my own mother said to me as we sipped peppermint tea under the twinkling lights of her Christmas tree one year. I pressed my teacup to my lips and gulped a breath of steam, hoping to feign naivete.
“It just doesn’t come naturally to you,” she continued, pulling a long strand of plum colored yarn from her crochet basket as she looped it to her hook. ”You have so many other talents that you just can’t have all of them.”
I made a mental note of her compliment and gazed out the picture window, catching the reflection of my baby girl on her crocheted blanket, sitting confident at my feet.
She was right, I decided. Mothering doesn’t come naturally for me. At least mothering the way she mothered doesn’t come naturally.
I finished my tea and thought of my mother, fashioning my hair with perfect curls and ribbons, adorning me with beautiful hand-sewn clothing, and teaching me how to walk, communicate, and behave like a proper and refined little girl. She served dinner every night at 6pm on the orange formica countertop with limited discussion, and expected me to do my chores, brush my teeth, and go to bed.
When I was seven, we adopted six babies in close succession, and even that didn’t disturb her ability for order. Each night, we’d launder and fold a stack of cloth diapers, feed , bathe, and brush the teeth of each baby after dinner, and put a pair of fresh pair of pajamas on them before bed. No nonsense, no play, just a tick tock schedule of work and routine until Dad came home at 10:30pm from work.
I loved being my mother’s helper into the late hours of the night. Our work together felt significant and important, and as a result, so did I. Pleasing my mother became my deepest desire, and I wanted nothing more than to be just like her when I grew up and to never disappoint her.
“You need to give yourself a little credit for your mothering,” she broke into my reverie. “I’m sure God is proud of you for trying so hard.”
“Thanks, Mom, but the word try is not in my vocabulary. Trying is a half-hearted declaration for wimps. I choose to do my best, and that’s what I do.”
“Yes dear, and you’re good to teach that to your girls,” she said with finality, completing one last popcorn stitch before retiring to her room.
I sat on her sofa, nestled in her mountain home against the majestic Colorado Rockies, and implored the Old Douglas Fir in her backyard for wisdom.
“Your mother excelled in the traditional, outward, and physical aspects of mothering,” Mr. Douglas confided after a long pause. ”Perfectly pressed pinafores and curls, master of meat and potatoes, dusting and bedtime routines. Just not your forte.”
I rolled my eyes and smiled.
“No, ringlets and routines may not come naturally, but something else does,” he continued.
“Yeah, what’s that?” I asked.
“The inward gifts of nurturing the mind, the heart, and the spirit of your daughters. Your gifts are equally as valuable, just different.”
We sat in the quiet together, Mr. Douglas in the dense of the forest, and I next to a single evergreen. I scooped my sleeping baby into my arms and pressed her cheek to mine.
Mr. Douglas died that very year at the age of 820 years old. His obituary read, “not impressive in size or beauty, this atypical tree grew in poor sandy soil among the rocks.”
I honor that old Douglas Fir for his determination to grow, to thrive, and to inspire despite his obvious flaws. I honor my mother for reminding me in her own way, to celebrate my own unique style of mothering. And I honor my children for loving me even if they find themselves with mismatched socks because we were too engrossed instead in a discussion on world politics and earthworms to notice.