Parenting gurus like to share the theory that by the time a child reaches the age of 10, mothers lose their place as the primary influencer in their kids’ lives.
I was always skeptical of this belief and felt that these so-called experts simply enjoyed torturing parents by using this supposition as a sort of scared straight program for hovering moms.
Now I can tell you that, without a doubt, that the often-repeated parenting claim is not true. Your mother’s influence never, ever goes away or loses its impact. I know this because my funny, wise, beautiful mother, Gwen Claypool, recently passed away.
I was given the honor of writing her eulogy, which was, I think, a brave choice for my mom to make. She had to have known I would deliver an nontraditional tribute.
For sure, some older ladies got a little ticked off when I celebrated my mom’s talent for seriously kicking butt. She was a force to be reckoned with. How could I not celebrate that? The fact that she had, during her life, kicked the fannies of some of the ladies present at her service, well sorry (but you know, not really).
The act of writing my mother’s eulogy, of putting on paper everything she had done, and what she meant to me, crystallized the fact that what you learn from your mom is steeped into the deepest parts of your brain and soul.
I know my love of reading comes directly from my mother. We would go the library with two laundry hampers, fill them full of books and spend days just wallowing in the written word.
My mother, descended from Puritans, also valued a work ethic. There was never an excuse to not honor your commitments. Whenever I want to get out of doing something I see her face and it’s giving me the look that says, “I’m disappointed you are even wasting time entertaining this thought.”
She was smart as they come and had no time for “intelligent people doing ignorant things.” This led to her having zero tolerance for stupidity in any form. And if you were being stupid she’d let you know it even if you were a stranger. Of course, being from the South, she would put it in such a way that you didn’t really know you were getting the stern scold.
Not being from the South, yet watching my mother’s campaign against idiots, I took up her gauntlet and have attempted to continue this crusade. The problem is, I can’t do it with the grace she did. I’ve tried, but I just don’t have her innate charm. (Although, I was sent to charm school, but that’s a story for another day.)
One of the biggest gifts my mom bequeathed me was the freedom to be myself. She was a nonconformist and “felt tremendous sadness” for the herd. This even translated to clothing choices.
When I was a teenager, it was the preppy era of fashion. Everyone was wearing $40 Ralph Lauren Polo shirts, which back in the early ’80s was pretty pricey. My mother refused to let me buy any Polo garments (even if I was going to use my own money). Her response to my whining was “Why don’t I just let you wear a sandwich board that reads ‘My mother failed because I think a horse on a shirt is important.’”
To this day I can’t buy name brands. The North Face, Patagonia, Uggs — never going to happen.
Another wonderful thing about my mom was that she was funny and slyly sarcastic. Someone the other day asked me where I got my signature eye roll. I replied: My mother. He laughed and said, “You owe her. It’s a great eye roll.”
She also knew how to hold a grudge and, in fact, considered it a character flaw if you didn’t have the “moral fiber to archive dishonesty.” Granted, being Southern, the grudge was concealed, kind of like pecans in a 10-layer pea salad, but, trust me, it was there.
Sometimes she was very serious in her archival pursuits. Other times she was joyously silly. For example, she had an encyclopedic memory of who gave me what for a wedding present. And to the woman who gave me a chip-and-dip platter from Target after she gifted that women’s three daughters with very nice sterling silver, all I have to say is that since 1984 she’s referred to the woman as “Chip and Dip.”
So, here’s what I have to share with all experts — a parent who has done their job well never loses their influence. In fact, one of the proudest things I will ever say is that I am Gwen Claypool’s daughter.