I should be all done with the sibling spotlight feature, mostly because I've run out of siblings to spotlight. But there's someone else in my family you should know about.
That, of course, would be my fabulous mom.
Mom doesn't really like to talk about herself, but she is a very interesting person. She was the second child in a family of six, all girls. Her role in the family was peacemaker, the one who ironed over disputes and got people talking to each other again. Though she grew up in a close-knit and loving family, her parents could be quite strict, and on occasion they were controlling to the point of being abusive. To her credit, Mom found a way to keep her parents part of her life without allowing them to continue to dictate her life decisions.
Mom married a wonderful man, but when they were first wed her mother-in-law did not like her and made no bones about it. Determined to win her over, Mom has spent years responding to cruelty with love and to anger with patience, and it has paid off. She learned how to raise a family of six kids on a freelance graphic designer's salary, earning a black belt in household budgeting. She's also had to deal with the repercussions of marrying a man with clinical depression, including seeing her children through multiple mental health issues.
Her own optimistic nature has helped Mom through many rough times, including becoming a widow at age 37 with six young children to raise alone. She has retained that optimism when she had to return to work, when she was first diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, when she started having heart-related health problems, and when family tragedies occasionally reared their ugly heads. She is not in the least bit ethereal -- she is one of the most practical and well-grounded people I know -- but she has solid faith that things will work out as they should if people are courageous enough to do what is right.
Mom is good at seeing new experiences in an adventurous light. When our family moved to Utah after Dad died, she wrote to the Utah tourism office and got as many flyers and brochures as she could about all the things that were available to see and do in Utah, and shared them with us kids. She knew she would be uprooting us from just about everything we knew, but she wanted us to see the move as a great adventure, not as something to be hated or feared.
Mom also has a great love for learning. She taught school for several years before getting married, and returned to it again after Dad died. For many years she taught resource classes, where she was a particularly effective teacher because of her empathy with her students -- she was an undiagnosed dyslexic who really only learned to read in the fifth grade, and then only because her teacher that year worked one-on-one with her to make sure she could read. For many years after that, however, the sensation of being stupid, or of not being as good as the other students, lingered. These experiences prepared her to understand exactly what "her kids" (the resource students at her school) were going through, as they struggled with material their friends had mastered easily, and she was patient and loving with each child.
In addition to gathering knowledge, Mom has a special love for history. When she was in college, back when the only two career choices a woman had were teacher or nurse, she minored in history and geography. In many cases she was the only female student in her classes, and she let slide a number of obnoxiously sexist comments from her professors because of her continued enthusiasm for the subjects. All the time I was growing up there were books about history in the house: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, books on the Civil War, biographies of Lincoln. In fact, that's how we discovered little Danny could read at age 2 -- he'd opened the Lincoln biography and read how Abraham Lincoln was named after his grandfather, who was killed by Indians. This fact he announced to Mom.
Mom created the kind of home where we felt perfectly comfortable bringing friends over for dinner (sometimes unannounced), the place where college Family Home Evening groups would meet for an activity, the endpoint of a group date where everyone would flop on the couch and watch a copy of It's a Wonderful Life. Julie has invited friends to Mom's house for Christmas when they felt lonely, I've dragged friends over to talk and cook, and Mom seems to adopt pretty much everyone who wants adopting.
Mom is a true member of the Kest/Eriksson clan, in that she expresses love in many ways -- but a big way is through food. She's an excellent cook. When we were in high school, she used to make homemade donuts on Halloween night. Sometimes she'd make oliebollen for New Year's Eve. She made my friend Brad a chocolate torte for his birthday when he was in high school, and decades later he hasn't stopped talking about it. Then, too, she specializes in one-time-only creations where she looks in the fridge, the pantry and the spice rack, flings stuff into a pan and starts working her culinary alchemy on whatever she finds. "Better enjoy this," she will tell us, "because I have no idea about the proportions, so I'm never making it again."
It's funny. I know Mom is in her sixties, and I know what she looks like now. But somehow, whenever I think of her, this is what comes to mind:
I think this picture was taken when Mom was in college. It's what she looked like as a young mother. It's who she still is inside. (We've talked about dreams before, and she's said that in her dreams she always appears as she was in her twenties -- young and healthy and full of energy.) Life experiences can batter your outer form, but they don't have to change who you are inside -- and so this is as true a portrait of my Mom as any other picture I could show you.
I love you, Mutti. I hope I haven't embarrassed you by putting you on the spot.