My parents are the best. They’ve always been incredibly supportive and loving. My parents taught me compassion, patience, open-mindedness, and the indescribable value of learning. I have never felt as though my parents favored one child over the other, or thought any of us were “smarter” or “better” than any of the others. Even things that other people might have called flaws, my parents would put in terms that seemed to indicate they were proud of these traits.
My dad likes to say I’ve always, “marched to the beat of a different drum.” He usually accompanies this statement with a story about how, when I was about 5 years old, I walked into the living room to see my eldest brother had his feet on the table. I put my hands on my hips and said very firmly, “D—- G——-, you get your feet off the table right now!” And he did. Dad’s point with this story is that he feels I’ve always been outspoken, stubborn, and more than willing to speak up when I feel someone is wrong.
This is funny to me, yet at the same time very gratifying. See, I tend to think of myself as a passive, quiet person who doesn’t stand up for myself. My dad apparently sees me as a strong, principled person who is not afraid to say what she thinks and ask questions. In fact, when we talk about my childhood, nearly all his stories about me seem to be some variant of me asking questions, giving orders, or arguing my way out of a punishment. And one of the most amazing things to me is the utter pride in his voice. My dad loves me, and is proud of the person I am.
I know this for a fact, because dad told me so. Last year, during one of our many conversations (we talk, on average, once or twice a week), my dad said, “Laura, I just want to tell you, I’m really proud of you. You’ve come really far. You’ve faced some really difficult things in your life, and you haven’t given up. You keep asking questions, and you keep working hard. You’ve worked hard on your relationship, you’ve worked hard on being a great mom, and you’ve worked hard on figuring out your house situation. And while doing all that, you earned your degree. You stand up for your beliefs, you stand up for the people you love, and you don’t give up. You’re a great mom, a great wife, and a great daughter. I’m really proud of the person you’ve become.”
The very best thing about dad saying that is that he knows I’m an atheist, and it doesn’t figure negatively into who I am, to him. To him, I’m his daughter and I’m awesome, and he’s proud of me. I love my dad so much, and I’m so glad I was lucky enough to be born into his household.
My mom was awesome, too. Unfortunately, as those who know me are aware, mom passed away in 2003. But the lottery of life was kind enough to not only give me a fantastic dad and awesome siblings, I also won the parental lotto in my mom. Mom was . . . well, she was incredible. She struggled with bipolar most of my life (diagnosed when I was about 3 or 4), and it wasn’t easy for her. In addition to managing bipolar, she raised 5 kids, was a stay-at-home mom, had a full meal on the table every night, instilled a love of reading, history, and ongoing education into me, home-schooled me through the last part of high school, sewed our Halloween costumes and prom dresses and pioneer outfits and innumerable other bits and bobs, taught me to bake, and was always, always supportive of my hopes and dreams. Through all this, she was also highly active in church and the community. Mom helped my brothers achieve their Eagle Scout awards and worked with me to get my Young Woman’s Award. She went with me to antique shops to collect the old-style dolls I liked, she comforted me when I was lonely, she supported my writing, and in general she was the kind of perfect mom you used to see in movies and sitcoms. She set the bar really high on what it means to be a mother, and sometimes I find myself wrestling with guilt because I don’t plan themed birthday parties or sew my son’s Halloween costumes.
Then I remember that as much as I loved the themed birthday parties and stuff, what really made my mom a great mom was how supportive and loving she was. I mean, even when I was doing all this awful stuff as a teenager — kicking teachers, smoking pot, getting arrested, getting caught smoking cigarettes — I knew my parents still loved me. Sure, they punished me and lectured me and guilt tripped me. Sure, I got the tough-lough and I got the love-and-logic treatment, and I got just straight up guilt trips. But when I look back on what a horrible teenager I was, the thing that sticks out the absolute most to me is how much my parents loved me. How much they wanted me to be happy and successful, and how even when they disagreed with every action I was doing, they still believed that I was an essentially good person, and that I would eventually find my way. They believed in me, and they supported me, and I cannot express how important that foundation was.
When I was 20, I had been inactive from the LDS church for nearly two years. I’d spent that time dating an abusive jerkwad who my parents (justifiably) disliked, drinking, and smoking cigarettes. In February 2000, I returned to the LDS church. I wanted to break up with my boyfriend, but didn’t know how to end it. I came up with an idea — I thought if I went to school in another state, it would end the make-up/ break-up cycle. Unfortunately, I’d reaped the rewards of screwing off in high school — a 2.6 GPA that wouldn’t get my into the colleges I wanted.
So I decided to apply for 3rd summer term at both BYU and Ricks (now BYU Idaho). I needed a letter of recommendation from my bishop — basically an ecclesiastical endorsement — to even have a chance. The programs were, apparently, highly competitive, and being a “good” mormon vastly improved your chances. My bishop said I probably wouldn’t give in, given that I was (at the time I applied) repenting of sexual sins and given that I had been inactive for the 2 years previous. Even mom said that my chances were slim — but she also said that I would never know unless I tried, and the worst that could happen would be that they said no. She helped me fill out the paperwork and gave me advice on what to say for my interview with the bishop and when I was accepted, she helped me pack and find a place to stay.
My mom could have said there was no chance for me to get in. She could have pointed out that with my inactive past and low GPA, I shouldn’t even bother trying because failure was pre-determined. Privately, she may have thought that. But she didn’t say it. She supported me, and if I hadn’t gotten in, she would have comforted me. That’s just the way my parents are, they way they have always been. The way parents should be.
My parents aren’t perfect. They’re people, and people aren’t perfect. My parents have (and had) their flaws, and I’ve never pretended otherwise. Somehow, though, it makes all the happy memories and love they’ve given me that much sweeter. It’s encouraging, too, knowing that my parents aren’t perfect and have made mistakes, yet they did an overall fantastic job as parents. It really drives home the point to me that I can be a flawed human being, I can make mistakes — and I can still be an incredible wife and mother.September 2010 entry here.