Motherhood is something to be celebrated every day, but like a lot of us, I gave it special attention on Sunday—thoughts of my own mom, Lael as both a mom and a daughter, Mike’s mom, and of the important role that motherhood has played in my life. By far, I consider motherhood—and being a grandma (and mother-in-law)—to be the best “jobs” of my life, the ones that have given me the most challenges/growth opportunities and enjoyment, and the ones of which I am most proud.
We didn’t have social influencers, per se, back in the day—we had “moms” who in today’s parlance, could have been called “life influencers.” They weren’t the only ones influencing us, but the moms in my immediate life were my greatest “social influencers”—that is, “the ones who built a reputation for their knowledge and expertise on a specific topic.” There wasn’t just one topic, though—these social/life influencers knew a lot about a lot. And while you may not have trusted their advice when you were in your teens, you came to realize that the vast majority of the time, they really did know what they were talking about.
That said, in light of Mother’s Day, this post is most dedicated to…
My mom, “Gete”
My Mom, Marguerite—“Gete” to those who knew her—was a role model for me. We did our share of head butting when I was in high school, but her personal strength, convictions, and expectations for behavior and home were standards that I both strove to meet and to instill in our own home.
“Mom” became “Mumsie” to my brother, sister, and me, à la Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island–=that’s where we got the name. It started out as a joke. The name would always roll off our lips with a certain tone. But then it stuck, and eventually made “Mom” sound too formal.
Gete was a traditional homemaker when I was young, later getting a job in a local retail store when I got older. While she enjoyed having that bit of financial independence, homemaker was always the role that took priority. We had a clean, well-managed house that we, as kids, were also expected to help keep tidy—everything went back in its place. When I got older, I learned that the Cape Cod-style house where the five of us lived was actually less-than-1100 sq ft—but from my childhood perspective, it never felt small. Lack of clutter contributed to that, big time.
My mom often expressed her love through cooking, and dinnertime was a daily focal point. Those were different times—activity schedules didn’t interrupt family dinners, and there was no TV in the background. We knew to be home by 5:00, as dinner would be on the table sometime around 5:30. That kitchen always smelled so good—whether we were having a roast, homemade spaghetti sauce, or leftovers, meals were plentiful but well-balanced. Health was important. There was one starch and one starch only—not bread and potatoes. That said—there was no shortage of homemade baked goods, but they were allowed in moderation. Gete’s cheesecake became legend—look for that recipe in a future post.
Gete ran at tight ship. We Stenman children had rules to follow, high behavioral expectations, and goals to accomplish in a neighborhood where those standards weren’t always the case. More than a few of the kids in our immediate area had brushes with the law, and there were also some high school pregnancies. There were kids we could play with, and those we could not play with. Gete could size up someone’s character quickly, and didn’t hesitate to give the thumbs down on a visitor or activity that she felt wasn’t in our best interest. She was decisive—and almost always right—and when the time came, I followed her lead with our own kids.
My mom was old school—an authority figure who focused on raising us with certain values. Simply stated, she was a grown-up who would have found the concept of trying to be her teenage daughter’s best friend utterly ridiculous. Gete was an adult and I was…well…not, but she planned on me becoming a really good adult, someday, with her parental guidance. Then, we could be friends. And that day came. Once a week, when our kids would step on the school bus, I would head to Connecticut for a visit—1 ½ hours each way—taking into account that I needed to be back for the 3:20 return of the bus. I loved those trips—there’d be lots of girl talk over lunch—and she always asked me to call to let her know that I got home safely. On the days that I didn’t travel, we had a regular afternoon check-in call, usually after the school bus came, around 3:30.
My mom had me at age 40. At the time, most women had their children in their early-to-mid 20s—and with already having two children, ages 12 and six, I was a surprise—a really big one! When she and I would smile about that, she always told me that I kept her young. As a kid, I was afraid that I wouldn’t have her very long—after all, she was so much older than the other moms. And by today’s standards, she looked older. Gete had almost no wrinkles even as an older woman, but was gray at 28. In those days, coloring hair had just started to become popular, and most people didn’t do it—so, a lot of people mistook me for her granddaughter. In my little-kid mind, my mom seemed really old. Interestingly, she started to color her hair in her 50s, which knocked a lot of years off her appearance. My fears of losing her turned out to be unfounded, as all those years of discipline and clean living paid off. Good genes helped, too—the generation before her lived well into their 80s and 90s—in fact, one of her aunts made it to 102. I was blessed to have my mom with me until she was 92, and I was 52. She became a grandmother to five very lucky kids—the next generation to know that they were expected to have high standards and goals—mixed in with plenty of love, guidance, delicious and healthy meals, and some pretty memorable “Grammie Gete” stories.
My mom passed on what would have been my dad’s 100th birthday. Interestingly, it was also 23 years to the day after she, my dad, and Mike’s parents met Mike, me, and Lael at our house when we brought our brand-new daughter home from the hospital. Mike and I hadn’t turned on the heat for the winter yet, and the grandparents arrived early to get the house all warmed up on that chilly fall day. There should be a picture of that visit next to the word “joy” in the dictionary.
The years went by, and while my mom slowed down a bit, she remained healthy until about three weeks before she passed. My brother, sister, and I surrounded her in final days, which happened to be in the hospital. She had congestive heart failure, and the doctor had warned us that her heart had become particularly weak. Even then, she seemed determined to “go to the next step” on her own terms and with her usual high standards—she had gotten her hair done the day before her hospital admittance.
I remember those days clearly. My mom alternated between sleep, grogginess, and total lucidness. In one of her moments of clarity, I reminded her of the significance of the following day. “Dad would have been 100 tomorrow! And remember the day we brought Lael home?” I asked, “That will be 23 years, tomorrow. Everybody was so happy!”
“Oh yes,” she smiled, and turned to look at me with eyes so wide that they seemed to say, “I just got a great idea!” The words that accompanied that look were, “That will be the day.” Then Gete closed her eyes with a look of contentment. I really didn’t know how to respond but suspected what was coming.
And it did. The following morning, we received news from the hospital that “Mumsie” had passed. No more discomfort. Neat and tidy with all ends tucked in—and with good hair, to boot. Gete knew how to manage life with style and determination to the end.
Nurturer and order keeper, role model and friend—there are so many stories that make my mom live on but every day, I still miss being able to talk with her. Surprisingly, now, more than 10 years later, I’ll instinctively pick up the phone to call her from time-to-time when there’s big family news or when my old daily check-in time of 3:30 rolls around. And in times when I wonder what to do about something, I ask myself what Gete would do—that woman was gifted with, among so many other things, clarity and decisiveness.
Lael—when “daughter” becomes “mom”
What tells you that you’ve come full circle more than watching your own children become adults and parents?
I can’t think of anything. One day, you’re meeting the bus and driving car pool, and the next you’re watching them pursue a career, settle down, and have children of their own.
I love watching our daughter, Lael, be a mom. She is amazing! She does what all of us moms try our best to do with our kids—love, protect, guide, and comfort them. But Lael has this gentle, patient way about her that I wish I could tell you was the apple not falling far from the tree—unfortunately, it’s not. I would’ve have given my life for any-or-all of our kids, but must’ve been looking the other way when patience and playfulness were given out.
Lael manages day-to-day life with a lightness that I don’t often see. She maintains a great perspective, rolling with the punches and finding humor in what’s going on around her. It’s unusual for her to get ruffled—or at least show any sign that she’s ruffled.
Lael started her career as an athletic trainer. Several years ago, though, she left an orthopedics practice to start her own business and be home with their daughter. She (Lael) is disciplined with both of those priorities, but there is an easy flow to that discipline. For example, three-and-a-half-year-old Sammy will talk about what she wants to do that day, and if it can be done, Lael will make it happen. When, it’s not in the cards, Lael will take the time to explain. There is great communication between them, and sometimes room for suggestions or even negotiation—the unquestionable understanding, though, is that ultimately, Lael is in charge. She is “the mom”—and she conveys that message so nicely! The result is that their relationship is relaxed and fun (most of the time:). Lael thinks of creative “kid” ways to resolve issues—honestly, I wasn’t great at doing that. She’s patient, flexible, and really listens to Sammy while maintaining a role of authority.
It’s funny how your children can teach you parenting skills.
Mike’s mom—–my mother-in-law, LaVerne
LaVerne was the matriarch of Mike’s family—and one of the things that drew me to Mike was how much fun their family had together. She was the mom of five and the grandma to four when I first met her, ultimately becoming a grandma to 10 and great-grandma to two. Family get togethers were full of stories, laughter, and great food. Christmas Eve was an event—and for good reason. Not only was it Christmas Eve, it was Mike’s dad’s birthday and his parents’ anniversary. It was fun for me as an adult, but wow—it was a kid’s dream! Festivity everywhere! The room was full of gifts, there was an enormous Christmas tree, and loads of relatives who were anxious to hear about their grandchildrens’ or nieces’ and nephews’ lives.
“Verne,” as she was known to those close to her, ran a busy household. She also worked full time when her kids got older. Mike and his siblings were involved in sports and other activities, and his dad’s work schedule could be intense. As a result, there were schedules to be managed. Everybody was expected to pitch in when it came to household chores—and, as Mike tells me, if you didn’t do your assigned task (or missed curfew), your workload increased the following week.
High expectations, accountability, devotion to God and family, and fun and festivity—no wonder I was drawn to this group!
When it came to her family and outsiders, though, that fun, loving mom became skeptical and protective. She was a momma bear who needed to be convinced that this 18-year-old girl was worthy of dating her son—and it took a while before I felt accepted by her. I had never really run into this before. I had been a good student and active in student government—hey, did she know I was President of my class? Yeah, maybe, and she didn’t care. Most parents welcomed me with open arms! And that wasn’t the half of it—the family dog hated me!! I have always loved animals and up to that point, they had always loved me back. There was no mistaking the message from Muffin, the sheltie, though—Mike was her guy, and she wasn’t about to share his attention! Muffin’s message to me was loud and clear–“Get lost!”
I could feel the onset of a long road ahead…
Verne’s and my relationship evolved into one of appreciation and friendship over the years—but honestly, it took a while. She stayed with us for a week after Lael was born, helping in any way she could. That help was invaluable. Our relationship had grown stronger, but her visit deepened the foundation, thanks to working side-by-side and having long talks about life and family.
Eventually, I earned a lot of Verne’s trust. We shared many great family times, cooking together, traveling back-and-forth to Connecticut (CT), and up to Maine (ME). My mom helped that relationship. My dad had passed before many of the grandparent events really got rolling, but Mike’s parents and my mom would stay with us fairly frequently—in fact, those trips back-and-forth to CT and to ME often included all the grandparents. We had such fantastic times! The grandparents got along famously. It was a blend of family cultures that were very different in many ways but quite similar in others, and whatever the case, it worked. There were many visits, barbecues, home-style happy hours, and attending kids’ events. So many stories and so much laughter—an atmosphere that I am extremely thankful that our kids got to enjoy.
Mom, Grandma, Mother-in-Law
Ahhh…the best jobs ever. The jobs that never stop. The jobs that have brought me to my knees and revealed who I really am. The jobs that have been the most challenging in that they have incurred the greatest consequences for my actions and decisions. The jobs that I am most thankful for having.
…They are also the jobs that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted, and that I certainly never expected to love like I did. After all, life was good in the busy, intense atmosphere of a fixed-income trading room, complete with shouting and colorful language—who wouldn’t want that person staying home with their three kids?
Umm…absolutely nobody. But you know what they say—”We plan, God laughs.” And thank heavens it works that way.
I expect that there will be many other posts on the ways in which motherhood has been important to me—there’s way too much to say in just one writing—besides, this has become three posts in one—much longer than I ever intended! Suffice it to say, that I never thought I could love as deeply; appreciate and be entertained—and actually inspired—by the unbridled expression of a child’s living “in the now” (As the saying goes, “Dance like no one is watching.” I’ve found that kids don’t care who is watching—in some cases, it’s the more, the merrier!), and learn as much as I did from their unfiltered, untainted logic. Because of motherhood, I grew to appreciate others whose personalities and life styles were entirely different from my somewhat rigid:) personality and standards. By contrast, I have never felt such deep anger as when unthinking, insensitive, immature people betrayed our children’s trust. Seeing your own child in pain or hurt is so much worse than feeling it yourself.
In short, I guess now I’m the momma bear.
As a mother-in-law and evaluator of potential daughters-in-law, I love seeing others really “get” and appreciate our children—and I can really spot when the opposite happens. What a great thing when it’s a fit—our son-in-law, Brian, even thoughtfully brought along a family that was easy for all of us to bond with! Our family gatherings are a blast! Interestingly, when Lael was first getting to know Brian’s family, she would come home and tell us how their house had many of the same decorations that we had at our house. They weren’t one-of-a-kind pieces, but they were pretty distinctive, including a Christmas stitchery that both Jill (Brian’s mom) and I made in the early 80s, a Christmas Advent calendar quilt that Mike’s sister had made for the kids in the 80s, and various country collectibles, many of which we had gotten on family trips to ME. Lael felt right at home there.
Being Grandma is a sweet gig. It’s true what they say—you get to love them and spoil them, and then give them back to their parents when they get tired. You see this new little person evolving, who in many ways reminds you of when your own kids were little, but yet is his/her own individual person. You relive innocence and the freedom of speaking your mind or asking a question with unrestrained honesty. You’re reminded of how truly precious and delicate life is. And you gain a fresh appreciation of the new role that your own children have taken on, whether that is parent, aunt, or uncle—and you wonder… how the heck did they get so old while I haven’t aged a day??
Being a grandma really drives home the concept of the circle of life. It brings yet another perspective, heightened emotions, and infusion of selflessness—as being the best person you can be helps give the best start and support to those who will count on you.
Yes—being Grandma is a sweet gig. But then again, all of these roles have been pretty sweet.
This was a long post—thanks for hanging with me.
Until next time,