Friday, May 6, 2016
Five wonderful historical mothers
With Mother's Day upon us, I'm thinking about the impact we have on our children, lingering in the form of fond memories. I'm afraid that if my kids were asked, they'd remember an incident which happened many years ago when they were small. At the end of a long day when everything seemed to have gone wrong, I pulled some taco shells from the oven where they were supposed to be getting warm and crisp, only to find them burned and have them slip onto the floor and smash. It was the last straw. So I did my block and started kicking the fragments of the shells against the wall and stamping the rest into splinters, hoping the destruction would ease my temper. Suddenly my two eldest kids were there, laughing until they were practically doubled over and clutching their sides. Even now, they'll ask each other, 'Do you remember Mum's taco stomp?' or tell their youngest brother, 'You should have seen it!' It's not a very dignified memory, but they love retelling it.
Some other ladies have more illustrious things to be remembered for. This Mother's Day, instead of honouring fictional mothers, I'll share some tales I've heard about real life mothers from history.
1) Saint Monica
She was Saint Augustine's mother, and also a saint in her own right. I once owned a little old book of saints which told her story. For years, her son was a party-goer who loved getting wasted and never spared a thought for either the people he might be hurting, or his own eternal destiny. Monica never gave up praying for Augustine, even when such a lot of time passed that other mothers might have given up. It seems praying for her son was one of her main claims to fame.
2) Susannah Wesley
Many of us have probably heard tales about this remarkable lady who bore almost 20 children and raised them in a tiny house with an absentee husband (although he must have been around for long enough to father 19 children). The story goes that whenever the children saw her sitting at the kitchen table with her apron raised over her head, they knew not to bother her. It was her quiet time in which she reflected and prayed. Usually I've heard this anecdote told to convince us that it's never strictly true that we can't get a moment to ourselves. Just spare a thought for Susannah and plug on.
Wikipedia tells us that even though she never wrote a book, preached a sermon or founded a church, she's still known as the mother of Methodism. This is because two of her sons, John and Charles, became famous. One was a great evangelist and the other a renowned hymn writer. We all like to think our good influence rubs off on our kids.
3) Nancy Matthews Elliot
She was Thomas Edison's mother. You might have seen this gem floating around on Facebook. The story goes that young Thomas brought a sealed note home from his teacher. When his mother read it, she teared up and told him they'd decided he was such a genius, they'd run out of resources to teach him. She homeschooled him instead, and years after her death, the famous inventor found the note among her old papers. It really said that he was so addled in the head, they refused to let him attend school anymore.
Other sources claim that the truth was tampered with. In reality, Tom was well aware of their low opinion of him. His mother was a champion on his behalf, making a crusade into school to claim rightfully that he was not a dunce. Rather than being expelled, she pulled him out of school, since she saw that he'd never thrive among their limited and judgmental attitudes. In my opinion, this makes her just as much of a hero as the first tale.
Edison claimed that his mother was the making of him, and her steady confidence in him made him always want to live up to it. What a terrific tribute from a son.
4) Henrietta Seuss Geisel
I read somewhere that this lovely lady used to hold down a part time job at a bakery when her children were small. Because she was expected to memorise all the specialty pies to rattle off to customers, she used to practise in front of young Theodor, making up wacky tunes that made him laugh. She also encouraged his juvenile artistic efforts, giving him permission to practice drawing animals on his plaster bedroom walls. Of course, young Ted grew up to be the beloved Dr Seuss. If my kids would remember me for this sort of quirky help and encouragement, I'd be more than happy. Especially if my own weirdness helped them to tap into their own specific skills.
Her story is told in the Biblical book of 1Samuel. Struggling with infertility and being taunted by her husband's other wife, she promised God that if ever she bore a son by some miracle, she'd make sure he grew up to be a godly man, and what's more, she'd dedicate him for temple service as a babe. That's exactly what happened, and each year when she made the pilgrimage to the temple with her family, she'd bring Samuel a handmade robe, a size larger each visit. And her son grew to be one of the illustrious Old Testament prophets, instrumental in crowning Israel's first two kings.
I wish all fellow mothers, potential mothers, mentors, and any lady who has ever cared deeply for children, a very happy Mother's Day on Sunday. It's not always an easy role, and our purpose may seem to be the butt of jokes as often as it is offering wisdom. I'd like a dollar for every time I've heard something like, 'Hey Logan, guess what Mum just said. She's so out of touch.' But it's all part of the job description, and proves that we need a sense of humour.
As always, I'm interested to throw the comments open. If you can think of any other historical mothers (or hysterical in my case) who deserve recognition, please let us know.