What we keep

When my mother died, her daughters had the unenviable task of going through her things. It was something my father would not really have been up to, even though when she was alive he itched to help her purge things around the house. Oh, the irony.

Mom kept things more than she threw them away. But “things” as in practical bits—recipes to try, magazines to read, wrapping paper for future holidays. Sentimental things were not really in my mother’s wheelhouse. By the time she passed, I’d long ago been given back the misshapen purple ceramic owl I made for her at a young age, or the note I’d written her at a retreat.

It was telling, then, when my eldest sister went through her drawer—the drawer where she kept a few very special things—that my mother had saved just one thing that pertained to me, her youngest. Tucked away in that drawer was my first published feature article.

It’s not that I hadn’t been published many times before, but my first feature was big, bold, colorful and a decent number of column inches. And there, just under the headline, was my name. Even as I type this, I’m smiling. I remember getting up at 4 a.m. without an alarm (a feat for this sleepyhead) to buy the early edition, so excited my hands were shaking.

It was the first of many features, but as a freelancer I did not know that. Nothing was a given. Everything had to be earned. Over time, I was asked to write more and more as the editors said readers were responding to my “voice.” If nothing else, I have a voice. Always have, always will—which works to my benefit and my detriment, depending on the situation and audience.

But I digress. The point is that at a time when most mothers kept their daughter’s wedding invitation, prom picture or heartfelt letter, my mother instead kept my achievement. Something I had earned. Something I had written after years of her redlining my school papers. After years of my nose in books because I could never get enough of the written word. Decades after I had begged her, at the age of three, to teach me to read. It was my achievements, more than anything else, that made her proud.

She had taught me to be an intellectual, to value knowledge and insight above all things. And I had bested her in her core suit–writing. As much as that smarted for her, it also made her proud. Hence the article saved in a drawer that was kept for a select few special things.

My mother raised six daughters in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. She had a master’s degree from a tough university before most women even contemplated that concept. She was an executive when women weren’t. I was raised to choose a career, not a man. To earn money, not a meal ticket via marriage. If I was to marry, it was supposed to be for true love and partnership.

While it appears more girls are raised this way today, it was rare when I was growing up. Thank God for Mom. What she lacked in sentiment she made up for in pure grit, instilling the same in her girls.

As a result, I have razor-sharp clarity around what true female strength looks like. It is a model that allowed me to give myself time to be alone after my divorce, rather than chasing man after man looking for the security blanket I had lost. So many women my age don’t have the courage to do that. A select few do. While I have friends on both sides of that equation, it’s no surprise I spend more time with those in the latter camp.

What we save, what we keep, speaks volumes about who we are. If you peeked inside my bedside drawer, you would see not my boys’ accolades but rather a sweet note or two. “I’m sorry I was a stinkbug this morning, Mommy.” And a few years later: “You’re the best mom in the multiverse.” Their rough, crayoned attempts at crafting treasures for their mother. These still make me swoon a bit in the way only mothers do.

I am glad my mother pushed me to achieve. But in the end, I have discovered that very few ever love us like a mother does. I try to live in the balance, tempering strength with a soft heart for those I love best.

I hope my boys end up the better for it. I surely have.

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57 Comments Add yours

  1. nimslake says:

    A beautiful realization about love and it fulsome yet minimalist expression. 💜😊

  2. Conna Bond says:

    This is beautiful! Am walking down the path of loss with my mother’s health quickly declining. So many thoughts and emotions…

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you for the kind words. I remember that time in my life all too well. Regardless of our relationship, a mother’s passing is earth-shaking. I think it makes most of us feel five years old again. Wishing you peace and moments of joy with her.

  3. Ellen Hawley says:

    She sounds like someone who was well worth knowing.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you:). She was. Probably easier to be her colleague than her daughter, but she taught me a lot.

      1. Ellen Hawley says:

        That’s a useful, and clear, distinction.

  4. What a beautiful and touching tribute to your mother; i can tell you really loved her and you are wonderful writer. I love to read inspirational posts like this.Thank you

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! I appreciate you stopping by my blog for the virtual “howdy.” And for the kind comment. I did love her. Many challenges in our relationship, but some beautiful bits also . . .

  5. Amy says:

    Nothing on earth like the power of a mother’s love. Your boys are blessed to have yours. Another lovely post. ❤ xx

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! As your kids are blessed to have you :-). You bring a lot of beauty to this world, friend.

  6. Masha says:

    Beautiful touching post. I was raised in just the opposite way. My mother was from old school european background where an education for a girl was not important and the only thing that was important was to know how to be a good wife, mother and housekeeper. I resented this for many years and I brought up my kids in just the opposite way. thank you

    1. candidkay says:

      I was lucky. I know that for sure! But her strength did come with a flipside. She was rather stoic and not the affectionate mother that you see as the stereo type in magazines and pop culture.

  7. shamanism1 says:

    Beautiful memories and special treasures touch our hearts. Your mum sounds very strong, but you are right, we need a balance in our lives and sometimes a big hug and a cup of tea to let us know we are doing okay, is just as important.💕

    1. candidkay says:

      I’ll take a big hug and a cup of tea any day❤️

  8. Keeping a few treasured items means so much more than saving every last crayon drawing and certificate of achievement. 🙂 You know that your mom had that article because it held special meaning for her. Such a lovely post!

    1. candidkay says:

      I agree. I’m not a Kondo aficionado, but I buy into her philosophy of appreciating the joy when something is given-but not necessarily hanging onto it. I think just a couple mementos mean more than a trunk full, sometimes :-).

  9. TammyB says:

    What a lovely heartfelt piece

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you. This one was definitely from the heart:).

      1. TammyB says:

        It comes through definitely

  10. Another beautiful story, Kristine. My grandfather saved the picture of the first time I was in the paper. I was, unfortunately wearing a beaver costume at the time as a mascot, but the thought was there 🙂 He’s still around so there is no knowing what treasures await.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, you’ve made me laugh:). I am now just thankful she did not treasure something in which I was wearing an animal costume. That said, I’m sure you looked adorable in yours. Glad he is still around for you–that makes a world of difference.

  11. Touching post, Kristine. It sounds to me like you have inherited a lot from your mom. I miss both my parents more than I can express.

    1. candidkay says:

      Losing a parent makes you five years old all over again in so many ways. No one else loves us in the way a parent does. I completely understand you missing your parents still. I miss mine. Hugs to you.

  12. fritzdenis says:

    It’s a great gift to have parents who help you grow up, then let go, and become proud of your achievements.

    1. candidkay says:

      Right? The trunk to our branches.

  13. That love is a perfect craft master Kristine, leaving us always much better for that mothers touch and the glow it instills within us ❤ 😀

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks, Mark—I agree!❤️

  14. For some reason, I think “Thank God for Mom” will be repeated many times in your family’s future. Thanks for a great read.

    1. candidkay says:

      Probably the nicest thing you could have said to me. If you only knew how perfect your timing is :-). Thanks, as always, for reading and sharing your kind wisdom.

  15. mydangblog says:

    I still have the letter that my mother sent me my first time at sleep-away camp when I wrote to her that I was lonely and homesick. These are the treasures we hold in our heart as well as in our hand.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, man! That is awesome. I bet that’s one you pull out from time to time.

  16. I’m age 50 and my mum is the best friend I’ve ever had. A lovely post I enjoyed reading:)

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! And so nice that you and your mother have a friendship as well as love. I bet that’s a phenom gift:).

  17. I love love love your post Kristine, It brought back so much for me. Im the third and youngest, before my Ma passed on she gave me little mementos of herself, her scarves… so oh many things, but the last thing she could give away was that slight tug of her palm, was all she could do. Later I was given her chain, the one I had held onto and played with as a child…and her ring. Yes few or none can love the way a mother does, I wonder what legacy Im passing on, I wonder what they will say of us…. phew! thank you for an amazing post here!

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, I love that she found a way to still “give” you something, even when the things were no more. I hope her scarves and other bits she gave you help you on your worst days. I still wear a cheap ring my boys gave my mother (the kind little boys pick when they shop at school bazaars for their Nana:)). I wear it on days I don’t want to feel alone . . . .

      1. They do, even as I write this one. And she taught me to give little tokens of love to others, I try but am not half as generous as she was. oh I just know, you’re a beautiful person and mom yourself. And too, this … people who feel so deeply about things, are our planets treasure. Am so glad I found your blog. Much love. You are precious and I will treasure they way you wrote about your Ma. it makes the world a far better place, unsure how to say this..

      2. candidkay says:

        Thank you. I think you said it beautifully:).

  18. This is touching and inspiring Kristine, I can see where you get some of your strength and wisdom from.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks, Andrea:). She was nothing if not a rock . . .

  19. Nilzeitung says:

    Steht hinter jedes Guten und gesunden Gesellschaft ein Liebe Mama !!!!!!(*L*)

    1. candidkay says:

      Danke für den Besuch und die Ermutigung

      1. Nilzeitung says:

        This is truth! many love thanks for your reply! to friends. and you take it all love good of their trade in your everyday life, which is knowledge dates or map live! their hand (mind) + soul winning you always!

  20. Oh yes, the love of a mother is like nothing else. In fact, I have come to believe it’s a love you don’t understand until you are a mother yourself. I had a mother very similar to yours – who worked hard to contribute to her family’s emotional and financial well being, celebrated achievements, encouraged a thirst for knowledge in all her kids regardless of gender. I will always be grateful for the life lessons she taught me before she died when I was 14.
    As an aside, count me as one of your readers who respond to your “voice”.

    1. candidkay says:

      First, to lose a mother at 14–oh, I can’t even. Talk about strength–and you have it in spades. I’m glad you respond to my voice:). It’s the only one I have, so people usually have to take it or leave it. . . .

  21. Dale says:

    Another splendiferous post from you, Kristine. What luck to have had such a mother! A blessing for sure. She helped you to become the woman you are today – which is a pretty fabulous one.
    Loved this share…

    1. Dale says:

      Oh, and I don’t envy my boys going throught my sh*t… though with the upcoming move (once I sell, of course), I am planning on getting rid of loads…

      1. candidkay says:

        Do it! Kondo (https://konmari.com) the s#%t out of it:).

      2. Dale says:

        Did you see my Kondo post? LOL…I ain’t holding each piece to say how much I love it… 😂
        Hugs right back at ya! xo xo

      3. candidkay says:

        I know, I know:). But I couldn’t resist. My friends and I use the word now as a verb whenever we’re pitching anything. I’m sure Maria K would be appalled:)>

    2. candidkay says:

      Thank you! Sending you a hug through the ether XXOO

  22. I feel bad for my kids. They’re gonna have a ton to sift through when we’re gone. We aren’t pack rats or hoarders, and we generally ascribe to the philosophy of one thing comes in, one thing goes out now. But, we are collectors, so there’s just a volume of it. 😃

    1. candidkay says:

      My mother was too! She accumulated things as fast as my father threw them out:). Just tell them to bring wine and a picnic–and hunker down:).

      1. Hahaha! I’ll have to tell them that. I would hope they’ll keep some of it. It’s all good stuff. There’ll probably be a lot of trips to Goodwill and a fire sale though. 😃

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