On Mom’s 90th

Today would have been Mom’s 90th birthday.  She’s been gone for a number of years, now, but I still think of her from time to time — and I find that I recall her, and inwardly hear her distinctive voice, even more frequently during this curious period.

Like yesterday, when I made myself lunch on a weekday — which is highly unusual, of course.  My meal was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and apple slices.  That’s exactly the kind of lunch that Mom made for me back when I was in elementary school.  Make the sandwich with Wonder Bread instead of whole wheat, add in a Twinkie — individually wrapped, of course — and give me a small carton of cold milk bought from the school cafeteria for 2 cents, and I could easily be an 8-year-old eagerly opening up my lunchbox at Rankin Elementary School.

Or washing your hands.  Who doesn’t remember their Mom lecturing them on the importance of constant, rigorous handwashing?  In Mom’s case, the lecture didn’t stipulate that 20 seconds of washing was required, but the lecture always involved the words “scrub” and “use some elbow grease” and frequently was followed by a post-washing spot check to make sure that hands and face were suitably clean before you could sit down for dinner.

Or being home because of illness.  Sure, I’m not staying home because of my illness — knock wood! — but when you had to stay home from school was when Mom really shined.  Campbell’s Chicken noodle soup and saltines, with jello for dessert, on a TV tray served to you in bed, Archie and Richie Rich and Scrooge McDuck comics to review, freshly laundered pajamas, and the scent of Vicks Vap-o-rub in the air — why, you almost looked forward to a little sick time R and R.

And finally, Mom was the queen of looking on the bright side — and there are always things to be thankful for, even during this time.  So far, all of our family members, colleagues, and friends have remained blessedly virus-free, we’ve got food in the cupboards and the fridge, our toilet paper supplies are holding out, with every day that goes by I’m saving money on dry-cleaning expenses, and Kish and I have managed to deal with the work at home process without a hitch.  Mom would say “count your blessings,” so in honor of her birthday I will.

Happy birthday, Mom!     

Happy Mother’s Day!

Most of us have been blessed with great mothers.  And it’s hard to over-emphasize the importance of the roles they played during our formative years.

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It was our mothers who gave us unconditional love and constant encouragement, our mothers who taught us how to read and the importance of saying “please” and “thank you,” and our mothers who were there when we came home from school, making our house a warm and loving place.    It was our mothers who bought the outfits we wore and made our breakfasts and packed our school lunches and snapped the photos that went into the family albums.  In the rankings of influential people in our lives, mothers are always going to be somewhere at the top of the list.

Many of us tend to take our parents for granted.  After all, they were always there, as our mothers and fathers, doing the stuff that Moms and Dads do, and it’s not hard to forget that they had lives before we arrived on the scene.  But they did, and at some point they made the conscious decision to become mothers and fathers and take on a crucial, lifelong commitment that would never have existed otherwise.  Without those decisions, we wouldn’t be here.  As the years have passed, with both of my parents gone, I’ve thought about that more and more, and wished there was some way I could repay them for everything they did — but of course that opportunity has passed.

I had a great Mom, and I’m married to one, too.  Here’s to all of the great Moms out there who are doing the essential things that mothers do to help mold the decent, caring people we encounter every day.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day!

img_5099Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers out there!  Happy Mother’s Day to my lovely wife, who has been an awesome mother, to my own dear mother and to my two wonderful grandmothers, who live forever in my thoughts (and in the expressions and sayings I use every day), and to the generations of mothers who preceded them whose love, hard work, nurturing, perseverance, sacrifice, and daily guidance were instrumental in producing the modern-day Webner clan.

You know, when you think about it, a card, some flowers, and a box of candy really don’t adequately recognize what mothers do for us and for our society.  But then, some debts really can’t be satisfied with material items.  All we can do for our mothers is love them right back, and try to live up to the standards they set and the instruction they provided.  And take a day like today to think about how much our mothers have meant, and try our best to show them we appreciate it.

 

Hot Cereal On A Cold Morning

As I was on this morning’s walk, inwardly grumbling about the 10 degree temperature with face stiff from the brutal chill, I heard my mother’s voice.  “On a cold morning, nothing is better for you than hot cereal,” she said.

It’s true.  Mom was right up there with the Quaker Oats guy in advocating for hot cereal as a crucial part of the cold weather diet.  Every year, at some point around Halloween and responding to some innate motherly weather instinct that was beyond the ken of little kids, she would declare that the hot cereal season had begun.  In explaining why, she would use phrases like “fortified against the cold” and “stick to your ribs” — but in any case her declaration had the force of law.  From then on the Webner kids ate nothing but oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, Maypo, Malt o’ Meal, and Coco Wheats until, months later, the winter weather finally broke and Frosted Flakes would once again appear on the kitchen countertop.

They say a boy should always listen to his Mom, and I’d hate to be a disobedient son, so today I’m making some oatmeal with blueberries, brown sugar, and pecans for breakfast.  And because I’m now a grown up, a cup of steaming hot coffee and some orange juice sound good, too.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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I’ve been very lucky in the mothers department, so to help mark Mother’s Day, 2016, I wrote this bit of doggerel:

Thanks to the Mothers

Thanks to the mothers in all of our lives

Who loved us, hugged us and gave us high fives

Who bundled us up against every chill

00020295And helped push us to the top of the hill

Who dressed us up for the special occasions

And offered advice and friendly persuasions

Who kissed the boo-boos and wiped the tears

And endured the sullen teenage years

Who fretted and worried about every ill 

And somewhere, we know, are doing so still

Be they Grandma, or Mom, or my lovely wife

I’m grateful for the mothers I’ve had in my life!

 

Another Reason To Be Thankful For Your Mother

Here’s another reason to add to the infinite list of reasons to be thankful for your mother:  she didn’t drop you off at Grandma’s house before suiting up, declaring her allegiance to a terrorist group, and then heading off to conduct an inexplicable massacre of innocent people.

the-empty-crib-mourning-a-miscarriageThat is the most astonishing aspect of the apparent back story of the San Bernardino shooters: one of them was a new mother who allegedly dropped her child off at her mother-in-law’s house before heading out for a murderous rampage with her husband.

People used to refer to the “maternal instinct” — the notion that there was an innate impulse, possessed by every mother, to love and fiercely guard her children.  It’s an old-fashioned concept, and probably passe in modern times, but the San Bernardino attack certainly undercuts its presumed existence.  No one with “maternal instincts” could knowingly bring explosives and weaponry into the home where she was raising an infant and then callously drop off the kid before blazing away at strangers.

President Obama, and others, frequently respond to terrorist incidents by talking about our “shared values” — as if all of the people of the world had the same perspective on things.  Of course, we don’t all have “shared values”; that’s the problem.  San Bernardino puts the lie to that concept as well.  How can we reasonably speak of “shared values” if something as fundamental as a mother’s love can be overcome by a terrorist ideology?  If we can’t trust a mother to stick with her child . . . well, what can we trust?

Happy Mothers’ Day

00019488Here’s to the Moms, past and present,

who wiped your bottom and wiped your nose,

who kissed the boo-boo and made it better,

who cooked your favorite meal on your birthday,

who had the best Halloween candy on the block,

who cried when you went off to college, and

whose special kind of love is always there.

Happy Mothers’ Day!

If You Want To Seem Smarter, Listen To Your Mom

If you want to seem smarter to your co-workers and new acquaintances, what should you do?  According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, a growing body of research shows that you would do well to listen to your inner Mom and follow her advice.

Raise your hand if you remember your Mom telling you to sit up straight and look her in the eyes when you were talking.  It turns out that those are two of the visual clues people focus on in deciding whether a person speaking is intelligent.  It’s not hard to understand why people have that reaction:  those who slouch look slothful and undisciplined and speakers who don’t make eye contact seem shifty and deceptive, whereas people who sit up straight and look you in the eye seem engaged, interested, direct, and honest — all qualities that are associated with intelligence.

According to the article, other behaviors that projected intelligence included having self-confidence, being responsive in conversation and not over-talking, using clear language and not unnecessary big words, and — and this is a key one — admitting it when you don’t know something and asking for help rather than trying to fake it.  You can bet that, in most situations, your audience will include someone who knows that you’re just trying to bluff your way through and your credibility will take a hit.

Oh, and one other cliche actually turns out to be right:  the research shows that observers inevitably conclude that people who wear eyeglasses are smarter.  No word, though, on whether darker frames are correlated with higher presumed IQ.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day to my lovely wife and the fabulous mother of our boys, to my own wonderful mother, to my Aunt Corinne, and to my sisters, my sisters-in-law, and the other mothers of the world. This day is for you — although one day of appreciation obviously isn’t sufficient! We thank you for your love, your patience, your help, your forgiveness, and the many other qualities that make mothers such an important part of our lives.

Happy Mother’s Day!

The Family Silver

Back in the ’60s, many suburban homes had a silver set proudly displayed in the dining room.  Our mothers had them and our grandmothers had them; they were in our friends’ houses and glimpsed in the dining room scenes on TV sitcoms.

IMG_3767The family silver sets were a tangible sign of success and a mark of class.  In an era when people might be invited over, in coats and ties and cocktail dresses, for a fancy sit-down dinner, silver place settings and coffee pots might be used occasionally.  And you always got the sense that your mother and grandmothers wanted to be ready in case the Queen of England unexpectedly dropped by for tea.

Over the years, our mothers inherited the family silver from our grandmothers, and now our mothers have no use for them any longer.  So, our generation stores these ornate, scrolled, increasingly tarnished objects, but nobody uses them.  I’ve never been served from a silver teapot or dish, or eaten with a silver spoon.  No surprise there — silver is a pain to keep polished and probably gives food and drink a slight metallic tang, besides.  I can’t imagine any of our friends serving high tea or inviting us for a formal meal with fine china and silver utensils.

So, what to do with this stuff?  Kish did some did some digging and found that these once-treasured objects are not really worth much.  No one is buying silver tea sets, so there is no resale market.  If it’s sterling silver, it can be sold and melted down.  And if it’s silver plate?  Well, one woman Kish talked to said if there were little girls in the family they could use it to make their tea time play more realistic.

Imagine . . . from a prominently displayed source of family pride to little more than a kid’s plaything, in the course of one generation.  What does that tell you about putting too much stock in material items?

On Mother’s Day, A Father’s Thoughts

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers out there, and to all of the lucky children and spouses who owe so much to the wonderful mothers in their families.

00019749-1I’ve been privileged to be the son of one great mother and the husband of another.  Although great mothers may differ in many respects, I suspect that they all share one crucial quality:  they have opened their hearts to their children, totally and unequivocally, so that their children’s welfare always is their paramount consideration.  Even when they are overwhelmed, or sick, or experiencing their own personal challenges, they are worried that their daughters and sons aren’t eating well, or are working too hard, or aren’t as happy with their lives as they possibly could be.  They are willing to do just about anything to help their children achieve optimal bliss because nothing is more important to them.  They say they don’t want us to worry about them, and they almost always truly mean it because they don’t want to add one scintilla to our everyday burdens.

We’ve all heard stories of mothers who, in moments of extraordinary strain and stress, have done extraordinary things like lifting too-heavy objects off children pinned beneath.  I’m not surprised by those stories.  There is something awesomely powerful about the mother-child bond and the love that bubbles forever in a mother’s heart.  If you are the object of that love, it is an amazing and humbling thing.

The Two Greatest Mothers In The History Of The World

This Mother’s Day, I want to take a moment to thank the two greatest mothers in the history of the world:  my mother, and my wife.

I knew my mother first, of course.  If I could somehow probe the recesses of my brain and call up my first memory, it would no doubt be of Mom’s face.  She was the center of the universe for a brood of five kids.  She taught us how to behave and treat grown-ups with politeness and respect, to wash behind our ears and to “put some elbow grease” into our household chores.  She made sure we got to doctor’s appointments and had school supplies and clean clothes.  She encouraged us in our successes and comforted us in our failures — and, in fact, she still does.

So much responsibility!  I knew it was a tough job, because one of my most distinct childhood memories was when my mother, that paragon of positivity, burst into tears after our bad behavior had finally gotten on her last nerve.  She sat down on a stoop that connected our kitchen to our living room and sobbed.  The effect on the kids was like a loud thunderclap on an otherwise clear summer day.  My God!  What had we done?  We quieted down immediately and sat down beside her, telling her we were sorry and promised never to do it again — which turned out to not be true, of course.

I got a different perspective on how hard it is to be a mother when Kish and I decided to have children.  So much studying to do, with books from T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Spock and others about infants and their development, when they should start walking and talking, and how best to provide a secure yet stimulating environment!  And research on things like the safest cribs, and how you should lay children down to sleep.  Kish’s copies of these books were dog-eared, underlined, and highlighted weeks before Richard arrived.  And once he and Russell did arrive, Kish’s feelings of pride and worry and joy and concern about every step they took along the way to adulthood surged forward and were displayed, transparently and unabashedly, for all to see, every day and every night.

Those feelings remain as strong as ever, even though the boys have left the house.  They’re obviously never far from her mind, and as much as she might enjoy the company of me and the dogs, only the appearance of the kids can bring that special, happy look to her face.  They are, and will always be, the light of her life.  I guess that’s what being one of the best mothers in the world is all about.

Tonight the two greatest mothers in the history of the world will be together, with their entire families, to munch on some pizza and celebrate Mother’s Day.  For them, that will be the greatest Mother’s Day gift of all.

Thanks, Mom!

Today is Mother’s Day.  The states and Congress have formally recognized Mother’s Day for about 100 years, but people have been celebrating their mothers for a lot longer than that.  Today I wanted to say “thanks” to my mother, Agnes Neal Webner.

Mom in her 2010 Crazy Cap Cruise outfit

Thanks, Mom, for carrying me around for nine months!  Thanks for my name, which I’ve always liked.  Thanks for changing my diapers and for putting up with me when I was a squalling infant, and thanks for not slugging me when I was going through the “terrible twos” or being a jerky, insolent teenager.  Thanks for being understanding when I wet the bed.  Thanks for making me behave, but not coming down too hard on me when I broke my glasses for the thousandth time or goofed off instead of doing my chores.  Thanks for buying the kinds of breakfast cereal I really liked, and for letting me flip the pancakes on Sunday mornings, and for giving me that great bowling birthday party with my friends when I turned 10.

Thanks for being patient as I went through the dreadful teenage years.  Thanks for not laughing at my haircuts or my sad efforts to look cool or the weird outfit I wore for my high school senior picture in 1975.  Thanks for being nice to my friends.  Thanks for not worrying too much about me and letting me find my own way.  I always knew you were there, ready to help, if I needed you.
Thanks for my brother and sisters, and thanks for giving me individual attention and support even though I was one of five children who vied for your attention.  Thanks for cleaning my ridiculously dirty college apartment and for deciding, with Dad, to pay for my college and law school tuition.  Thanks for being so welcoming to Kish and to the other people who have joined our family.  Thanks for taking care of Richard when Russell was born, and for inviting the boys to come down and stay with you and Dad in your Florida condo.  They really enjoyed those trips.  And thanks for teaching me sayings that I still use, like “rise and shine” and “use a little elbow grease.”
Thanks for your generosity, and your sacrifices, and you unflinching love and support.  Thanks giving me my dimples and helping to shape my outlook about things.  Thanks for all that, and for so much more that you have done for me over the past 54 years.
Thanks, Mom!
Love, Bob

Mommy’s Brain

A new study published in Behavioral Neuroscience suggests that giving birth causes the brains of mothers to grow in certain areas.  The study compared brain size soon after birth with brain size months later and concluded that the gray matter of the brain increased by a significant amount.  The specific areas of the brain that were affected deal with maternal motivation, reward and emotion processing, sensory integration, and reasoning and judgment.  All of these areas are relevant to child-rearing (although you could make a case that every area of the brain is related in some fashion to child-rearing).

It shouldn’t be surprising that the female brain reacts to giving birth and caring for a child.  After birth, females are flooded with hormones like estrogen, oxytocin and prolactin, and first-time mothers are learning an entirely new set of skills, including surviving on little sleep, coming bolt awake at the first murmurings of a waking infant, and mastering the interpretation of baby cries to determine whether a child is starving, dealing with a poop-filled diaper, or just lonely for Mom’s smiling face.

Not surprisingly, the study did not include the impact of having a child on the brains of new fathers.  My guess would be that any such study would conclude that the birth of a child does nothing to divert the male brain from its long, gradual slide to eventual senility.  While maternal brains respond energetically to new stimuli, sluggish paternal brains just hope to get some sleep.

Measuring The Meaning Of Mothering

The BBC has a story today on one of those odd scientific studies that seek to confirm what everybody already believes.  In this case, the study attempts to assess the impact of mothering on children.  Psychologists evaluated the interactions between mothers and their infants during a routine check-up with the children were only eight months’ old, and those now fully grown children were then asked to respond to survey questions 30 years later. 

Not surprisingly, the study found that when mothers are expressively loving and supportive, their children are better situated to deal with distress and to develop effective life, social, and coping skills.  The children of emotionally cold mothers, on the other hand, have more difficulty dealing with anxiety.  There is a limit to the developmental effectiveness of maternal warmth, however.  The study concluded that over-mothering can be “intrusive and embarrassing.”

So, the study supports what we already knew instinctively:  that mothers make a difference in the lives of their children.  For those mothers who are prone to feeling inadequate — and what Mom isn’t? — the study also will cause them to fret that they have ruined their kids’ lives by neglecting to give a hug or warm words of support at a crucial moment. 

I won’t have thought it possible that mothers could be made to feel even more guilty about their parenting skills, but this study probably accomplishes that.  Isn’t science wonderful?