One of my mother’s heroes was Helen Keller; she made sure that my sister and I knew Helen’s story, and she made a great effort to take me to hear a speech given by her in Memphis when I should have been too young to remember it. I do remember it, and I remember the awe and respect given to her by my mother because of the great obstacles that Helen Keller overcame. Helen Keller would probably be a “throw-away” child today, because she was both blind and deaf; she is the child whose story is told in The Miracle Worker. I read a quote from her last week where she described the word “character.” How in the world did someone get her to understand a word like “character” when she could neither see nor hear? Unbelievable! Helen Keller wrote several books and gave lectures around the world as an adult and lived to be 88 years old.
My mother had other heroes; some were obscure authors and missionaries. She had a great respect for our American founders and many of our presidents as well. Wherever we traveled, she made sure that we went to see the homes of presidents and other significant landmarks. When you have heroes, you talk about them and teach your children about them, either directly or indirectly She would read aloud to us about these people. I would get tired of hearing about them, and I was much more interested in the beach and souvenir shops and playgrounds than in the home and school of George Washington Carver, another of her heroes. Especially as I got older, I decided to pick a few heroes of my own, like movie stars and singers. My mother was older than most of my friends’ mothers (I was born when she was 36), so I blamed her “oldness” for her disinterest in the beautiful stars of the day. I had to go to a neighbor’s house to see the movie magazines that my friend and her mother enjoyed. Somehow, my mother felt that these people whom I was choosing would not have admirable legacies, but, of course I knew that she was “old and out of touch.”
What difference would it have made in who I am as an adult today if her heroes had been of a different sort? What is a mother’s responsibility during a child’s impressionable years? What would have happened to me if I had gotten the kind of mother that I thought I wanted at that point in my life? I envied the friends who had mothers who thought the sun rose and set on them and who got excited about concerts, Elvis, James Dean, current fashion and Marilyn Monroe. Those friends’ mothers knew what was “really” important!
As the years passed, however, I began to realize that some of the “ideal” teen-age-like Moms became more and more immature and that family problems often outweighed the good in my friends’ homes. My family just seemed to stay the same and enjoy their everyday lives; they were able to reach out a helping hand to others and enjoy little things in life like deep friendships, loyalty and laughter. I knew that my heroes were pretty much here today and gone tomorrow. Slowly, I realized that lasting values (those given to me by my parents) were what happiness was made of. The glitz and glitter of my heroes lost some of its shine for me.
At this Mother’s Day season, I would like to challenge young mothers to look at your heroes. Are you filling the young minds of your children with sights and sounds that they have no business seeing and experiencing just so that you can be current? Are you taking any responsibility for putting before your baby appropriate and meaningful music and literature that meets his/her emotional and psychological needs? Are you reading books to your elementary school child that tell of real-life sacrifice and accomplishment and overcoming odds? Your teen-agers also need to have placed before them opportunities to serve others and to learn of present day people who are giving rather than grabbing. Who are your children’s heroes? Where are they getting their definition of “hero”? Are you taking any responsibility for your child’s values or spiritual growth?
I am a people watcher; I see parents who think nothing of spending time and money to give their children clean, healthy food for their bodies but don’t give a minute’s thought about putting trash into their child’s impressionable mind.
What is a mother’s responsibility in this area? I am thankful for parents who thought this subject through thoroughly and were willing to be judged old-fashioned and out of the loop by their daughters rather than letting us lead them. We didn’t need for our parents to be our best friends; we needed them to be adults, guides, role models and examples. I am very grateful today that they placed before us worthy heroes. Think about it! Helen Keller (now one of my heroes) said, “Face your deficiencies and acknowledge them; but do not let them master you. Let them teach you patience, sweetness and insight. When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.” She also said, “I thank God for my handicaps, for, through them, I have found myself, my work and my God.”
(You can reach Pat Bryson at firstname.lastname@example.org)