When Asked How I Was Inspired by my Mother

8:37 PM


My mother raised me, well, all four of her girls, to make our beds, to be prompt for dinner, and to do our homework before we watched TV. She ran a tight ship.

While this probably doesn’t sound very remarkable, please consider the setting. My precious (late) mother was the wife of entertainer Pat Boone, and upon hearing or speaking that singular aspect of her resume, she has always been swift to add that she never expected, or even wanted, to be the wife of an entertainer. She had married a 19-year-old Tennessean who aspired to be an English teacher (ironically, the job that I have come to embrace). My mother worked passionately to nurture an environment for her daughters that would at least feel somewhat normal, and that’s what makes the household routine that she envisioned and acted out unique.

Bedtimes, bath times, trips to church and holiday traditions were by design predictable and comforting, and although I will never understand Mama’s need to clean the plastic placemat 10 minutes before I have finished my Teriyaki Chicken, her signature sense of order and discipline are present and appreciated in my home in Colorado, and in the Middle School classroom where these traits were not only valuable; they were essential.

The gift that Mama had for imagining any and all crises before they happened so that she would have every opportunity to prepare for any scenario is not really the quality that comes to my mind when I am asked about how I have been inspired in her presence. When I was asked how Shirley Boone has been an inspiration to me, the memory that invaded my mind took me back to my years as a freshman in college.

After decades of being parented with precision, having decisions made, for the most part, on my behalf, I was floundering at school, torn between the disciplines of my childhood, and the vast array of options available to an inexperienced 19-year-old girl, suddenly on her own in Malibu. I focused as well as I could on my studies, but the anxiety that came with school, along with the newly acquired pressure to self-realize, was formidable; I felt I was deconstructing before I had an idea of who I was, or wanted to be…feeling invisible, afraid and confused, my college experience made me question my previous, family-centered identity, offering no real alternative, at least, not fast enough for me to acclimate.

In this context, and for some reason I don’t exactly remember, I took up smoking.

Devastated that my college days were more frightening and uncomfortable than relaxed and festive, as I had anticipated, I remember calling Mama in tears, and she swiftly met me for lunch somewhere in Santa Monica. Waiting for lunch to arrive, I vividly remember thinking this might be hard on her, but I wanted to be authentic and have a real conversation, so I pulled out my Marlboro Lights, and in one swoop, I put one authoritatively in my mouth, and lit a match. My traditional Christian mother sighed, asked for God’s grace under her breath, smiled at me, and the conversation continued.

What makes this memory special enough to be the image of her presence in my life?

I guess it’s the fact that she didn’t lecture me…she didn’t remind me about how God might feel about it …she didn‘t even appeal to me as a mom who was, and is, very concerned about my well-being. (I was already very focused on my own stinging awareness of these salient points). In an intuitive moment, she recognized that our relationship had evolved, and she evolved with it. She loved me the way that I came to her: cocky and self-justified, vulnerable and yet, terribly, painfully afraid.

She sensed that I needed her to listen and care, without a lecture, and she morphed into a different kind of mother right before my eyes. She melted my resistance to being open with her, cementing a foundation for many, many similar talks that would follow over the years.

Decades later, when my 16-year-old son Michael left home suddenly and unannounced, cocky and self-justified, yet vulnerable and terribly afraid, and I had already exhausted myself, unsuccessfully attempting to dictate what he should do, and who he should be, I knew that it was my turn to adapt…to morph…and mercifully, our conversation continued.

When I picture my mother’s response upon reading this anecdote, I imagine the inner Shirley saying, “of ALL the moments we’ve shared in our lives together, couldn’t you have remembered anything else?”

Nevertheless, I am assured that my mother has come to know me not only as her daughter, but as a person.

She’ll understand.

                                               Copyright © 2021 Laury Boone Browning


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