#1 Mom



It happened when I was twelve or thirteen years old.

I was a gangly, shy and clumsy kid. My hair was too straight, my eyebrows too thick and my lips too thin. I had a pug-nose. I was flat-chested. Short. My feet were too wide. I was pigeon-toed. The Catholic school skirt length accentuated my skinny legs. My knee socks pooled around my ankles. Pimples were erupting on my chin.

A last look in the round vanity mirror before heading for the bus-stop was a new nightmare every day.

Finally, I’d had enough.

I rushed down the stairs, fueled by the indignity of the image in the mirror and all the angst of a melodramatic almost-teen-ager. I confronted my mother in the kitchen.

“I CAN”T go to school!”, I wailed, “I’m TOO UGLY!!!”

My mother glanced around the table at the babies to feed and bathe and the small children to dress and get ready for school. She probably thought of the one hundred other chores and obligations waiting to fill her day. She looked at the clock, which told her my school bus would be arriving at the bus stop across the road in less than five minutes.

She said, “Well, you can’t stay home FOREVER, you’d better just get out there.”

Well! I huffed and rolled my eyes and slammed out the door and went to school.

At the time, and probably for about twenty years afterward, I thought of this as a perfect example of the absolute height of bad parenting.

Where was the encouragement? Where was the support? Could she not have thrown me a bone? A little compliment? A hug?

I never forgot it.

Eventually, I started noticing how much I used it.

When a really bad, unrepairable hair-do made me want to drape all the mirrors and never go out.

When I embarrassed myself with a stupid action or remark, causing me to want to hide from the world.

When a relationship’s end left me feeling unlikeable.

Whenever I felt intimidated by a situation, the words going through my head were my mother’s words.

Last year, getting ready to give the eulogy at Mom’s funeral, I glanced in the mirror. My face was puffy and red from crying; my eyes were slits. Sleep deprived, sad, preparing to speak in public in borrowed clothes and too-tight shoes, I worried about how many ways I could mess up this one opportunity to honor my mother.

I heard her voice.

“Well, you can’t stay home FOREVER, you’d better just get out there!”

I laughed out loud.

In anticipation of my sixtieth birthday, I compiled a list of the 60 most influential women in my life. My mother made the top of the list for a thousand good reasons. This is only one of them.

This year, I left a job I’d felt pretty comfortable in for the last ten years, and went back to working as a server in restaurants. It had been a few years since I’d worked as a waitress, and I felt pretty rusty. I was a good thirty years older than most of my co-workers.

My first day, I stood in front of the mirror. My thinning, gray hair was already coming loose – in a not attractive way – from the twist I’d pulled it into. My face wrinkled when I practiced a smile. My pot belly sent the little waitress apron out in an odd direction.

With all the angst of a melodramatic almost-sixty-year-old, I thought, “I CAN”T go!”

And there were Mom’s wise words, still influencing my life.

So, I got out there.

About cindyricksgers

I am an artist. I live on an island in northern Lake Michigan, USA. I have two grown daughters, four strong, smart and handsome grandsons and one beautiful, intelligent and charming granddaughter. I live with two spoiled dogs. I love walking in the woods around my home, reading, writing and playing in my studio.

14 responses »

  1. “Well you can’t stay home forever…” What a great line! And how ironic that the words you interpreted as bad parenting have held you in good stead all of these years. I’m glad you’re still taking her advice because the world needs people like you “out there.” Keep it up!

    • It is a great line, isn’t it?! A great way to handle the situation on many levels, too. Anger at her drove me out the door that day; angry determination has done the same on many days since. Thanks for reading!

  2. This is so great, Cindy! I love what your mom said, although, like you, I would have been hoping for a hug and/or a compliment. I know that’s what I would have bent over backwards trying to do for my kids. (But then, I only had two, nine years apart — not a lot of competition for my time and attention, and they’re both spoiled rotten!)

    My mom used to say things like, “Oh, no one’s going to be looking at you anyway!” But that never worked in reverse when I would use it on her when she complained about something I was wearing.

    The real surprise in all this is that you had those insecurities — I always thought you were absolutely adorable, and I envied your petite cuteness!

    • Thanks, Kate!
      Were we all wishing to be Dee Lynn Hathaway in those days, or was that just me?
      I tried very hard, with my daughters, to make them feel confident and secure, and to place as much emphasis on kindness and intelligence as on appearance. Like you, I had only two children. Still in some ways I succeeded, in others ways failed.
      I do know that if Mom had said, “Oh, you are not either ugly,” I would have argued with her. How pathetic, to be in a position to be arguing for my short-comings! Mom spared me that, though I doubt she had time to think it through.
      I keep thinking things have changed enough, for little girls, that our daughters – and certainly our granddaughters – will not face the same insecurities. I don’t know. I suppose it makes us stronger, in the end.
      Thanks for your comments!

  3. My first reaction was WOW – couldn’t she have stopped for a moment to give you a smile and a hug and a word of encouragement. And then I realised she did the very best thing she could have done for you – she gave you the courage to “just get out there”. Thanks for sharing.

    • I know! It took me many years to realize what a gift she gave me. The bottom line is, if I’m going to feel good about myself, that has to come from within anyway, and anything she said to negate my opinion at that moment would have meant nothing. Thanks for reading, and for your thoughtful comment.

  4. Oh, Cindy, this is so precious. How we interpret words in some many different ways…and some interpretations hurt, until we turn them around just a little. My friend, I so admire you for being able to go back to work as a waitress and make a go of it. I probably would be whining: my back hurts, my legs hurt. But you’ve got chutzpah. And you know how to write a good story. 🙂

    • Thanks, Kathy, for your kindness. I love that you believe I have chutzpah! Still, I do plenty of whining about aches and pains. Unfortunately, the dogs are getting tired of it, and there’s no one else to listen! Thanks for reading!

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