Today I celebrate the woman who not only created me physically, but in so many ways shaped the person I would become. She was a child of the 60’s— and those images that produces in your mind right now are not evidenced in a single photo of her from those days. She wasn’t the braless hippie embracing the sexual revolution and protesting Vietnam, she was a turtle-necked knee sock wearing Marsha Brady type, raised “right” in the Boston suburbs with her grandmother in the next bedroom, and the most loving mother and father you could imagine. Her home was the perfect colonial on a quiet little Belmont street. She met the love of her life who was finishing his graduate work at MIT in the chapel of an Episcopal church. They moved to a suburb of Washington DC where they bought a remarkably similar perfect colonial house they weren’t sure they could afford, on a similarly quiet little suburban street. They had four children and lived happily ever after.
That’s what it looked like anyway.
Lesson 1: Break the mold your own way.
From breaking the mold of convention her peers were following and nursing all 4 of her babies though some would tag her a “crazy breastfeeding hippie” to venturing back into the workplace before we were all school-aged, she showed us looks can be deceiving, and there was a lot more fierce determination in this seemingly conventional housewife than first glance might offer.
Lesson 2: Life is full, it's ok to be messy.
Life in our home was not the tidy perfection her mom had created for her. It was a synchronized chaos of children figuring out their own passions and the carpools and hectic scheduling it takes to chase those. There were days that I had 3 different sports practices in a 24 hour period, my siblings were all chasing a similarly challenging schedule. My grandmother had modeled a home without a single thing out of place, my mother showed us living a life we wanted meant that sometimes the house got a little cluttered. She also showed me we can clean it up quick if there’s company on the way… God, we dreaded “company!”
Lesson 3: Women need to be self-sufficient.
She married my father the month she graduated from college. Though she never seemed to question that he was the very right choice for her, she sent me only one message about marriage— that I should wait. That the right match would wait for me. She wanted me to know what it was to stand on my own two feet, to succeed in life and know how to do the many things it took to thrive before I depended on a partnership to get me through. Taking that advice is what helped me confidently get out of a bad marriage, and with much determination not commit again, even when it would have relieved a lot of financial and emotional stress, until I really had met “the one.”
Lesson 4: Marriage is work, and it's worth it.
As importantly, she showed me what it looks like to have a marriage that really works. One that experiences problems and works them out. One which lasts, which experiences highs and lows. One that on the surface seemed to have seasons of the busy work of raising kids and the necessary partnership that requires, and seasons where you are so in love you can’t help but glow when you talk about your spouse. That falling in love with your spouse happens over and over again, and though it is not always sunshine and roses, it is always, always worth it for the right one.
Lesson 5: It's always time to keep building your dream life.
Jackie Thomson has always been so much more than a wife and a mother though. My mother showed us what it looked like to impatiently wait, steadily persisting in chasing a life’s calling. In her 40’s my mother entered seminary for her Master’s in Divinity. Later becoming an ordained priest in the Episcopal church, she defied every voice telling her she was “too old.” When she had an internal as well as many external voices asking her why she wanted to turn to a more challenging path, she confidently and excitedly went back to school. I saw what it looked like to reinvent a professional life at middle age and then to show your community you have an awful lot of magic left to give.
Lesson 6: Let your kids find their own path. Unless absolutely necessary, the only feedback needed is "great job."
In her years of grandmothering she has never had a single critical word about my parenting. There are things I do which I am sure she would not have chosen, and in full Jackie form she allows me to do it my way. To find my own path and experience my own failures, which means I get to claim my own successes as well— in parenting, in my professional life, and in my relationships. This has been true with all big decisions. She listens, she reflects back what I've told her, and simply states "I'm sure you're going to make a great choice."
Lesson 7: No matter what, always be there when the pieces need to be picked up.
...When those failures come, or when life hands me the next curve ball, it is my mother who is always on the phone— never trying to fix it, always being present and listening.
Lesson 8: Even your trickiest teen will turn out just the way they are supposed to given the room to spread her wings.
I gave her many moments of angst, frustration and likely full-blown anger. My stubborn convictions began at a young age, my yearning to see the world and seek adventure have been an unceasing thirst. While I am certain she has many gray hairs as a result of my upbringing (some still arriving today), I am the woman she raised me to be— a truth-telling, adventuring writer, a feminist, a free-range mom who gets up every day trying to ensure she is answering her life’s highest calling.
Yesterday was her 70th birthday. Seven decades and she keeps getting better. Happy birthday Mom, thank you for being so steadily the person you are— and for gifting me so many of the models I needed to become who I am.