I remember the day. Despite being only three or four years old (it was about the same time in my life that I was having regular play dates with the imaginary “Ding Dong” colony that “lived” with us), I distinctly remember telling my mother that I chose her and Dad. I was mad at the time, and I was clearly second-guessing my choice. “I don’t know WHY I chose YOU!” I cried as I stomped my feet and tantrummed off to my room.
The thing is that, just like the Ding Dongs, I actually remember remembering. I don’t remember talking with one of my imaginary friends, but I remember trying hard to show my dad what they looked like. I remember drawing a picture. I can practically smell the Manila paper and feel the chunky Crayolas as I recall that afternoon. I was attempting to draw my favorite of the “Ding Dongs” … I was so frustrated, because no matter how hard I tried, whatever I drew didn’t look anything like the image in my mind. I remember remembering. And, while I still can’t draw a picture of the ding dongs, I do remember how colorful they were and how it felt being around them.
My “parent shopping” recollection is similar. It wasn’t really shopping, like at a grocery store; my second-hand memory involves something akin to looking at profiles, much like we did when we chose the girls we hosted from AFS. And I remember talking it over with someone … more like a group of people … who acted like placement counselors, teachers or mentors. To my three or four year old self, it wasn’t that my parents chose me, so much, as I chose them. I chose them, not because of DNA, not because we’d be living on Long Island or in the USA, but because of their character, because of the love and opportunity they’d give me, because of what I’d likely learn from them and how I’d be shaped by them.
Now a half-century later, I still remember, and I’m no longer second-guessing my choice. My parents made me who I am today.
The pile of books my mother brought home from our weekly trip to the public library were always stacked high next to the recliner in the living room. Mom checked out as many as she was allowed. She read avidly and most of the books were non-fiction. She was always learning something, or studying something. My love of learning and intellectual curiosity definitely comes from my mother.
Mom expected a lot from me. Sometimes I wish she hadn’t, but she held herself to the same standard. She entered college as an adult with three young children, and she would never settle for mediocrity. She was on the deans list; she got all A’s. Some would call it perfectionism; nevertheless, she shaped the part of me that is continually striving for excellence in my work and relationships.
Dad would play as hard as he worked. He not only passed along the value of working hard and being wholly committed to the tasks and people in our lives, but he was just as committed to fun and play. Whether it was pretending to be puppy dogs running around the house, building a house with refrigerator boxes and cartons from the mill, playing marathon games of Monopoly, or taking daylong bike hikes through the woods and over streams to get an ice cream cone, Dad taught me the value and appropriateness of play and leisure in our lives. Even now, I look forward to playing a round of Draw Something with Dad before I fall asleep each night.
Mom’s fun comes in the form of travel. We didn’t get many vacations when I was young, but we did visit museums and take factory tours, stop at state parks and get away to visit relatives in far off places every chance we got. As a tween and teen, it was trips to Florida or Boston or Canada that we all looked forward to, and Mom would be the one to research where to go and how to get the most out of our trips. After we kids were grown, Mom and Dad started doing more international travel … and we had a few shared vacations: running into each other in front of Buckingham Palace and a cruises to Mexico and the Caribbean that fill us with memories. More than just a love of travel, though, Mom shaped in me an appreciation of culture, places, and people who were different from us.
This appreciation of those who are different is the core of liberal-mindedness I share with my mother. While some kids are raised to preserve the way things are, my mother shared a vision of a better way – a peaceful and more just world, a love and compassion for those living with poverty or disease or disability. With Mom, I could always ask my questions, critique the way things are, and work toward a peaceful and holistic future in which all things are good. Mom gave me a glimpse of heaven, an idealism that I am loath to lose, and a conviction that “with God all things work together for good.”
While Mom’s gifts are the big picture ideals, Dad encouraged a life of day-to-day service. As a volunteer fireman and EMT, Dad fashioned a pride in me for working through the messy and difficult things of life and for offering up your own safety and security for the well being of others. There is nothing we cannot face together; we are duty bound to be active in the civic life of our community; we take risks for what is right and good. These are the qualities and values I gained from my father. And, yes, even now as we face very difficult times together, our mutual strength and willingness to face the messy parts of life, give us comfort and support.
It wasn’t spoken often, but it was clear, too, that the comfort and support we enjoy while working for good, is clearly a gift of God. My parents are both people of faith. I have watched them grow over the years in their love and commitment to a life and hope far beyond the here and now. Sitting next to my Dad during worship at St. John’s as a child, I remember hearing the passion in his singing, the love of Christ in his prayers, and solidness in his faith. Even when his belief was challenged and the doctrines of religion were shifting for him, his underlying conviction and love of a God who is both here and beyond, who loves and is good, who forgives and builds up … these are his foundation … and they are mine as well.
From Mom I also received the ability to think theologically, to critique the doctrines of our faith community, to question and to search. And because of my mom, I will always be searching … in a good way … because whenever we search we are led to new and deeper and richer understandings of Truth, of Spirit, of Love, of the World, and of each other.
I clearly remember that day I screamed in frustration about choosing my parents. I won’t even begin to speculate how real my memory is. The memory is good, though. It allows me to approach each day with a foundation of intentionality that is life-giving. Yes, I undoubtedly remember second-guessing my choice, but that was nearly fifty years ago … now there are no doubts. I am sure I would choose them all over again. They have made me who I am. They have made the world a better place. A good choice.