21 Feb 2013

What mama did: the imagining

This is a four part series. Here are parts one and two and three.

I’ve been thinking about how we moms want our kids to remember us. And maybe what we think will make an impression on them is very different than what they end up remembering. Maybe it’s not keeping up on the laundry or the dishes or doing the perfect crafts or attending every sporting event. Maybe our kids are marked by memories of our motherhood we couldn’t possibly imagine let alone check off a list of recommended parenting to-dos.

So I invited four friends this week to share a “What Mama Did” post with us. What special, unique memory did they carry away from their wash, rinse, and repeat days of childhood that their moms never could have planned for?

And tomorrow I’m going to ask you to come and share your own “What Mama Did” memory.

May they encourage you and remind you that you are beloved so much deeper, higher and wider than the laundry hamper.

Today, my friend Seth is sharing with us – how a son might remember his mama. Seth’s wife Amber is one of my dearest friends and together they make the Internet a better place. Seth and I have a law degree in common, but he actually still uses his on a regular basis while writing Internet poetry and prose on the side.

Before the urban sprawl, the popping up of shopping malls, strip centers, mega churches, and big business,we lived in Grapevine, Texas. In those days, Grapevine was a wide open, endless dirt patch, nestled just north of Dallas. On some mornings, we commuted into the heart of town, where my sister attended a Christian school. I was a tender-hearted child, always broken by my sister’s leaving–she, my best friend, and second-best playmate.

After she slid from the back seat, after the obligatory “have a good day,” my mother, resourceful as she was and hoping to assuage my sadness, would point to the water towers and gas tanks that pimple-marked the Texas landscape. “Look! Imperial drones!” she cried. “We’re doomed!”

It was the 1980s, and seat belt laws were a bit more lenient, so I’d crawled into the floorboard and put my legs in the seat. I was Luke Skywalker sitting in the reclined gunner’s chair of the Millennium Falcon.

“I need more power, Leah! I can’t hold them off much longer!” I shouted.

“I’m giving her all she’s got Luke!” my mother answered, blending Star Wars and Star Trek dialogues. It was blasphemous to me even in those days, but I forgave her and continued the charade.

“It’s okay! I’ve got this!”

I made blaster sounds, pings, at-at-atas, and explosions with my mouth, then belted, “woo-hoo! I got another one!” I was a skilled marksman, a tie-fighter’s worst nightmare, and mom was my biggest fan, always thanking me for holding Darth Vadar beyond tractor-beam’s length.

As I grew older, the days of the Rebel Alliance yielded to after-dinner story time. My mother purchased the complete set of the Chronicles of Narnia, and each night, we’d sit at the table for hours as she read chapter after chapter. She assigned each character distinct voice—Aslan’s deep and austere, Reepicheep’s high-pitched and full of bravado—and read each sentence intentionally, as if painting the Narnian landscape by inflection. On occasion, she bolted upright out of her seat, shot an invisible arrow, and read a line as if she were the inimitable Queen Susan.

The way mother read the Chronicles was a testament to her imaginative powers. She was a better summoner than Aslan and the White Witch combined.

Mother always encouraged us to use our imaginations, to retain our sense of wonder. She forbid video games, discouraged cartoons. She opted, instead, for play-acting and story-telling; for art and music. Perhaps it was her attempt to foster some sense of imagination and wonder. Perhaps, though, her motives were simpler. Maybe she was just a big kid herself; maybe she reveled in play as much as we did.

My mother was good at play, never too busy for it. She always channeled the Force, and felt the breath of Aslan himself. She was a guitar-bearer, a clay sculpter. She was a crayon-colorer and finger-painter. Mother was stern at times, yes. But she was always the best playmate a kid could have, because she was unashamed to explore the depths of our imaginations with us.

And that’s what what my mama did.

Seth says, “I am a working stiff who enjoys good sentences, good music, good food, and fishing the running rivers of Arkansas. I am blessed to be the husband of Amber Haines and the father of four boys. I’ve been trying to shake the haunting of Rich Mullins’ lyric “nobody tells you when you get born here how much you’ll come to love it but how you’ll never belong.” (To no avail, mind you.) It’s a privilege to scratch out words at my personal blog, and for other folks when the opportunity arises. Follow me on Twitter, where I regularly share good music, good poetry, creative prompts, and general absurdities. Thanks for reading.”


{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    This is a really lovely post, and gives me hope. Sometimes I feel like a terrible mum, I can’t cook, my house is always a mess, clean clothes don’t happen as often as I’d like, but STORIES? Stories I can do!

    Thanks Seth and Lisa jo.


    • 2

      You know, Felicity, I’m not sure that I remember whether the house was clean or messy, or whether my mother ever folded all the laundry. I don’t really remember any of the meals when I was a youngster, either. I do remember the play, though; stories, too.

      Maybe we put too much pressure on ourselves as parents, sometimes. Moms, dads; we all do it. I know I do.

  2. 3

    I love this post Seth! I want to play with your mom now! :-) I think building little fantasy worlds with our kids is one of the best ways we can capture their hearts early on and help keep them from straying too far away during the teenage years.

    Sometimes that may be elaborate forts in the living room, but sometimes (like in your example) that may just be 15 minutes in the car. To her, it was a simple conversation. To you, it was an everlasting memory.

    What a great reminder to engage our children in the worlds of their minds as often as we can, where-ever we can! Thanks!

  3. 4

    Precious memories, Seth:) I come from a long line of non-playing, no-nonsense women, and this isn’t my particular area of gifting as a mother either. I’m growing right along with my kids at this!

  4. 5

    “My mother was good at play, never too busy for it.”
    As a mother of two busy boys, I will keep that in mind. And instead of chores this afternoon, I will play. Thanks!

  5. 6

    so loved this! that was my attitude with my own children because that was how my mom was with us – down on the floor or chasing us in another round of fox and goose.. and those are the memories I cherish. Children aren’t hung up on housework . Those aren’t the memories they recall. Neither for myself nor my own grown up kiddos! And now that my eldest has his first on the way, I am celebrating the realtime example he grew up with and anticipating it with my grandbaby!! :))

    Thanks for confirming it again, Seth! cheers :)

  6. 7

    This series has inspired me to think about this a lot. While my mom was a good mom and we have a good relationship, I was difficult as a child, and when I think about what my mom did, the first thing that comes to mind is that she always seemed annoyed with me. I do not recall a specific thing that she would routinely do, or anything special like that. I have more of these memories of my dad. But I do not want to repeat this cycle with my kids. I am going to ask them how they think of me and their most prominent memories thus far. That will be the telling as to how much work I have yet to do!

  7. 10

    Ah, this is delightful! You almost make me wish I could go back again and read and play and battle storm troopers from the back seat, even though my kids are grown and their well-fed imaginations are alive and thriving, and though I know I often failed them, I have no real regrets. Love covers a multitude of mother weaknesses. And now? Their own children are discovering the wonders of the Hundred Acre Wood, pretending Peter Pan, and swimming in the magical waters of make believe. Their wonder rekindles mine.

    What a beautiful mother you have. What wonderful gifts she gave you. And I’m smiling eager, because this evening I fly to Philadelphia to be “conference nanny” for two of my granddaughters while their parents (my heroes) play their music and share their vision for the healing power of the arts with 7000 attendees at the Justice Conference. I’m smiling because already packed in my suitcase is a glittery honey-bee tutu complete with wings and antennae for the two-year-old and a soft doll with wings for the 4-month-old, because what child should ever go through life without wings? Thanks for this inspiration, Seth. You wear your wings so well.

    Love, Jeanne

  8. 11

    LJ – You’re a genius boy-mom inviting men to share their stories… great reads this week!

    Seth – Thanks for sharing the memory… painting the picture of parents with appreciation for epic imagination and playing. I bet you and Amber have kingdoms of many realms to conquer with your boys!

  9. 12

    Oh my goodness! I always admire and want to sit at the feet of woman who can engage in play so imaginatively. I have it in me but I feel it gets stuck behind other thoughts too often. Bravo Seth’s mom!

  10. 13

    I love so much about this. Thanks for remembering and telling.

  11. 14

    My mama was a great play-mom, the fun sister mentality and, that was wonderful although, she made sure we 3 girls, each one with muscular dystrophy, had structure in our life styles. I believe most women give their very best and seek to do their best. I wouldn’t have changed my childhood for anothers! Pancakes were always a Michal Angelo experience !

  12. 15

    Oh, this makes my heart ache… I wish I was better at imagining. The playtime and storytelling and imagination isn’t too much my strong point. I’m working at it, though

    • 16

      Oh, Julie. There are so many ways to infuse that creativity. You’re an artist, friend, and I bet your artist heart is teaching more than you know. We’re all learning at parenting thing, huh?

      • 17

        Way to make me almost cry, Annie! Thank you for your encouraging words. Somedays I wonder if the rare occasions I give into the mess and let them dabble with my old stamps and inks is enough. I’m working on it, thank you for the reminder that creativity shows up in many ways.

  13. 18

    This, this I loved and the memories that came flooding back. Oh my. I remember my very first movie, in a movie theatre, while it wasn’t Star Wars it was the next best thing (that is of course, entirely my own personal opinion) it was Star Trek. Oh, that day it was an adventure, the kind of adventure that dances in your head in your dreams when your head hits the pillow. We borded the train in our tiny town and and made our way to the big city. I will never forget that opening scene of the USS Enterprise moving with grace and presence across the big screen, the smell of popcorn, my greasy, buttery hands and my feet sticking to the soda pop covered floor… My brother and sister and I we played “outer space” for hours, hair brushes became phaser (always set to stun of course), wrapping paper tubes became light sabers and our bunk bed the Jabba the Hut’s floating barge… I remember begging my mom for Princess Leia hair every. single. day. Thank you so much for brining me back Seth. And Lisa Jo – this series, these words that I am reading -they are brining the happier memories of a somewhat tumultuous childhood into sharper focus… and for that there are no words to express my gratitude.

  14. 19

    Well now, Seth. I see who is at least partly responsible for you being a hundred kinds of awesome.

    And really, I hope my kids can say the same for me…that I wasn’t too busy for play. And therefore, I wasn’t too busy for them.

    I love, love, love the food for thought you give me here. Thank you, Seth! And thank your mama for me, too.

  15. 20

    I love this. Everyday I’m grateful for a mother who watered creativity and valued all things make-believe. I don’t remember her on the floor playing with us so much, but I was confident she saw and believed all the imaginary places and characters of our childhood. She affirmed and encouraged that, always.


  1. […] of us to pop in and share memories of our mothers, what they did that made our childhood special. I’m there today writing about my mother, but here’s a sneak […]

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