The old cliché says it takes a village to raise a child. So often in our modern culture and American lifestyles, we don’t get to experience this village. We are isolated from each other for a variety of reasons.
Even so, I think that if we look back at our lives, we can see times when others stepped in to help raise us, or to help raise our children. I know that this is definitely true in my life. Looking back over the last 30-something years, I can point to specific time periods when different women stepped in to help raise me, and I am who I am because of these varying influences.
First and foremost, of course, is my mother. A woman who left her small farm town in Colorado to move overseas and work as a missionary in a foreign country. She didn’t speak the language, had only known and been married to my dad for a few months, but she knew that’s where she was supposed to be. She used that entire experience to grow into a strong woman, one who not only became fluent in the language and culture, but also taught me how to be strong as well.
My mother taught me that sometimes we live far from those we love, but there are ways to stay connected and cultivate a strong relationship despite the distance. Through her, I learned the power of friendship and of doing the little things, like making a birthday cake as a surprise for someone else’s birthday, or serving a phenomenal meal to guests. When she released me, at 15, to move to the US and continue my education, she taught me about making sacrifices as a parent for the good of our children.
My grandmother has also played a significant role in my life. Whenever I would visit her, she was the one who made sure I had an appropriately stylish wardrobe, and all the reading material I could ever want. I learned the thrill of a girls’ day out through my grandmother, and I have so many fond memories of shopping with her. Possibly the classiest woman I know, my grandmother often still puts me to shame with how she is always put together. A longtime farmer’s wife, she also taught me the power of knowing your neighbors and developing relationships with them.
When I moved to the US, I was taken in by my aunt, my father’s sister. A schoolteacher, she had been fostering my love of writing since the first time I remember writing a paragraph. First via letter, and later via e-mail, she would encourage me and praise my writing. Once I lived under her care, she taught me the importance of punctuality and the routine of weekly chores. I learned to balance a checkbook, do my own laundry, and maintain a spotless household. She encouraged my involvement in my youth group as well as my school drama class, always showing up to my plays with a gorgeous bouquet.
My best friend’s mother also played a role during this time. She was the one who would volunteer to give me rides, or be a place to crash after a late night of tech rehearsal. In college, I would live with her family during the summer, sleeping three girls to a room while working a summer job. She taught me how much easier life is when you are flexible and learn to go with the flow. Her house was always a revolving door of teenagers because it was a fun place to be. She welcomed us all with open arms and was always available for heartfelt chats.
These women played, and continue to play, such significant roles in my life that they are often the ones who come to mind when I think of major motherly influences. But I could also list others, others whose roles may have been more short-lived, but still left their mark.
Aunts, teachers, bosses
The favorite baby-sitter who knew how to have fun, and eventually married my uncle, much to my delight. Or my British schoolteacher who lived in the jungle to teach missionary kids, and became my go-to after school care on days when I needed a place to hang out. I still pronounce February the way she taught me. Another aunt who taught me the best way to cook broccoli, and thus in a roundabout way is responsible for my children eating broccoli. The first boss after college, who was a powerhouse of a business woman and showed me I was capable of so much more than I even realized. She gave me so many chances to right mistakes and develop skills that I value to this day.
So many different women have added to who I am, and so many women to be grateful to. They may not all be my mother, or even have affected me in a motherly way, but their marks on my life are indelible. And I have to say, to all the women who raised me: thank you.