Lessons From My Mother: Sitting at the weird kids’ table

“Mothers are the Mt. Everest of Relationships.”(Tiffany Sankofa) Not That Kind of Blog So, before you go assuming that I had some wonderful relationship with my mother, we were best friends, blah blah blah… Please know this isn’t that kind of post. Neither is it the kind of post where someone gets deified simply because they have passed on from this realm.

My mother was very real, and fortunately for me, pretty humble about it. Our relationship was very difficult for both of us when she was alive.

The Good Stuff Weirdly, in the time since she died, (in 2014,) I feel like I’ve come to much better understand, esteem and appreciate her. Now that she and I are no longer trapped in our mother-daughter roles, it’s so much easier for me to see and cherish the unique gift that she was. I wanted to share some of the beautiful, formative things that she taught me. I think she’d love it if you would take what works for you and leave the rest, as we so very often do with mothers.

My mother taught me to:

  • Always look out for the marginalized, unseen, unheard or seemingly forgotten, whether that means people, critters, plants, the ecology; even the bugs.
  • If you think you understand the Divine, you have reduced divinity and left a whole lot out.
  • All things, people and places are sacred and deserve respect as such.
  • Make sure everyone and everything has food, protection, dignity and respect.
  • Trees talk. (She was way ahead of her time on this one. Click here to see how others eventually caught up to her.)
  • Less is more.
  • More makes clutter. Clutter outside of us often reflects and perpetuates clutter inside of us.
  • The more we know in life, the more we know we don’t know anything.
  • Being a perpetual learner makes life an endless adventure.
  • When children invite you to play, leave your adult assumptions behind and just PLAY!
  • Boldly face and address your biases and prejudices.
  • We all have biases and prejudices.
  • Imagination is as important as breathing.
  • Breathing, and listening while breathing, are essential to understanding.
  • The world is full of whimsy. Go find it, savor it and share it.
  • Put your fingers and toes in some dirt. Grow some things. Let the dirt and the things that grow teach you. (This is another issue where my mother’s intuitive knowledge beat science to the revelation. Click here to read how the microbes in dirt improve our immune system and moods.)
  • Know the difference between “want” and “need.” This one deserves a whole blog to itself. Stay tuned.
  • However long our lives are, they are ultimately very short. Use the time well. Try to miss as little as possible.

Hidden Roots Each of these things ties together rather beautifully under a life-philosophy that I learned several years after her death, comes directly from the hidden Native American ancestors we knew nothing about. (That’s also another blog, and again… stay tuned!) I always thought we were just weirdly asynchronous with the culture at large. Come to find out, this way of seeing and being has been passed down to us familially, invisibly, and yet faithfully.

My mother and I have both bristled against the fierce, demanding, invisible hierarchy around us. It just never sits right that some people are somehow more important or more valuable because they have this or that thing that the broader culture views as status or success. We’ve never been ok with “intelligence” being defined only one way, commensurate with academics, which have historically demanded that only one approach to learning and to truth is valid. We have always had serious problems with human greed and fear-based clutching to resources in a way that leaves others suffering unnecessarily. The way that children and Elders are pushed aside and ignored instead of cherished as treasure gives me, and gave my mother, an almost visceral kick in the stomach for its wrongheadedness.

My mother advocated for the dignity and sustenance of all people, as well as for healthier planet care. She also looked out for all of the fuzzy things, as mentioned in my blog, Smile, Dog Loves You. She even thought bugs were wonderful and fascinating. (I value insects, but it’s going to take me more than a minute to see the beauty she saw in them.) She did all of these things out of a deep, abiding sense that all things were interdependent, entwined and work best in respectful harmony.

Maybe Not So Crazy After All As I learn more about the history of my Chickamauga family and all of our allied tribes, the better I understand that while our innate beliefs have many times left my mother, myself and others like us mocked and rejected by the culture around us, these beliefs are the ripe seed of understanding for most pre-Colonial Native American peoples. As we watch fear-fragile political movements try to strip away the rights and access of all but a slim minority of humans, it seems clearer and clearer to me that we would all be served much better by the much older social structures that predated the US here.

  • What if all people were valued?
  • What if we learned to listen to those who came before us with reverence and respect?
  • What if we were to consider how all matters look through the innocent eyes of children?
  • What if we did away with the clutching and grabbing for power, and replaced it with an understanding that each person has a unique and important contribution to the whole?
  • What if each and every one of us looked out for the best interests of each and every one of us?
  • What if we approached people and things that we don’t understand with genuine curiosity instead of judgment?
  • What if we stopped being consumers of the Earth and the cosmos, and instead focussed on caring well for all that is, so that it can flourish in a way that will be sustainable for centuries to come? (Remind me to tell you about sweetgrass and Native American farming practices some time.)

What We’re Taught Many of you, like me, have grown up in a world where ideas that challenge the status quo are belittled and its proponents, shamed. Have you ever noticed how starkly adolescent that is? It’s as if we are all in one big middle school full of terrified kids who feel they have to hide huge parts of who they really are just so that they won’t feel like total rejects who get stuck eating at the weird kids table. All social efforts must pass through the grid of the (equally insecure) popular kids who evaluate our worth on terms that keep that clique in power.

I don’t know about you? But middle school was hard enough the first time around. How about we just.. Don’t?

For better, for worse, for weird, for amazing, for dangerous, for daft and for brilliant we are told that “Mother Knows Best.” While that isn’t always our wisest choice, I want to encourage you this Mother’s Day, in all of these matters…

Listen to MY mother!

It might just transform us all. ............................................................................................................................

If you’d like help sorting through the mother messages in your head, or with anything else,

contact Tiffany


Let’s make a plan.