can keep us from our best intentions, such as sitting down together to enjoy a meal each day, that inspired me to write my book. Mothers today have the same amount of love and devotion as my mother. It’s just that life is more complex in 2014, and this complexity can make our best intentions fall away…
Although I mentioned that my mother was selfless (very common in her generation), I believe that healthy homes include people working together towards goals. No one can, or should, do it all alone. In my book, I offer strategies and tools to help you create a plan: either reinforce a shared-meal ritual you currently have, or develop one for the first time, working together, to fit the specific needs of your family.
As I observed and experienced with my mother, keeping a shared-meal ritual is a deliberate and daily action of expressing love.
How are you celebrating Mother’s Day?
Are there rituals in your home that you learned from your mother that you want to renew?
I’d love to hear any stories you wish to share which honor YOUR mother (share a picture, too!)
~Happy Mother’s Day to all you wonderful mothers~
If you’d like to start or revamp your shared-meal ritual, please read more about my book/project: “The Shared-Meal Revolution”.