5 Things I Learned from My Mother

WIth Mother's Day around the corner, I couldn't leave this week without paying a little special attention to my mom. I'm fortunate to have a mom, first of all, but even more fortunate to be very, very close to her. April and I talk conservatively 4 times a day, and both of our husbands have just had to DEAL.

Last year, after more than a quarter century of us living in the same state, my parents moved to Tulsa and we moved to Asheville. That put 14 hours in a car between April and me, which has made me realize just how much I love her (if that even needed emphasis). So Mom, this post is for you: the five biggest lessons you've taught me so far. 

1. Food solves everything. 

 New Year's Day 2015 - there are 13 tiny layers in this cake. April made it, of course. 

New Year's Day 2015 - there are 13 tiny layers in this cake. April made it, of course. 

This one was an easy beginning. Anyone who is even remotely close to my family has eaten in our kitchen, which also means eating my mom's incredible food. She's not just a good cook "for a mom;" she's a good cook for anybody. Guests around my mother's table sit down hungry, are gobsmacked by the level of skill she has in the kitchen, then leave - full, a little drunk (though that's my dad's doing), and happy. 

Whether it's homemade buttermilk biscuits, fried chicken (Parker's favorite), Thomas Keller's roast chicken, or breakfast on Christmas morning, the woman knows what she's doing. 

In my own life, food with my mom has played a major role. Though we are definitely both healthier eaters now than we used to be (and thank you Jesus, because we'd be 800 pounds each), every major event in my life has been marked by Mom and me tearing up some kind of cuisine. Bad day? Mexican food. Home sick from school? Burger King on the way home. Weekend at my grandmother's? Krispy Kreme for breakfast. Got dumped? Homemade mashed potatoes. 

Including this in the list is not about bragging on my mom's culinary skill (though I did plenty of that and am going to continue bragging with abandon), but about something deeper - cooking is a love language for my mother, and for many mothers out there. Cooking has become a love language for me because I grew up listening to that language, and now I can speak it because my mother taught me how. 

2. Light up your eyes. 

Maya Angelou was once quoted talking about how important it was as a parent to make sure your children knew that you loved them. She said one of the best yardsticks to use was, "Do your eyes light up when they come into the room?" 

I vividly remember hearing this quote on the radio in my car, because it moved me to tears - it was the first time I realized just how fortunate I was to have a mother whose eyes were always full of light. 

Parker and I grew up in a house where literally every single time we walked through the front door, Mom would yell, "MAAAAAARY!!!!!! PARKERRRRRR!!!!" usually followed by a totally non-rhyming chant or cheer of some sort while we all marched around or clapped along (I can hear it in my head now). It didn't matter if we had been gone for 5 days or 5 minutes - there was an actual celebration that took place when we returned. 

This practice of pouring out love and celebration is something my mother does constantly. She poured it out for her clients at a food ministry in Birmingham, for the little girl she tutors in Tulsa, for all her many friends, for her family. It wasn't until I heard that Maya Angelou quote that I realized my mother embodied something that is an actual effort for other people, and I've never taken it for granted again. 

3. Go above and beyond as a hostess.

 She isn't in this photo, but her fingerprints are EVERYWHERE. Photo be Leslee Mitchell Photography.

She isn't in this photo, but her fingerprints are EVERYWHERE. Photo be Leslee Mitchell Photography.

Anyone who's ever stayed at my parents' or eaten at my parents' table knows this one to be true: April turns it OUT when people are coming over. 

Fresh flowers in vases on every surface. Food absolutely everywhere. A glass bottle of water and glasses on every nightstand. Rising early to cook a ridiculously enormous breakfast. If it's a party she's hosting, the house is completely immaculate, decorated within an inch of its life and somehow still very tasteful. Our birthday cakes and invitations as children were always homemade, thought "homemade" at my house looked professionally crafted. 

This is one I'm still honing myself (haven't quite nailed it - I think it must take years), but it speaks to Mom's constant and unwavering willingness to place others before self. It's not about hosting for her, it's about meeting everyone's needs and seeing that everyone who crosses the threshold of her home feels so special, attended to, and deeply loved. 

4. Give it away.

Speaking of generosity, this one is a biggie. 

I have so many memories growing up of this exact situation playing out: 

Some random person: "April, I love your earrings!" 
April: "Oh, thank you!! Here, why don't you have them?" 
Random person: "Oh, no - I couldn't do that." 
April: *already taking them out of her ears* "Please!! I would love for you to have them." *hands them over.* 

This happened with earrings, bags, jackets - you name it, she's given it away. Of course, there are a few special things with which she'd never part, but mostly, even considering her ubiquitous style and flare, Mom is pretty willing to part with "just stuff." Though she has always been a "cool mom" in the sense of being fashionable and current, she's never had a closet stuffed full of clothes, shoes, and jewelry. She's selective in her choices, and even then, it's just stuff. And still, she would be voted among anyone I know as one of the most beautiful and classic women around. 

But again, as with most things, this action is a reflection of a deeper attitude for my mom: things aren't important, but people are. 

5. Choose joy.

 Crying of joy in this very picture. 

Crying of joy in this very picture. 

Loud, constantly singing, cackling/snorting/wheeze laughing, spastic, dancing badly, crying on a dime, twirling around with happiness, striking up conversations with complete strangers, oversharing - these are just a few things that Mom and I have in common.

It's because April lives her life from a place of joy first. 

Nobody's life is perfect. But there is a way to live that places happiness, kindness, and J O Y at the forefront of a person's mind and heart, and that is the way that April McAnnally lives. 

Really, it's not just joy - it's all her emotions. She feels things deeply and immediately, and so do I. I can't count the number of times we've started to tell a story and paused, tearing up, saying, "I'm gonna cry talking about it!" Or how many times I've called her and she's in the middle of sobbing while watching someone succeed on The Voice or American Idol. Or how many times we've been at a concert and I've had to step away from the crazy woman dancing and singing all the words. Or how many times, seeing that I'm angry or upset about something, she will also get angry or upset, to the point that I have to calm her down in order to calm myself down. 

My mother lives life with a heart WIDE open. Choosing to live that way means you're vulnerable to great despair, but it also means that you feel love, triumph, and sparkly-can't-stand-it-goodness more intensely than most. It is a way to walk through life that sees the world in all its color, vibrancy, diversity, and hope - every day, all the time, without trying hard. She is the queen of this particular lifestyle.

 

Of course, there's no way to capture everything I've learned from my mother. I don't even think I'm aware of it - she made me, she has shaped me, and she continues to fine-tune her work by living the example of what it means to be a compassionate, kind, God-loving, spirited, FABULOUS woman. I haven't had any success, happiness, or wonder in my life for which she wasn't, in some sense, responsible. There's nobody like her. 

Here's to you, Mom.