Your turn, Mom

[Ed. note: Edna Yarmuth, who is the mother of LEO’s founder, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and grandmother of LEO Executive Editor Aaron Yarmuth, died Tuesday, Aug. 7. She was 91. This is a Mother’s Day column John Yarmuth wrote in 2000.]

I was thinking the other day that I have let nine Mother’s Days go by without writing an “Editor’s Note” about them. I’ve written about Father’s Day, but that’s a lot easier for a father. And sure, I mention you in a column every so often, but that’s usually for some levity — not that you’re a joke, of course.

Anyway, since I know so little about being a mother and because nobody wants to read a whole column that sounds like a greeting card, I thought I’d just ask you some questions about being a mother (at least my mother) and then next year I can write a more definitive piece. So here goes.

First of all, how in the world did you have any idea about what to do when I was born? You were 20 years old and you didn’t have any older sisters to show you the ropes. Rookie fathering was easier those days, I’m sure. Dad just went off to work, maybe changed a diaper or two. But you were there all day every day. Dr. Spock could take you only so far. The nurturing part couldn’t be learned from a book. Where did the nurturing skills come from?

How much more work was it when Bob and Bill and Fran came along? Four kids by the time you were 27. Where did you get the energy? How did you organize everything? I know how much work is involved with one child. I can’t imagine four.

When and how did you find time for yourself? (Or did you?) If I remember correctly, we didn’t even have television until I was five or six. How did you keep us occupied, or distracted, long enough to do the things I know you had to do? Like cook, clean, do laundry. Read? Think? Sleep?

Most important, how did you manage to pay so much attention to all of us all the time? I can’t remember any of us feeling neglected. How did you expand time and your attention span?

You were (and are) so smart. Valedictorian in high school and all that. What were the dreams you gave up to be our mother? During that era, were you even allowed to dream about anything else? I won’t bother to ask whether the sacrifice was worth it or if you have any regrets. I know what your answers would be. But did you ever think you had career choices?

Those are all things I need to know from the time before my memory kicks in. And speaking of memory, how do mothers develop such good memories? You always remember the tiniest details, like where we sat in the car when we drove to California in 1959. And how you decorated Bill’s college apartment. Or Bob’s temperature when he had scarlet fever. I remember most of Aaron’s great golf shots and home runs and his funniest remarks, but nothing like the things you recall. Do you ever forget anything?

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When I no longer lived at home, Dad always called me on my birthday, but he did it first thing in the morning, like it was on his schedule. You always call at 5:40 p.m. Is that a mother thing?

When Dad’s business got bigger and bigger and you had to do the CEO-wife thing, jetting all over the country, you acted like it was all an imposition on your mothering time. You meant it, didn’t you?

When I went away to college, you never pestered me, but you didn’t ignore me either. (Actually, that’s the way you’ve been ever since.) How did you know how to let go without losing touch? (This question is particularly important for me and your 16-year-old grandson.)

Where did you store all the childhood memorabilia you saved over the past half century? Pictures and report cards and letters I wrote you. Did you have some warehouse somewhere?

How have you been able to so easily accept all the people Fran, Bill, Bob and I have brought into your life over all these years? Friends (some not so desirable), girlfriends and boyfriends, second wives, stepchildren. You have never treated them as anything other than family.

A couple of years ago you sent me a cartoon in which a mother and child discuss how a mother doesn’t divide her love among several children, she simply expands her capacity so that each child receives her full measure. No offense, but that just told me what I already knew about you. I would like to know how you do it.

OK, Mom, I’ll let you go. Just one last question: How did I get so lucky?

Happy Mother’s Day.

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