My Mother Became Smarter As I Aged
by Maggie Lynch
May 12, 2022
Somewhere around age eleven or twelve I decided I was smarter than my parents. I didn’t tell them, of course, because that would have been rude. But I believed it. It was based on the fact that I learned some things in school they didn’t know about and that I could often answer questions more quickly. This belief, unfortunately, also had me NOT asking them things as much as I did before because I figured they didn’t know anyway. Yes, I was the equivalent of Hermione Granger when I was young. Thinking I was the smartest person in the room.
If I didn’t know something, instead of my usual mode of asking my dad, I would walk to the library and do some research on my own. This was long before the Internet and Google search that so many people use today. The library, for me, was the font of all knowledge. The reference librarian was my best friend in those days. For more practical things, I had my Uncle Marty. He could answer anything mathematical. He was an engineer and on the side a TV repairman. My maternal grandfather could build almost anything. He was a house builder in his younger years and then a machinist later in life. As a teen, my dad was my go to person for those philosophical questions about religion and morality. He had aspired to be a priest in his young years and then a pastor. He served as a lay pastor at our church and gave many sermons as I was growing up. But my mother, to me, didn’t have anything to offer–at least not anything I wanted to know more about at that time in my life.
My mother was, and still is, a lover of children. She particularly loved children from birth to about ten years old. My father used to say that she kept wanting babies because after about age ten they didn’t need her as much. That could be at least half of why I’m one of nine children. Mom knew everything about taking care of young children, helping them grow, walk, talk, potty training, making decisions, learning to be kind, learning to compromise, learning to forgive, and most of all learning to always help others. Probably because she raised me in all those things I took it all for granted.
I don’t know that I consciously devalued that training, if I even knew it back then; but I really didn’t want to know anything else about raising children. As the oldest child, I started babysitting my younger siblings when I was ten for a couple hours at a time. By age eleven I could babysit all day if needed, and I could definitely do several hours at night. By twelve I was babysitting for other folks, too, often over an entire weekend. Of course mom was just down the street; so I could call her if there was a real emergency. Fortunately, I never had to call her. I honestly felt I knew everything there was to know about raising children. So, I was “done” with asking mom anything. I thought.
By age ten or eleven, I had my sights set on being an astronaut, a dancer, an actress, a singer, a writer. Maybe even all of the above. My fall back profession was teacher if none of the others worked out.
My mother was none of those things as far as I knew. Outside of the first couple years of my life, which I have no memory of, she was a stay-at-home mom until I entered high school. Then she went to work for Western Union as a telegram and phone operator (something she had done before I was born). When I went to college, my parents were rarely consulted about anything because they didn’t know much about college life. I had a vague memory of them taking a couple night school classes at a community college when I was ten and eleven (the reason I would babysit at night). But they didn’t really talk about what those classes were or what their goals were. I assumed because they didn’t go to college or earn a degree they had nothing of importance to offer me. When I started full time work after college graduation and married, I didn’t use them as a sounding board or place of consultation at all. My husband’s parents were both college educated, upper middle class and seemed so much more knowledgeable and worldly.
Don’t get me wrong, I always LOVED and still LOVE my parents. I just didn’t think I had anything more to learn from them.
How wrong I was!!!
The older I became the more I wanted their opinion. When I got divorced after five years of marriage, and learned that being rich and educated didn’t also automatically come along with the values I was taught as a kid–values of kindness, accepting a diversity of people and backgrounds, and supporting each other even in hard times. I wanted to know how mom and dad continued to stayed together through all the challenges in their life–loss of a child at age five, another child being institutionalized, the constantly shifting economy. Where did I do wrong? How could I end up getting divorced after only five years?
When awful things in the economy happened again and again, I wanted to understand how they had weathered those storms in the past with all those children to support. They were both born during the Great Depression. My father lost his entire retirement savings when Enron collapsed. His company’s retirement fund was heavily invested in that and then declared bankruptcy. My mother lost a good portion of her retirement savings when the Great Recession hit in 2008. Her company had a private investment plan, run by the company executives, that was heavily in real estate. I wanted to understand how they remained hopeful when they lost so much of their future. They’d pulled the family out of poverty by the time I was graduating high school. But then they found themselves back there again when they retired.
When my father died eight years ago, I wanted to understand how Mom found a way forward alone after sixty years of marriage. Not because I thought she would shrivel up and be a recluse , but I was amazed at her balance of grief, memory, happiness, and continued hope for the future. How she continues to have a bright outlook no matter what has happened. For the longest time, I figured she could keep that outlook because she didn’t understand the peril she was in. Perhaps, some of that is true, but what I learned is that she has a deep faith in things working out in the end for the best. She has an unshakeable faith that she will see Dad again and my two brothers who passed in childhood.
What I’ve realized is that my mom was much smarter than I gave her credit for. She knew that the most important time in a child’s life was in those first ten years. If you got that right, you set that child up for success as best you could. I grew up very loved. I never once questioned that my parents loved me. I grew up supported in everything I did. My mother never once said I couldn’t be an astronaut or a singer or a writer or an actress. Even when I made mistakes in life, and there were plenty, my mother never saw them that way. She saw them as lessons, growing pains (even as an adult), ways to become stronger and better. She has always felt that way not only about me, but my siblings and cousins who have also made some big mistakes.
Even two of her grandchildren and a nephew who have spent time in jail were not only forgiven, but she visited them regularly to let them know they were still loved and they could still make a good life for themselves. She knew how to separate the acts that landed them there from the person she knew growing up and was still inside, waiting to find a way back into the world and be better.
Where I was looking for some erudite discussion of philosophy or spouting of esoteric facts and figures, my mom quietly and lovingly provided and modeled what I needed most–kindness, confidence in everything I did, love, forgiveness of others, support and belief that the world would turn for the better. We just needed to keep being the best we could be. It was she who taught me, when you feel you can’t do anything about a problem, you can still live in the way you expected/wanted the world to be. You could still be a model of what life can be.
Of all the things I wanted to be when I grew up, mom saw me best as a “teacher.” Being a know it all teen, early in life I vowed I would never be a teacher just to prove her wrong. Of course, she was absolutely right. It ends up I’ve been a teacher all along. Even in jobs without “teacher” as the title I’ve always been teaching. Because she taught me to be kind and to help others, my way of helping has often been through teaching. I worked at a bilingual book and toys company for part of my college years. My role was to help bilingual families (Spanish/English) be able to maintain their language and culture through books and games, while still learning English. As a family counselor working with severel disabled children and their families, I ended up spending more years creating curriculum and online assistants to help disabled children than I did direct counseling with them as families. Even when I was in the software industry, I spent more time teaching people how to code than doing actual coding. I did teach in the university system for about 15 years, but most of my work was managing other teachers and getting grants and helping students and junior faculty learn how to do all of that so they could get tenure and have a long career in Academia. Now, in addition to being a writer, I teach writers how to run a business or how to create characters that bring emotion to the page.
Mom knew all along what I was born to do, where my natural talents lie. Even my books are a reflection of what mom taught me. My characters model hope even when things seem hopeless, perseverance even when they aren’t sure why they are stepping forward, forgiveness of themselves and others when the world seems broken and it’s hard to conceive how it cam ever be better. I now see that my mother’s perseverance in the face of economic ruin, loss of two sons as children, loss of my father, belief in a power of good that she couldn’t see, and the unconditional love of others is what I hope for every character I write. In the end my mother is teaching through me. And perhaps some readers see those characters and say to themselves: “I can learn from that. I can do that, too.”
Thanks Mom for all the support, belief, and love you’ve showered on me for my entire life, even when I was being a rebellious teen. You have always taught me to do what’s right, to keep going even in the face of darkness, and to always be kind. Those are the most important things I have learned. Mom, you ARE very, very smart and I love you to the ends of the universe!
Maggie Lynch is the author of 26 published books. Her fiction tells stories of people making heroic choices one messy moment at a time. Her novels span women’s fiction, SF & Fantasy, suspense, and romance. She is currently working on a Contemporary Upper Middle Grade children’s series. Her current nonfiction provides authors with information and tools for self-publishing from the basics of creating a professional package to getting books distributed around the world, and finally marketing options. You can check out her personal website at maggielynch.com