Early in my career, I wasn’t sure I had made the right choice.
I hadn’t really chosen at all.
After majoring in English literature, I thought I would go into teaching and possibly on to law school.
But I landed an internship at a local newspaper during my last year at Belmont Abbey College, which led to a job on the copy desk of the Marietta Daily Journal after graduation.
I was wavering. So I did what any 20-something would do — I called my mom.
It was a long conversation, but the thrust of it was to keep my head down and work hard. The next opportunity would present itself, she said.
It did, but it was less than perfect. I landed a better job with higher pay at a new publication, but it went out of business after two years.
Sunday, families across Atlanta will celebrate Mother’s Day. While you may not have known my mother, Mary Bird, I’d like to share a few lessons I learned from her.
I believe they are universal.
The crux of parenting is you are supposed to have all the answers, but you don’t, not even close.
While I could have tried another path at that time and perhaps been successful, the underlying lesson was hard work leads to more and better opportunities.
It was less about a specific situation and more about an ethos.
I bounced around from school to school beginning in the fourth grade. I had significant learning challenges and attended smaller, specialized programs.
Not surprisingly, my academic struggles led to emotional and behavioral struggles.
I spent two years in Connecticut, two and a half in Idaho and two in Virginia — 7th through 12th grade split between three schools in three states. Friendships came easy but faded fast.
Back in Atlanta on breaks, I didn’t have a large circle. But my mother wouldn’t hear self-pity. Anytime I said I was bored, she dismissed it outright.
Instead, she subtly channeled my energy into writing, painting — she was a talented artist — and spending time outdoors. I imagine the latter was in response to my incessant whining.
This blew up as well, as I found a group of kids equally bored, equally ADD and equally untethered. I assure you, we weren’t writing or painting in our free time, which was ample.
Over time, I came to a critical understanding — be yourself, do what you love and friendships will follow.
Finally, Mary Bird was ethically and morally above reproach. You didn’t say anything derogatory about other people, you didn’t lie and you didn’t talk back.
Grey areas didn’t exist. Something was either right or wrong. When you did right, you did so without expectation of attention or reward. When you messed up, you admitted it and learned from it.
If the Birds had a family crest, that would be written beneath it. It came from her mother and father through her straight to me.
I don’t always live up to it, but it’s how I see the world.
As a father, I’ve tried to instill these lessons in our two children. But it’s forced.
The patience to wait until those opportunities present themselves and to offer the right words when your kid is receptive was the trick of Mary Bird and mothers everywhere.
My mother died in 2007 at the age of 68. While she had health challenges, it was unexpected. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and how fortunate I was to be her son.
Happy Mother’s Day all ~ especially to the moms who think they aren’t doing a good job, as I’m sure my mother did.
It takes — eventually.