Mother’s Day

On Wednesday we celebrated Mexican Mother’s Day by taking flowers to the grave of my mother in law and cards and balloons to a couple of mother figures in our lives. It had been waaay to long since we had reached out to these wonderful ladies. We had allowed the everyday routine to get in the way of maintaining our connection. These two ladies provide a strong connection with my husband’s mother, they were both dear friends his whole growing up. Since she died, we have allowed ourselves to drift away from the incredibly tight knit and supportive community that he had been part of his whole life. And do you know what is even more shameful? Both of these ladies live within two blocks of our house. Yep, now that it’s our turn to be there for folks who have been there for our family for years, somehow the busyness of the everyday gets in the way. I am resolving to do better, to reach out to folks that mean something to my family much more often, to be a better friend.

So, now that today is American Mother’s Day, I have been thinking about my mother and how, even though I see her nearly every day, we are both so busy that we rarely connect in any kind of real way. Now often we are both busy with the small person who has become the center of our entire family’s universe and much of the time my mom is pursuing her passion for music.

For me, there is always more to do than can possibly be accomplished in any given day. Often, more often than I care to admit, those chores are allowed to take my attention from the people I really do want to spend quality time with. Or, I am so exhausted by all the day’s work that I don’t have the energy to make a meaningful connection when I do have the time. Then I end up with a backlog of chores that need to be done and neglected relationships.  So, enough self-flagellation.

My Mom

Today I am going to remember a few of the people who have been a mother figure in my life, those who have loved me warts and all.   First, of course, is my mom.  She projects a gentleness that is supported by a will of iron.  When she thinks something is important, she is relentless.  She often sacrifices the things that she does for herself so that she can be sure others are taken care of.  My mother will also neglect such minor necessities like sleep to try to do it all.  She is loving, even when taking one to task and does things for all of us in the family as well as thoughtful things for friends.  If you need something, and she can do something about it, she will, often regardless of considerable inconvenience.

I learned from my mom to show up.  She was at everything I ever did growing up.  It never even occurred to me that my parents would not show up to cheer me on, even when I was doing things that they would not have chosen for me, such as my many experiments in religion.  She also shows up for important events in the family and for friends, as naturally as if it takes no effort at all.

My Mother In Law

We moved into my in-law’s home very soon after we were married to take care of my father in law who was very ill.  Mi suegra welcomed me and made me feel truly welcome in her home.  In a small, suddenly crowded home, she made major efforts to let me claim my own space.  She helped me learn Spanish and taught me many of her best dishes.  I learned some of what made her a phenomenal cook.  That was one of her amazing talents, she could taste a dish, then go home and recreate it, often better than the original.  I learned recipes, techniques, and a dedication to doing it right rather than taking shortcuts.  She almost never took shortcuts with food.  Everything came from the same basic ingredients, but she could make each dish sing.

Mi suegra loved her family with a fierce quality, she would go to bat for you if she sensed an injustice and would not back down.  She raised a large family, often never sure of their next meal, and every one of her surviving children went to college.  She was determined that they would have a better life and, by golly, she made sure they did it, sometimes despite themselves.

In the time that I knew her she was the community grandmother, “la abuelita.”  She was as interested in the lives of the second, third, and fourth generation of kids in town as in her own family.  She fostered that community that I talked about at the top and held it together by constantly calling and checking in with everyone in her epic Rolodex in addition to little gifts of food.

Other Mother Figures in My Life

I am also thinking about my Great Aunt Franny who was a professional singer, teacher, and became my confidant during my very difficult twentieth year.  She also opened her home to me when I needed it.  She shared with me some of her struggles to figure herself out, and a deep early trauma.  I am forever grateful for her opening herself up to me, a callow youth, so that I could perhaps understand her perspective on life.  I learned to attempt to see the long view, and that fear can be a very powerful anchor, but if you embrace it, you can build a life that you love.  She loved the life that she eventually built for herself, but it took years and courage.  She also taught me some of her cooking secrets, and how to be bold in design.

There are more that come to mind, each special in her own way, each that have influenced me and the woman I have become.  Here is a long overdue appreciation.  Thank you.  I hope to be as good a mother and as interesting a person as those who have mothered me and am working on it every day.

All the other MULTICULTURAL mamas out there

Thank you for all that you do, often with no recognition.  Thank you for making cultural richness in the lives of your children a priority.  Thank you for making sure both traditions are honored.  Thank you for being you and sharing this journey of multicultural motherhood with me.

Please share your stories of those who mothered you, whether that person was related to you or not.  What did you learn about the world and about being a strong person from the mother figures in your life?

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Thoughts about Religion as a Multicultural Mama

What is God?  What is life?  Why are we here, on this planet, at this time?  What does it mean to be human?  Is there accountability in this life or the next?  How do I connect with the divine?  What is religion and will it help me do so?  These are a few of the questions I have thought about over the years.  I have always felt a spiritual connection to the universe and for much of my life have grappled with the age old questions that inspired religions.  Now I have a curious child who is beginning to ask the big questions and I am trying to figure out how best to teach him.

Religion In Parenting
How do I teach my child about the divine when I am uncomfortable with our religious options?
My Religion Story

I was raised in a secular household that focused on the complexity of big questions rather than any specific answer.  It was full of love, support and exploration, and I would not change my childhood for any other.  I had a wonderful childhood.  My parents’ religious upbringing were Catholic, Presbyterian, and Mormon.  My extended family on both sides were deeply religious, good people, but I often didn’t know how to talk to them, as there was a part of their life that made no sense to me.

At some point around 5th or 6th grade, I realized that I just knew that there did indeed exist a divine force.  I began searching for answers in the various religions and spiritual traditions that I had available to me.  At the time I happened to live on a street with at least ten different churches.  I began attending services at the various options to see what fit.  My clearest memories are of the Catholic Church, the ritual satisfied some part of what I was looking for and I went back many times.  I never reached out for more instruction; at that time it was enough for me to be there.

My parents were incredibly supportive through all this experimentation on my part.  In junior high I started attending an evangelical big box church because a friend had invited me.  I didn’t get much spiritually from the experience even though most of the people were very earnest.  Unfortunately they were trying to teach us a very prescribed version of the truth with no subtlety or room for hard questions.  That just didn’t work for me and I couldn’t respect the idea that there was only one right answer and that this church, or any church, had the One True Way.  I felt like I was being told not to think.

At that church I experienced for the first time the hypocrisy and theatre that can be involved in religion.  I looked up once when we were all supposed to have our heads bowed in prayer while the pastor asked for people to raise their hands if they had opened their hearts to Jesus that day.  He acknowledged several, and yet no one in the congregation had a raised hand.  I completely stopped taking it seriously after that, but I had a lot of fun socially, really enjoyed the pageantry and singing for the holiday programs, and learned to ski.

Throughout high school and college I continued to try to find a religious community that supported intellectual thought in addition to the social support and spiritual experiences.  I tried Baha’i, nearly every stripe of Christianity, Buddhism, and got seriously into Wicca for several years.  I read books, oh so many books.  I joined online forums and real life communities.

Some churches that were accepting of differences had no real direction, and others that seemed to have clear ideas were often so intolerant as to be intolerable.  Wicca helped me find that connection to the divine for a long time, but it seemed that most people were there because they had had horrible experiences with the more traditional churches and were essentially on the rebound.  I wanted a community of people moving toward something rather than away.

My last year or so of University I joined a Catholic RCIA program on campus and experienced for the first time an environment that inspired deeply intellectual and passionate discussions about religion and spirituality.  My RCIA instructor was writing a book on ethics for engineers and we would talk for hours about the whys behind the catechism, the nature of good and evil, God and the church.  I was hooked, then later baptized and confirmed into the Catholic church and haven’t really regretted it in the intervening years.

After moving to a much more conservative area after college I lost the intellectualism and philosophical stimulation.  I have not had anyone to really talk with about religion since.  There were bible study groups, but they were only interested in getting the ‘right’ answer.  No one wanted to think about it much and resented my attempts.  I still consider myself Catholic, but am not active as I once was.

My husband is a cradle Catholic who has been disillusioned by local church politics and we eventually had a son.  Now my son is of an age to ask questions about God and where people go when they die and I am struggling to answer him.

I still hold onto the conviction that grew inside me when I was a girl that there is a force, another dimension, God, gods, an Over Soul, something bigger and connected to the universe that we humans can tap into sometimes.  The Jesus story was a key part of my original conversion, but most of the time does not resonate with me much.  Is there really a Heaven, a Hell, Purgatory, reincarnation, etc.?  I don’t know and frankly don’t find that question very compelling anymore.  I am much more interested in how to make a real connection with the divine from here on Earth, in this life.  These days I get most of that connection through the rituals of yoga, although the Mass does still speak to me.

Religion and Parenting

My son is asking questions that I don’t know how to answer about religion.  Part of me wants him to find his own answers, as I did.  Another part of me wants to share with him the sense of connection that I have found in religion.  The ritual of the Mass takes me to that space, and yet, some of the values taught in church are not what I want him to learn.

This is my real struggle and I have answered his questions as best I could, though I find myself saying a whole lot of “I don’t know, what do you think?”  The problem with that is that he does not have the tools to make informed, thought out, deep, decisions.  How is it possible to give him those tools without pushing an answer on him?  If I take him to church it is like I telling him that this is what he should believe.  If I do not, am I not doing the same thing in the other direction?

I would like to invite a respectful conversation.  I am hoping to find interesting people with differing views who can have a really deep conversation without judgment or rancor.  Especially these days with so much division in the world.  This is my story, what are your thoughts?