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The women who mothered me

May 16, 2013 - By Betty Starks Case

What felt restricting at the time was revealed as nurturing as time passed.

"What are you doing that limits your growth?"

The question posed by our pastor a couple of weeks ago asks serious thought.

In this gorgeous season of new leaves, blooming crabapple trees, and pastures fairly dancing with new life, who would wish to be limited?

Then last Sunday, our pastor, speaking of mothers, mentioned "All the women who have mothered you."

Somehow, these two lines converged in my thinking, and I'm wondering if all the women who mothered me, or tried to, might have somehow affected my growth?

I once asked my dad why I was the smallest, physically, of eight children and he said, "You had a gimpy leg and were the last one to get to the trough."

With that, I decided to wait awhile to assess my mental and spiritual development.

But I'm willing to give the maternal thing a quick test today, so here goes:

Mother No. 1: My birth mother. It would be hard to label a schoolteacher "growth-limiting." Teachers expect progress. My teacher-mother was a bit reserved, so I asked endless questions. Often, I was instructed to relay her answers to my two sisters.

Did my mother forget I was a middle child? I've read that particular sibling position may have trouble understanding life. When it came to sex and how babies are born, my sisters declared my interpretation stunted their growth and warped their perception of the entire process.

Still, I've wished many times I could take a column to my mother and ask her opinion. I'm sure I'd receive the gentle response I heard as a child when asking if my drawings were properly done.

"Why don't you try again?" she might say. "Something doesn't seem quite right here."

Or, with a soft dimpled smile of affirmation, "Hmm. Looks fine to me."

I think I'll always need her gentle guidance.

Mother No. 2: My big sister. I was born when she was 18 months old. She may have thought someone gave her a Christmas doll a couple of months late. (Cabbage Patch? Raggedy Ann?) Whatever, her mothering instincts kicked in early.

I remember a beautiful red taffeta dress she made for me to wear to a high school carnival, with no concern for her own. She dealt selflessly with others, leaving me the fond memory of a last hug and, "I love you," just a day before she left this Earth.

Mother No. 3: Mrs. Skinrood, the dorm mother where my sisters and I lived while attending early high school years in South Dakota. There, female residents were assigned to wash and wipe dishes after meals. When my turn came, Mrs. Skinrood took the towel from me, saying, "You're too little. I'll do it for you."

Meanwhile, back home on the farm, I'd been milking cows, shocking grain and birthing piglets for years.

I didn't know how to politely object. Suddenly I was 5 again, starting school and trying to elude the big kids snatching me up to ferry me to the opposite goal in a running game.

But Mrs. Skinrood needed a child to nurture and wrote a poem calling me "The child of my love and care."

My parents, I think, feared my growth would be stunted by this well-meaning but needy house-mother. They didn't realize how big I thought I was.

Mother No. 4: Julia. In her home, I worked for my room and board while attending college. A lifelong friend of my mother, Julia felt responsible and practiced stricter discipline than any prior mother I'd known or thought I needed at that age.

Later, Julia apologized, saying she learned more about young adults as her own children grew. She softened her name to "Judy," embroidered dishtowels for me, and introduced me as her eldest daughter. Judy lived to attend my mate's and my golden wedding anniversary.

Mother No. 4: Ola Case -- Mom -- my mother-in-law. I remember her with love. I'm proud of the relationship we shared. Disagreements were discussed with caring. It gave us a chance to learn from each other.

Truly my second mom, she taught many things that enhanced my growth.

Besides, she raised five great kids. I loved them all. (One the most.)

In her last days, I flew to care for her as she'd requested. I'm honored to have been asked.

In this short look at the women who mothered me, I'm strangely reminded: What can appear as restricting can prove just the opposite.

So I ask myself, "What might I be doing now that limits my growth?"

Procrastination comes to mind ... quickly remedied by a column deadline.

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