Sunday, May 11, 2014

Tribute to our mom

Today my sister and I shared this tribute to our mom at church. Mission of the Atonement, a progressive community of Lutherans and Catholics, has a tradition of having lay speakers on Mother's Day and Father's Day. Our parents had no idea that we were going to speak, so it was fun to surprise our mom. 

Mom and Dad with all the grandsons
 at their 50th anniversary party,
which she did enjoy in the end!
We can just imagine our mom’s embarrassment, knowing we’re going to talk about her. We helped her plan their 50th anniversary party a few years ago, and it required a great deal of patience.

She doesn’t like being the center of attention and was ambivalent about having a party in her honor. She was concerned people would think she was making a big deal out of being married for 50 years and they would only come out of obligation. We suggested wording for the invitation, “We hope you won’t be able to come.”  Seriously, though, we are happy to embarrass and honor our wonderful mom on this special day.

Mom, like our Nicholas, was the bonus baby. Her sister and brother were teenagers when she was born, so she was cherished by her family. Her mom Rita was a master gardener—quiet and compassionate—and her dad Lloyd was funny, opinionated, and strong willed.

At Oregon City High School, Mom played marimba and drums. It was unusual in the 1950s for a girl to play percussion. She always encouraged our pursuit of music and paid for both lessons and musical instruments without hesitation.

Mom's family seeing them off at the airport
Even though Mom and Dad went to high school together, they got to know each other at PLU when Dad would transport people home for extra money…and Mom needed a ride. Although they went out on one date, when Dad found out Mom had been out with someone else, he thought she was not interested. But then she asked him to a Tolo dance. This story taught us that a good man is worth pursuing. They got married soon after she graduated.

Then they went to Germany to work for a few years and travel throughout Europe. What we didn’t realize until later was that they had planted the desire for travel in both of us. We were 19 and 21 and we flew off to live in China and Japan within one week of each other. As parents, we find it hard to comprehend how difficult this must have been, but they always encouraged us.

Seeing me off at the airport to live in Japan (August 1986)
 (Nadine left for China a week later!)
With my mom
Like both of us, Mom did not come to motherhood easily. Her first pregnancy resulted in miscarriage. Then when she was pregnant with me, she got German measles. As a result, I was born with multiple birth defects, but Mom only saw a beautiful baby. Throughout my childhood, I had surgeries to correct my cleft lip and palate. When I was a toddler, she had to force a speech appliance into my mouth every day, and I would gag and cry. It can’t have been easy for her to see her child go through that.

Two years later, I (Nadine) was born. A few years later, our brother Stephen was born weighing only 5 pounds, and he had to spend several days in the hospital to gain weight. Mom stayed at home while Dad taught and went to graduate school.  As mothers of 3 kids, it’s easy to feel inadequate and overwhelmed. But one phone call to Mom reassures us our kids will be okay and we need to be kind to ourselves. And knowing Mom wasn’t perfect makes us feel better. For example, one day she was making cocoa for Stephen and he kept telling her it was too hot, then too cold, then too hot. He pushed her so far that she decided to pour the cocoa on his head. Our kids love to hear this story.
Family around 1973

Living on one teaching salary meant we didn’t have much money. Dad would take on summer jobs and Mom made do with a small grocery budget. She was an adventurous cook—we had tacos and teriyaki long before our friends had heard of them. We almost always had home-cooked family dinners together, and she taught us how to cook at a young age.

What we lacked in money, we had in love and security.  As parents now, we know that food, shelter, and unconditional love are the three ingredients of a happy childhood. We either made our own clothes or bought them on sale, and our big-ticket gifts like bikes, stereos, or musical instruments were secondhand. We camped on family vacations instead of staying in hotels. We have wonderful childhood memories.

Visiting relatives in Philadelphia, 1981--check out those knee highs!
One of our favorite memories of our time together is the six-week road trip we took across the U.S. We camped and stayed with friends along the way—visiting Mt. Rushmore, the Midwest, Philadelphia, Massachusetts, New York, Washington DC, and the Rockies. It was a grand adventure!

Mom instilled four important lessons in us. First, she taught us that what we do as women matters, and that we should pursue rewarding careers. When we were in middle school, Mom went back to school to get her master’s degree in counseling. That meant we needed to help with the meals and be more independent.

My graduation from PLU in 1986, with a B.A. in English
Our parents made sacrifices to help us attend college, and we went there believing we could be or do anything we wanted. But they never pressured us to pursue a particular career path…even when I changed my major to English!

After Mom got her graduate degree, she went back to work as a mental health therapist at St. Vincent Hospital. What Mom demonstrated to us was that women should seek their own fulfillment and not just live their lives through their children. She set a great example of a work-life balance that we both strive for to this day.

The second important lesson was the importance of community. We were raised in this church, then Atonement Lutheran Church, which had a lot in common with Mission of the Atonement. We learned that the best way to experience God’s love was in fellowship and community. I also remember, long before I took feminist theology in college, asking Mom if God was a he or she. She was so far ahead of her time…she told me that God has no gender, even though all the language in the church told me otherwise. It took me years to finally get that.

The third thing is that relationships matter. We knew our parents needed to spend time together to keep their marriage healthy. Mom also taught us to voice our opinions in our relationships. As some of you know, the Gettel women are a bit more opinionated than our husbands. We blame our mother for this. Just like her, we aren’t shy about sharing our opinions with our husbands.

Mom also spent time with her carefully selected friends. She chose friends who were like her--funny, intelligent, loving, and compassionate. As I look at the close friends all three of us have today, they share those four characteristics. She trained us well to choose our friends wisely.
Celebrating Mother's Day this afternoon--
Mom with all three kids
With my boys on Mother's Day
And finally, Mom taught us the importance of family. Because of this, Marie and I both chose partners who also value family. Mom and Dad demonstrate amazing commitment to their siblings as they age and need more help. They regularly visit our uncle, who has Alzheimer’s, while some have forgotten him.

Mom is always there when we need her…from Christopher’s long NICU stay, Nadine’s bedrest with the twins, to when we’ve been recovering from surgeries, Mom is a steady, loving presence.

She is also an incredible grandma to our six boys. She’s a grandma who plays Monopoly, shows them how to cook, eats popcorn and watches the Blazers, reads books, and showers them with affection. We cannot imagine having a better role model as a mother and grandmother. She is encouraging, supportive, wise, genuine, and loving.

We are both happy with our testosterone-charged families…but we also need our female time. On Friday night we just had our annual Mother’s Day getaway, which all three of us treasure.

With Mom on Friday night, our women's getaway
But after experiencing infertility and pregnancy loss, we know that Mother’s Day is not an easy day for everyone. We hold in our hearts those women who have suffered from infertility, who have lost children, or whose children are sick or in the hospital. We also hold those who have lost their moms or who experience pain and loss of their mothers from dementia or estrangement. We pray for all those who bear pain on this day while we cherish our own mom.

We love you Mom. Thank you for giving us such a great start in life.

And I want to give a special shout-out to my wonderful hubby, who made six quiches for brunch today and held down the fort this weekend so I could spend time with my wonderful mom and sister. He is amazing!
With my honey!

1 comment:

  1. What a marvelous tribute to your Mom, with the ups and downs, joys and sorrows of her life. She has been a fantastic friend through the years as well. I first met her at a 4-H camp where she knew how to pin-curl her hair, and I was envious. I'm glad she is getting abundant opportunities to grandmother, which I am also finding very rewarding. Thanks, Marie, and Shirley and Nadine--and Bob--for sharing her with me over the years Nicole Ross, now Tiffany..