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CONTENTS

Introduction

Evolution

Do What You Have to Do

Grabbing the Baton

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Visitor at the Table

The Power of Parenthood

Call Your Mother

Fighting for Motherland

My Mother’s Gifts

Monster Juice

Tell the Children

The Comfort in Rituals

The Simple Joys of Life

The Buddha Bean

The Bond Between Mother and Child

On the Same Page

The Real Measure of a Life Well Lived

The Courage of One Woman

The Juice Box Mom

The Wisdom of Children

The Gravity of Love

A Bountiful Harvest

It Takes a Mother’s Love

A Matter of One’s Perspective

Putting Myself First

Listen to Your Mother-in-Law

A Mother’s Love

I Can Make Time

Our Children

Being Yourself

We Are Optimists

Hope Dished Out in Plenty

Saviors

Raising Kane

Mom’s Everyday Advice

Mother and Me

Considering Adoption

The Eternal Sunshine

Don’t Tell Me How Rocky the Sea Is—Just Bring in the Ship

Simple Saturdays

Memories of Lessons Learned

A Parent at Home

Expect to Have Enough

The Transformative Power of Letting Go

My Mother Is Beautiful

The Gift

My Mother’s Eggplant

Dancing to the Music

The Flaw-Free Body

Some Things to Know About Your Mother

A Sacred Gift

Motherhood Is Real

Miracle from Within

The Essential Gift of Childhood

Heaven Is Now

Words Can Heal the Heart of a Mother

The Second-Hardest Job

Bessie Mae: Nobody Famous

Pieces of Me

Am I Doing This Right?

Appendix

Acknowledgments

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Previous books published by John Wiley & Sons and Jossey-Bass in the This I Believe series, edited by Dan Gediman, John Gregory, and Mary Jo Gediman:

This I Believe: Life Lessons

This I Believe: On Fatherhood

This I Believe: On Love

To Margot Trevor Wheelock, who was responsible for

This I Believe

Introduction

In 2011, This I Believe, Inc., published a collection of sixty essays exploring the subject of fatherhood. Now we are pleased to complement that publication with this edition about motherhood. The sixty essayists in this book dig deeply into what one writer calls the “definitive relation.” When we are children, our mothers are the people we most want to impress and make proud. They are the ones against whom we often rebel, and from whom we may draw our greatest strength. For mothers, their children often are the embodiment of their hopes and dreams for the future.

“Birth is the beginning of time,” says essayist Geeta Maker-Clark. “For me, it is a great metaphor for all that is still mysterious and magnificent in the world.”

Adults and young essayists in this book tell us of the life wisdom they learned from their mothers. Maternal knowledge can be passed in a direct conversation when advice is offered—even if it wasn’t solicited. Other times, wisdom is taught in a more indirect way. It may be shared through the words of a newspaper clipping stuck to the refrigerator, or in the faces of a faded photograph tucked in a drawer. Instructions for living a good life can even be found in surprising places: a song lyric from the Rolling Stones, a Beatles album cover, or a timeworn recipe card.

These writers detail the many jobs mothers perform: the breadwinners, the teachers, the cheerleaders, the eternal optimists in a world full of bitterness and uncertainty. We hear about alpha moms, hero moms, and household CEOs. Perhaps the most common role, though, is as the person providing safe harbor from the storms of life. “I remember the security and warmth I felt with my mother’s arms around me, knowing that someone was there to focus genuine love and healing attention on my miserable and needy twelve-year-old self,” writes Lily Llamzon Darais.

Of course the mother-child relationship—like any relationship—is not always perfect. The bond can be as painful and dysfunctional as it can be nurturing and constructive. “I know my mother loves me, but I also know it’s because she has to,” writes Jamie Lemke-Barrand of her battles with her mother. The challenges of intimacy are evident in several essays in this collection, as the writers honestly share their stories of making peace with the mistakes they’ve made, and of the reconciliations they’ve struggled to achieve.

The children featured in this collection—both those still in the blush of youth and those recalling their younger days—offer their perspectives on the women who raised them, whether they’re biological mothers, stepmoms, or adoptive ones. Even while serving a jail sentence, Michael Taylor drew inspiration from his mother: “Through every obstacle I encountered I would think to myself, ‘If Mother overcame her challenges, I have no excuse not to do the same.’” These essayists remind us that mothers may not share our opinions or approve of all our actions, but they mostly do believe in us—and we believe in them, even if we aren’t always able to show it or say it.

The passage of time eventually brings an end to the relationship, sometimes through divorce or estrangement, sometimes when a child is given up for adoption, and, for all of us, when death comes. But even in the pain that comes from the breaking of such a fundamental bond, there is hope. Alice Roche Cody already had one son when she experienced a miscarriage at sixteen weeks, yet she has the fortitude to say, “Grief has made me a better mother.” More often, though, it’s the child who struggles to comprehend the passing of a parent. Mary Lou Hurley was a teenager when she lost her mother. “My memories of her are how I learned to be a mother,” Hurley says, proving that even after a mother’s death, her spirit can remain a presence that provides encouragement and guidance through the veil of memory.

“I believe that being a mother is more than biology,” advises Jennifer Smith. “Being a mother is a state of mind.” In many cases this is a state of resilience and loyalty, the fierce determination of a mother to protect her child. You will read about women who will not give up when the odds are stacked against them, from fighting poverty or drug addiction to becoming a teen mother and raising a child alone. Whether she is a mother hearing her child’s diagnosis of autism or Down syndrome, or a child who becomes the caregiver for an ailing mother, these essayists offer their testaments to facing challenges and coming through their ordeals stronger and wiser.

Reading the essays in this book feels like flipping through a family photo album. Each page offers another richly detailed snapshot of daily life from the delivery room to the deathbed. These word pictures draw us into a particular moment and encourage us to linger there— perhaps to recall a similar time in our own lives or to contemplate the wisdom that someone completely different from us derived from his or her experience. The stories here are universal, no matter your age, gender, or parenting status. They are celebrations of our common humanity.

“A mother’s love can overcome hatred, animosity, and selfishness,” says Bruce Rankin. “It has the power to heal an abused heart and body.” We are grateful to these essayists for bravely and honestly sharing their most personal stories, perhaps knowing that their words may provide comfort to an unknown mother or child living thousands of miles away, or even generations into the future.

Evolution

LAUREN LEBLANC

I have come to a place not so much of peace but of understanding.

Once upon a time, I had delusions of grandeur. I believed—as many young people believe these days, I think—that I was special, that I was different, that I was set apart. I truly believed that I was destined for richness and fame because of my talent and “specialness.” I was going to live the new American dream. I was not going to grow up to be a “normal” person, not just another number in the growing American census.

But time passed. Reality set in, as did age, and my perspective changed. The paradigm shifted.

I am a schoolteacher. I am married to a salesman. We have a baby, a dog, a two-car garage, and a mortgage. Could my life be any more normal?

And yet, I am perfectly okay with this.

If I were to have a conversation with my eighteen-year-old self, I’m sure there is a lot she wouldn’t understand. She wouldn’t get why I’m not pounding the pavement in NYC, working to get an audition or that coveted part on Broadway. She wouldn’t be able to accept that I haven’t been to a real audition in four years. She wouldn’t be able to fathom that my coworkers have never heard me sing.

She’d be curious about the baby, because she hasn’t had much experience with babies. She would wonder about my teaching career, probably calling it “pedestrian.” She would look around my very suburban neighborhood and accuse me of selling out. If I’d bought a house, it should’ve at least been in an interesting, eclectic neighborhood with coffee houses and tapas bars on every corner. She’d probably scoff at the corner house in the painfully suburban neighborhood that I now call home.

But I know things she doesn’t know. I know of the alchemy of loss. I understand that those volatile college years—both wicked and wonderful—are a mere microcosm of life, like a lens zoomed in too close on one object. Life is so much more rich and complicated and wonderful and terrible than those four self-righteous years in the bubble.

I know what it means to work for love, to not just sit back and let it happen the way it can when you’re young. I know about bringing life into the world, and the complexity of emotions that brings: the confusion, the bone-deep exhaustion, the loss of sense of self, the love that doesn’t know how big your heart is, so it splits it wide open.

My life is simple. It is small, and it may seem interchangeable with so many other lives out there. I may never make an impact outside my house, my community, my hometown.

But I’ve learned that importance is relative. Because to a small few, I am irreplaceable.

When my little girl cries, she calls for “Mama.” When she reaches out, it’s for me, and me alone.

So, a small life? It’s perfectly fine by me. In fact, I think it’s what I’ve wanted all along.

LAUREN LEBLANC is a teacher, runner, crafter, singer, aspiring writer, and native Texan living in Louisville, Kentucky. For three years, she has used the This I Believe middle school curriculum in her language arts classes to teach her eighth graders how to put their convictions to paper. She is married to her high school sweetheart and has a three-year-old daughter and another on the way.

Do What You Have to Do

KIMANN SCHULTZ

My firstborn son, the fledgling Marine, called me the other night from a field somewhere in North Carolina. He was cocooned in his Gore-Tex layered sleeping bag, which provided him with the cover he needed to place his forbidden call. It was January, and the bitter cold stretched from my home in Indiana to the East Coast. He and his group had been deposited by helicopter in this field for an overnight exercise.

Daniel told me he had finally learned when he would leave for Iraq and the city where he would be based, although he could not give me details just yet. I asked him how he was feeling about going to Iraq. He said he was okay with it.

If my son is okay with it, then I will be too. Young men like Daniel—partiers, paintballers, road-trippers—simply trade one set of risks for another when they enter the military. At least that’s how I’ve rationalized it. My son’s joining the Marines was no surprise: he came of age during the days of 9/11 and the so-called War on Terror.

I then swallow the last vestiges of my humanitarianism. It hurts in my throat, but I need to tell my son this: do what you have to do so that you come back home.

And I will say it to him again and again, even though I don’t believe in war or in the politics or the big money that drives it. I believe in art and in learning and in the peace that evolves from these best of human elements. I believe we could better serve humankind with armies of artists, musicians, and teachers, not armed sons and daughters. But my personal beliefs are momentarily suspended, for my son is a brand-new Marine. Duty bound, he will have brothers to fight with, a team to protect, a job to get done. As his mother, I believe in his unequivocal right to do whatever he needs to do in order to survive. When Daniel completes his deployment, I will be ready to absorb any displaced rage and fear, any bit of undigested war he brings back home with him. I vow to see to it that his heart and mind eventually find their way back home as well.

I was driving home from a late meeting when my son called. The moon in my skies lay behind a slight haze, but it shone steadfast and bright, nearly full. I asked Daniel if the moon was out where he was. He said hold on a moment—yes, he could see it too. I told Daniel I was looking at the moon at that very moment and that he and I were making a triangle with our trajectories of sight. The sunlight reflecting off that pockmarked orb was connecting me to my child just as surely as had I put my arms around him. I felt like a navigator and had found my star, and that star had found my son.

Author-illustrator KIMANN SCHULTZ, mother of three, is a first-generation American, the daughter of Ukrainian and German parents. Ms. Schultz currently resides with her husband and songwriting partner, Mike, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Following deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Daniel was honorably discharged and is now a student.

Grabbing the Baton

JULIE SELLERS

Tell me the story of me, Momma,” my daughter always asks when we snuggle into my great-grandmother’s rocking chair at the end of the day.

“The first time I saw your beautiful face, it was nearly covered by a floppy blue-and-white hat, surrounded by a pale blue blanket. All I could see were two chubby cheeks and a teeeeeeny little nose.”

“And I looked like a tiny fairy baby?” she asks on a yawn.

“You did, and you weren’t bigger than a minute,” I always answer. “The nurse handed a tiny little girl to me, and I was so surprised because you felt so light. I thought that if I unwound the blankets, I’d find no baby there at all, only air.”

In that instant, I became a mother. I was all alone in a cold room with a stone floor, four thousand miles from home. There was no sterile hospital room, no crying husband—just the two of us. But that moment was just as special, just as magical as if she’d come from my body directly into my arms. From that moment, she was my daughter in every way that mattered.

It’s easy sometimes to forget there’s another mother out there with whom I share my title, since it seems as though my life began only when I first held my daughter’s tiny body close to mine. But my little girl has a history that involved another. Although I might always be a bit sad that I didn’t have the privilege to grow Sophie under my heart, I must give thanks to the one who did.

I owe my life to a woman I’ve never met, who lives half a world away. Her sacrifice gave me all I could ever ask for, and I never forget for a moment that it was her difficult decision—her tears and her pain—that is the foundation on which I’ve built this life I love.

When my daughter asks to hear her story, I tell her of the floppy hat, the drafty room, and the blue blanket full of air. But as she grows, she will understand that sometimes life is a relay, and you never know who in this world will hand you your baton. It could be someone you’ve never met, someone who lives a world away, someone you will never be able to repay for giving you the life you always wanted but never dared to imagine you’d have.

I believe the true gifts of our lives come from the most unlikely of sources. If we venture forth with our hearts open, we will always be in the right place to receive them.

JULIE SELLERS is the author of Immediate Family: The Adoption Option, a chronicle of her experiences as a single parent who adopted two children from Russia. She has recently published a novel titled Coming Home. Ms. Sellers lives in Indiana with her daughter, Sophie; her son, Max; two dogs; one guinea pig; and a turtle.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

KATE SEARLE

The first time my son said “No,” he was eight months old and was crawling determinedly toward a temporarily uncovered surge protector. I grabbed him by the hips and restrained him. “No,” he cried, nipping at my wrists like a small dog. “No!”

KATE SEARLE