Before I Was Mama

A recent family vacation coupled with a few new extracurricular activities for the kiddos has my mind swirling and memories flowing. Let me preface this piece by saying that I in no way, shape, or form want to live vicariously through my children and their activities. Would a little piece of me think it cool if my daughter could do a standing back tuck? Yes. Do I envision my son running full throttle into the end zone under Friday Night Lights? Possibly. However, those visions come from what I see in them now, not what is missing from my childhood. (Note: when this piece went to print the author was not able to land a back handspring on a trampoline.)

Nevertheless, my extensively equestrian trained self was beyond giddy when my six-year-old expressed her longing to take up riding lessons (English, even!) and loved it from the first grip of the reins. I was really feeling a mom win with these lessons, which fueled me with hope as we prepared to set off for a family ski vacation. Not only would my kiddos hit the slopes for the first time, but they would get to see me, their mama, in what is one of my favorite elements.

I couldn’t help but think of the country song “‘Fore She Was Mama” by Clay Walker. He sings about these two boys (him being one of them) who find a box of pictures from their mom’s glory days, so to speak. Through those pictures, they see her in a different light and are opened up to who she was before they were even a thought in her mind:

…Her hair, her clothes, her drinkin’, smokin’
Had us boys confused
I’ll never forget the day us nosy kids got introduced…
To Mama ‘fore she was Mama…

Try to picture the scene now: my daughter and son, six and three, digging through gems in boxes and bags at my parents’ home, trying to piece together what their mama was like before them. They sorted through ribbons from years of show jumping and handwritten notes from high school, to cards lovingly signed by their great- and great-great grandparents. They found pictures from parades and football games, homecoming dances and graduations, along with first communion parties and family gatherings where, sadly, many of those pictured are no longer with us. If they’d glanced to the top of the bookshelf, they would’ve found the collar of my first dog gently resting on bookends made from the hardworking hands of my grandfather. They might’ve questioned the content of the pictures, my motives for keeping certain trinkets and “artifacts,” and my thought process on making a Kentucky Derby binder from the years 1992 through 2001 (because in the pre-Google days, you never knew when you needed to bust out the name of a Derby winner). When you add all those little pieces and pictures together, they showed a little bit of their mama before I was Mama.

Moms seem to take on about a million or so jobs on a daily basis (most before 10:00 A.M., let’s be honest), so having your littles witness you in a rare moment of complete selflessness can have its advantages. It thrilled them to leaf through albums and find me atop a horse, soaring over jumps and having the time of my life. They wanted to know the whos, whats, whens, whys, and wheres, along with the most important question of all: where were they? They wanted to know why I was laughing uncontrollably in one picture. They wanted to know if it was scary to “fly” over jumps on a horse. They wanted to know when they could see me do that “in real life.” It absolutely knocked their little socks off to know that I’d had this whole other part of my life apart from being “Mom.” Unbeknownst to them, I yearn in more ways than one to regain that part of my life.

Our family ski vacation was full of ups and downs, lessons learned, and memories to last the year. I was determined to make the most of the my time on the slopes, all the while encouraging my kiddos throughout the billion-and-a-half questions regarding ski school. Yes, I am a teacher by design and skill. No, I am not a ski school teacher. Yes, I ski pretty well. No, I will not teach my children to ski. Yes, I love my children, which is why I won’t teach them to ski. After multiple rounds of reminding my kiddos that there are specialized teachers just for skiing (NOT me), I set off to reconnect with the snow-capped mountains.

Our days ended with enough hot chocolate to satisfy a village and a few family runs down the bunny hill so we could check off the box that we all skied together. Post-family ski time, my daughter asked about the picture at the top of the mountain from earlier that day. I told her that it was my goal to ski a certain part of the mountain and I was proud of myself for accomplishing it. With all honesty in her eyes, she turned and said, “That’s really high up there, Mommy. How did you get down?”

I replied, “Well, I pointed my skis downward and away I went.”

“Just like that?” she asked.

“Just like that,” I said.

To say that I was a little taken aback at the lack of confidence she has in her dear mother’s ability to gracefully scale down a mountainside, I recognized that she needed to witness this part of me that matters. This part that found me slopeside every Friday night during the winter months of high school. This part of me that found such harmony in the quiet, still moments of the beauty that envelopes you with each turn of the skis. This part of me is what she needs to see. With a swish in my step and the ability to ski a few runs solo, I swooshed my way down the mountain that led me right to where they were waiting. The smiles and laughter told me that they not only traced my path, but that their front row seats to me skiing home made it even better. Their sweet words and wishes of “do it again” made this mama’s heart grow three sizes that day.

Much to the dismay of the boys in the song, I don’t think my box of pre-children Kathy would be as racy as the mama in the song. I do, however, believe it tells a very important story. As moms, we know how challenging it can be to take a shower by yourself, actually finish a meal without getting up from the table a thousand times, or basically complete any simple task in an uninterrupted manner. I didn’t feel that putting my hobbies or interests on the back burner was a big deal, until I realized I want—no, need—my kids to see me as someone other than Mama. I had no idea the effect my daughter taking riding lessons would have on me. How could I have known that her stepping into the stirrups was the reminder I needed to get back into mine? When planning our ski trip, I knew we were all going to enjoy a mountain getaway; yet it was my soul that needed the snowy mountains the most. It’s as if the pictures gave my kids a visual of who I was while whispering to me, “Remember her? She’s still there. Sure, she has more on her plate, but her passions haven’t changed. Let’s give her a set of reins and a pair of skis and set her loose.” And I am forever grateful for listening.


One Response to Before I Was Mama

  1. Allyson April 18, 2018 at 4:45 pm #

    Love this, Kathy! Thanks for writing it and sharing it!