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Smother someone on Mothering Day

My mother was a U.S. Women’s Marine Corps staff sargent during WWII.

She enlisted because her three brothers had deferments and she felt “someone in the family has to serve.”

She was quite unlikely to be in any kind of military role, for many reasons. She was a tiny person — barely 5-feet-2, soft-spoken and bespectacled. She had a teaching degree at a time when women did not typically go to college. She was 30 years old when she entered boot camp in 1943.

My mom was the daughter of a Lutheran minister whose wife died in an influenza epidemic in 1917. This means she lost her own mother when she was just 3 years old. Her pastor-father (my grandfather), much to the discomfort of his congregation, I suspect, remarried a stern-appearing, 19-year-old neighbor girl soon after his wife’s death. He was a practical man of faith with four children younger than 6 years of age. And it was North Dakota — and a bitter cold winter was predicted.

As I look back on my mother’s life, I’m always curious for more detail. When she was alive and I would ask that she talk about her younger self, the story was always the same. She would say I married an “old college friend” re-encountered “after the war.” Her recall was she responded (to my dad) when he proposed marriage by saying she was “not completely sure” she loved him. In the retelling over the years, my father was always reported to have said he had “enough love for both” of them.

He was a big, brusque, Norwegian guy, not prone to much sentiment. I feel sure he loved his little wife a lot, but he was never very demonstrative about it. I saw them kiss once. And there is a single fuzzy photograph of them holding hands when they were younger — at least it looks like they were.

I am prone to over-analysis in most things and especially so around celebratory times like Mother’s Day. This year I am concluding that my mom could have used more mothering during her life. Anyone you know for whom that could also be true?

The British call it “Mothering Sunday” and celebrate it on a different date than we do in the United States; it is part of a Christian tradition that dates back to the 16th century. To me, the term “mothering” is a better way to think about acknowledging someone beloved or very special to you. It expands the possibilities of people you can affirm. And it suggests warm and loving embrace and caring thoughtfulness. It poses a day that is less a salute and more of a hug.

So, in honor of my own mother and the “mothering” we all could use more of, I am suggesting you smother someone with your attentions and good will — not just on this Mother’s Day, but on the Monday or Tuesday following it. Aw, heck, go for the whole month.

What does it take for someone to feel loved and honored? What does it take to touch someone’s heart with your own special brand of mothering? A little more practice, perhaps.

— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.