Mother’s Day has generally always been a tough holiday for me. All around me I see and hear the sounds of mothers and children having fun-filled celebrations. The children fuss all over their moms, and the mothers dote on their children. *Sigh* Only on a Hallmark Card, or at the very least….someone else’s house, not mine.
My mom and I were never close at all. We never really shared deep talks or “girly experiences.” She wasn’t the sort of person I could call up and say, “Let’s go out for lunch.” It seemed like we had a shallow life together, and I never really felt like we were anything alike. For most of my life, I tried to distance myself from her. Visits were something I just “got through,” and I was always glad when I could say, “Gee….look at the time,” and make a graceful exit.
Growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I was one of the few kids that I knew who had a mother who worked outside of her home. My grandmother lived with us, so there was no reason for my mother to stay home and care for us kids. Grandmother could do that. So my mom worked. She taught school. She taught physical education for many years, and then she switched to a classroom once her district deleted physical education from their elementary school staff. While I was elementary school, however, my mom was the PE teacher….MY PE teacher. UGH!
I got teased a lot because my mom was a teacher, and of course, because my mom was a teacher, the other teachers always threatened to rat me out to my mom if I ever misbehaved. I was held to a higher standard in all of my classes because my mom was a teacher, and it was well established that I would be going to college. In those days, many….if not most of my female classmates married soon after high school, and settled into being wives and mothers. My mom wasn’t going to have any part of that life for me! She had my life all planned out in her own mind, and if only I would just cooperate and do everything she wanted me to do! Even after all of these years, the thought of that makes me throw up a little in my mouth.
When grown ups asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I usually answered a teacher or a nurse, because those were typical, traditonally accepted female roles in the 1960’s and 1970’s. My mother would always say to me, “You can be a doctor or a lawyer too….don’t you ever forget that.” While it’s a wonderful thing to help a child dream bigger, my mom seemed unable to let me have freedom to choose my own life. She made it clear that she was pleased when I followed her “accepted” path for my life, and boy did I hear it when she didn’t like what I was doing. Hence the distance between us. In my young adult life, I think I tried to deliberately live a life that was my own…much like any other adolescent.
I didn’t have that mom who made Kool-aid and cookies, and cheerfully brought a pitcher out on a tray wearing pearls and high heels when she wanted to give me a snack. We didn’t have Kool-aid, because Kool-aid was loaded with sugar and it would rot out my teeth. We had milk, and graham crackers, because those choices were nutritious, and we had to go get our own. Mom didn’t prepare them for us. I only got Kool-aid when I went to someone else’s house! If it wasn’t something either nutritious or educational, you wouldn’t find it at my house!
Our field trips were places like the airport watching planes land and take off, and dreaming about where they were going and what the passengers would do at the other end of their flight. Some of my most favorite outings were going to the park and feeding the ducks day old bread. I really loved to feed the ducks. All summer long, the University of Illinois would run nature films, which were probably fifty cents to watch, so we got to invite the neighbor kids and off we went to see nature films.
And generally, every summer, we hand raised at least one baby bird. We had cats, and they often caught babies who were just fledging their nests and really struggling to fly. I loved raising baby birds. My mom did very well with Robins, but seed eaters often didn’t make it, because we just weren’t sure what to feed them, and they were also so much smaller and more fragile than Robins. When birds of any kind were injured, we often tried to help them heal when we rescued them.
Everyone in our small town knew that our family was “the animal family.” We took in the rejected, injured, sick pets and animals, and nursed them back to health. Sometimes we found other suitable homes for them, but sometimes we kept them too, if there was no other safe choice for the animal. We were the only family I knew that had rescued an injured pigeon who lived in a dog crate in our family room. We named him “Freebee” because someone had given him to us, and he couldn’t be released to the wild because his injured wing made it impossible for him to ever fly again. At one time, we had two dogs, five cats, a rabbit, a pigeon, a raccoon, a hamster and a gerbil. Granted, our house was huge, and most of those pets lived in and out of the house, but I was always tripping over some animal as a kid growing up, and I honestly really loved that.
One of the things I enjoyed doing almost every day when I was really little, was going into town with my mom to pick up my dad from work. He often got a last minute phone call or a meeting that ran late, so we generally found ourselves waiting for him for a few minutes. And while we waited, my mom would make up wonderful stories about Lassie. She always came up with an amazing story of a last minute rescue of a kitten, or that Lassie had saved a family of raccoons from drowning, or found veterinary help for a fox with a broken leg. Mom’s stories were always imaginative, and always had happy endings, just like the real Lassie television show that I saw every week.
I did grow up and go to college, majoring in pre-law, and attaining a Bachelor of Science degree. But I couldn’t hack the thought of three more years of college, so I never went to law school, much to my mother’s disappointment. She had always wanted to have at least one of us become an attorney, and since I was the youngest, it was up to me! Instead, I became an insurance underwriter, and I showed Pembroke Welsh Corgis on the weekends.
As I’ve aged, I have become much more forgiving of my mom, and while I still don’t like many of my experiences with her, at least now I feel like I can understand who she was and why she did many of the things that were so hard for me. People can’t give what they don’t have, and I finally understand that. In my own way, I wanted to put my mom in a box that she didn’t want to be in, much as she had done for me. The boxes wore different labels, but they were boxes all the same, and walls of any kind tend to keep people separated.
One thing in life led to another, and I’m now a full time professional dog trainer. My mom died before I settled into this career, but I know that she would have been thrilled to pieces to see me owning my own business and keeping dogs out of shelters, and helping families have wonderful dog experiences like we had with our dog Lady when I was growing up.
She never knew Rugby James, or heard any stories about him. She would have loved his charming looks, of course…and the fact that he’s very “Collie-ish” in behavior and appearance. She would have been so impressed with how smart he is and how many tricks he knows, and how quickly he can work puzzles. She would have enjoyed the fact that he’s a snuggler and would have sat with him and loved stroking his soft speckled fur.
But I think what she would have loved the most, is that he was a little dog without a chance of making it in the world, and I gave him that chance. I rescued him, and my mom was big on rescuing animals who had nowhere else to go. My mom had a tender heart for anyone, human or animal, who was a little down on their luck and needed a boost to survive in the world.
For so many years, I didn’t want to be anything like my mom, and I tried so hard to throw off anything that made me think of her. She wasn’t that “warm fuzzy” mom that we all think of when we think of Mother’s Day. Emotionally, she always seemed a little detached and distant to me. But she introduced me to a world that included a deep love and compassion for all animals….dogs in particular.
So many times growing up, I remember thinking that my mom was never the mom that I would have chosen for myself. We just don’t get to choose our moms in life. And when Rugby first came to live with me, I remember thinking so clearly that he just was not the dog that I would have chosen for myself, had I known who he really was.
However, when I think of the big picture of my life, I can see ways that God used my tough, distant, demanding mom to help me make it in a harsh world that doesn’t offer many breaks to us along the way. For the path that I would have to walk in my life, I needed a mom who taught me to be tougher than my circumstances, and to be an “I can take it girl” when I got hurt or wanted to give up.
In the same sort of way, God has used my broken, wacky little dog to help me heal the hurt, emotional places in my heart that were shattered by others along the way through life. When I was looking for Rugby, all I had wanted was a little rescue dog. I wanted to give a sweet little dog a terrific life and a big world full of fun experiences. Instead, I got a broken, emotional dog who really doesn’t want a big world full of adventures. He wants a small, predictable world to help him feel safe from that big world outside our front door. Life with him has been a tightrope of helping shape his wacky behavior, and giving him the freedom to be who he is and who he wants to be as well as accepting that he is giving me all that he has to give, and letting that be enough for me. He’s no disappointment at all, and I love him to the moon and back.
So I guess at the end of the day, God doesn’t always give us what we want, but He does give us what we need, and that’s what I’m celebrating today. I had the mom that I needed, and my success and who I am is largely due to the millions of small things that she said and did for me throughout my lifetime. She showed me how to break the molds that others wanted for my career path, and how to be tougher than I ever thought I could be. She gave me experiences that she never got when she was a girl growing up. She always wanted the best for me, and she always wanted more for me. She taught me to push myself forward, and never to settle for complacency. But more than anything else, what I think I love most, is that I’m so glad that I have her heart of love for animals and especially for dogs….