The Legacy of Ms. M…what I learned and what I want for my kids

It pains me to admit this but for many years I was ashamed of my family. Oh, I know I am not the only one but looking back I wasted a lot of years and time wishing my folks were anyone other than the people they were and are. I am thankful though that this realization at least came while my mother was still alive, I can only imagine how much more painful this would be if my aha moment had occurred after my mom’s untimely death.
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My folks were not successful by the standards of this world, nope not at all. My mom came from a pretty solid upper middle class upbringing and had what some would say was the sad misfortune of falling in love with my Pops at 17, my Pops being the son of sharecroppers, he was one of 16 kids and as you can imagine his folks were not upper anything.
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When my Mom ended up pregnant with me at 18, her folks were so horrified that despite this being the early 70’s they actually did not want her to marry my Dad, I mean what did he have to offer her? Not much other than a love that lasted 30+ years, some wild times, ups and down, you get the picture. Hell, when I was born, not only was I born at the free hospital in Chicago, formerly known as Cook County (now the John Stroger Hospital) but their first apartment as a family was a room on the West side of Chicago. If you know anything about Chicago, you know the west side ain’t the best side. Stories I heard over the years was that this first apartment wasn’t even as big as my mom’s former bedroom that she had left behind at her parents’ house.
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Pretty much no one expected this marriage to last, I mean they were young, dumb, uneducated…but they had love. In addition to love they had hope, compassion and a sense of adventure. They also were dreamers, total fucking dreamers. My mom never did get an education beyond high school but she had the gift of gab and the ability to meet people where they were, anyone who ever met her was taken in by her charm. Sure she did some silly shit like the time in Vegas she forgot when she was departing and had me taking her to the airport a day early…good times.
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My Dad taught my brother and me how to dream and was always confident that we would go further in life than he and my mother. My brother at 13 declared his intention to become an architect and a teacher told him that was not possible, my Dad tore that teacher a new asshole. My brother has an undergraduate degree in Architecture and has studied in Germany, Toronto and other places and is currently working on his second master’s degree.
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Sure they taught us how to dream and were confident that we might do a little better than they did but my Mom always made it clear that while that type of stuff was important, it was not the most important thing. The most important thing was how you treat people, coming from a more moneyed background, my mom had no issue embracing the poverty we dealt with at times because she knew firsthand that education and money could buy a lot but it didn’t buy the shit that really matters like happiness.
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The older I get and as my own kids grow up, I realize she was right. As a parent we want the best for our kids and while a good education and worldly success is nice but it means nothing if you have no idea how to treat others and connect with them or if you look down on them. My son who was fortunate enough to get to know my mother understands that well and I saw it in action as he volunteered for me this summer. He got to know the kids I serve through my agency and their families, where my staff failed to connect with parents, my son got them to open up. A tall gangly introspective college kid shooting the shit with dads who struggle with substance issues and felonies…I recently reflected on that and realized what a gift it is to be able to connect with any and all people. I see it even in my little one who recently stood for another child who was being bullied. The kid in question is a family friend who is developmentally delayed and older kids were picking on her and my girl told the older kids don’t pick on M and then went and got an adult.
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I want my kids to make good choices and have even more than what I have in life but more than that, I want them to be good people. I want them to be lights in the world because it’s the right and just thing to aspire to. Ultimately our time on this rock we call Earth is limited and in the end all our degrees, professional and financially success while nice is fleeting…I mean really when was the last time you saw a U-Haul truck behind a hearse headed to the cemetery? We can’t take things and money with us and when we are gone most of it matters not…what does matter is how we treated others. Did we meet them with compassion or judgment? Did we use harsh words?
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In the end, my mother left this rock with not even two nickels to rub together but her legacy was larger than money and for that I say thank you!

2 Comments
  1. November 14, 2011
  2. November 15, 2011

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