I was almost 18, and for some unknown reason, I decided to try out for the volleyball team my senior year of high school. I hadn’t played the sport since I was a Freshman; the previous two years I had joined the cross country team. When running injuries during both seasons left a bad taste in my mouth, I decided to give volleyball another shot. I was generally not very athletic, but I tried hard.
When the final team selection was posted, my name wasn’t on it. I didn’t make the team. I got cut.
The volleyball coach was the women’s physical education teacher at my school, and she also was the sponsor of our Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) club. I was the FCA student president. Her decision not to keep me on the team could have made things awkward.
Actually, it did make things awkward for about a day or two. I was heartbroken. I was a big fish in the small pond of my rural high school, and though I had tasted failure a time or two, this was a big loss. Most of the girls who had made the team were my friends; we had planned on spending practices and games together.
Within a day or two, the coach sat down with me to explain her decision; I already knew: though I wasn’t the worst player, she couldn’t risk keeping a Senior and cutting a Freshman or Sophomore who had time to improve. If only I had played volleyball the past two years, she was sure I would have had better skills. As a consolation, she offered me a way to still be part of the team with my friends: team manager. I could come to some practices, if I wanted, and I would help out at all games, carrying equipment and keeping the stats.
Admittedly, the position seemed like a pity offer, and my pride nearly kept me from taking it. What would I say to everyone in the locker room the first day I showed up? They all knew I had been cut. Eventually, I swallowed my pride and decided to take the position.
That morning at breakfast, my mom looked me in the eye and told me how proud she was that I had decided to be the manager. I was surprised. My mom had never been one to demand perfection from me. When I didn’t make the cheerleading squad my freshman year and when I wasn’t voted student body president my junior year, she was very sympathetic. And she already had grieved with me about being cut from the volleyball team. But that morning, she moved beyond sympathy to empathy, an important transition for a mother and daughter relationship.
“I’m so proud of you,” she’d said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it if I had been cut from the team.”
While this story seems like it’s all about me, it’s really about my mom. It’s one of a million stories I could share about how my life is different – better – for her contribution. With mother’s day just a couple of weeks away, I invited my friend Laura Lynn Brown, author of Everything that Makes You Mom: A Bouquet of Memories, to talk with me about her mom and motherhood and how bouquets of memories make much better Mother’s Day gifts than bouquets of flowers. (Or, maybe both together would make a REALLY great gift!)
CSC: Welcome Laura! To start, how did Everything that Makes You Mom begin? A blog post? A few memories? How did the project start?
LLB: That is a long, serendipity-filled story. The short version: it started with memories. Do you want the long version?
LLB: My mother died when she was 50, and as I approached my 50th birthday, memories of her came flooding back. I go to a marvelous event called the Glen, and I decided to write a memory-fueled essay about mom to take to the Glen writing workshop that following summer. I started collecting memories in sticky-notes, little notebooks, emails, EverNote. The essay wouldn’t submit to a narrative form, and I was also in a phase of being fascinated by what you could do with a single sentence, so I crafted the memories into 50 sentences, each its own universe, but collectively, giving a picture of who mom was. (Not coincidentally, I’d gotten on Twitter around that time. Twitter is a great playground for one-sentence craft exercise.)
The workshop instructor loved the essay and happened to mention it to an editor from Abingdon Press. I had the great good fortune to meet that editor at the Glen the following year; she read the essay and loved it too. Then various things happened that would be more interesting if I were telling you in person than they are to read, and we ended up with this book.
CSC: I know your mom has been gone for a while now, but how did writing this book change how you remembered her? Or how you continue to think about your mom?
LLB: I was 28 when she died, and 51 when I wrote the book. Once I began actively collecting memories of her, more and more came to mind. It changed how I remembered her partly by volume — remembering things I hadn’t thought of in years. But it also helped to change my remembering in the way that I think we all come to understand our parents better as we age ourselves. I have to say I was still afflicted with the myopia of the 20s when she died, and I simply didn’t see her very well then. I think I understand a little better what she probably thought and felt. My brother and I have also talked about Mom more since I started that writing.
CSC: I know you’ve talked with a lot of readers about their own stories about their mothers. What is one memorable story you heard that you could share? How did you feel knowing your book helped someone relive that memory?
LLB: Oh, there are so many, but some that stand out especially are the poignant, painful memories of mom — too personal and heartbreaking to share in detail here. When people are telling those stories, they usually get to a point where they say, “She did the best she could.” One of the women in this spring’s #mombouquet blog tour told me that when we met a year ago, and since then she’s used the book to face down some of her pain. It touches us all so much to know that the book is bearing fruit in ways we didn’t foresee.
Then there’s the mom who got out of her car and confronted another driver who had thrown a cigarette butt out her car window, and who picked it up, scolded the driver and tossed it back into the offender’s car. That’s a mama-bear magnitude of ferocious fearlessness.
CSC: When people buy your book, what do you hope they will do with it?
LLB: Read it and make it their own. Do the homework of remembering mom and answering the questions. I hope they will laugh out loud at least once, and that they will see that we all have the capacity to remember and to reflect back to people what we have seen in them that they might not see or appreciate themselves. It only takes a sentence. And while Mother’s Day is the obvious target date for this, I hope folks will use significant times in their family traditions to give it to Mom — her birthday, or the annual family vacation to the beach, or the ritual of garage saling together, or just because, which is always an appropriate time to surprise someone with a gift. I also love hearing about how siblings have filled it out together.
CSC: Is there a way for people to connect with this book even if they don’t actually give it to their mothers?
LLB: Yes. For people whose mothers have already passed on, or have in effect left due to dementia, working through the book can be a way to feel close to Mom, to collect and preserve those memories, either for themselves or for their children, to say, “Here’s who Grandma was.” And I have heard from a few people who did not have good mothers, and who used the book therapeutically, to work through the messiness of that relationship and sometimes to arrive at forgiveness. But not everyone is going to be able to connect with the book.
CSC: Did you ever think about writing a book about your father?
LLB: Yes. We talked very briefly about also assembling a gift book for dads, but for various reasons that didn’t happen. My dad died of lung cancer last August, and I have been writing about him. Whether there’s a book there, it’s too soon to say. He was able to come to one of my book signings last year, at Words and Music, a great little independent bookstore near his home, and that was a great joy to me, to know that he was proud of me and my achievement.
CSC: How will you spend Mother’s Day this year?
LLB: Getting up and writing in my prayer journal; checking Slate, where the original essay about my mother will be republished; going to church; going to lunch afterwards with some peeps, and telling stories about our mothers; calling my brother; anticipating a call from my daughter; going to work; and remembering well.
CSC: Thank you, Laura! Happy Mother’s Day.
And Mom (I know you’re reading!), Happy Mother’s Day to you, too! I have so many good memories.
WORD COUNT: 1,623
AUTHOR: By day, Laura Lynn Brown vanquishes dangling modifiers and makes the rough places smooth as a copy editor for a daily newspaper. When not working or writing, she enjoys playing Irish traditional music, baking bread, paddling her kayak in calm waters, and committing random acts of singing.
WHERE TO GET IT: Follow the link above to order it from Amazon.
Author photo provided by Laura Lynn Brown; volleyball photo by the Amity Observer.
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