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Rusty - May 14, 2006

I’ve never called her Mother. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever used that word when talking about her. A “mother” is a regal defender of truth, standing at the pinnacle of virtue with her children-jewels arrayed in her crown of glory. No, she’s just mom, the lady who used to yell at me, spank me, ground me, and make me wear Toughskins and Pro-Wings. (I know… child abuse.)

I can’t look back on my life and conjure any Ensign-like stories from my relationship with my mom. She stayed home to raise her kids but I don’t think she’d consider it “courageous”. She was there when we scratched our knees but she wasn’t tender and smiley like a Johnson & Johnson ad. We hug when we reunite or say goodbye, but we don’t put our arms around each other when we sit on the couch together. That would be weird.

Mom had a bunch of schemes, programs, pinwheel-charts and star-graphs. Sometimes with rewards, but usually the reward was food and shelter. I hated doing dishes, floors, “households” and Saturday work. Her daily 15-minute naps yielded “nap candy” if we were quiet. After a set number of weeks, her self-ranking church-reverence chart generated a wrapped gift taken from her gift-cupboard. When I complained that being “assistant cook” was turning into “head cook” she changed the name to “apprentice cook”. All that work would surely have taken less time if she just did it herself (“I accidentally said ‘yes’”) but because of those chores and charts I know how to cook, sew, clean, iron, garden, do laundry and decorate a cake.

Of course I also learned that the word “Sale” didn’t mean anything unless it was at least 50% off the markdown. And if you want to know the easiest way to figure out what 80% off of $67 is, she can tell you a formula any poor, southern Idaho-raised girl can learn in a flash. I used to be embarrassed when Mom would take me to the thrift store to buy clothes. She’d tell me I shouldn’t feel so bad because the other kid was probably as embarrassed that I saw him as I was him seeing me. Of course when I had to pay for my own clothes those rack-scanning skills became crucial in my quests for clothing bargains.

If Mom ever had preconceived ideas of what she wanted me to be someday I never knew it. When piano lessons didn’t stick (any of the three times) she enrolled me in a portraiture class. When I excelled, she pushed me to take it further. Now I think she likes telling people her son got a Masters from a New York City art school and is a professional designer in SoHo. That’s fine with me, because of her encouragement I get to have a career in something that I love doing.

In high school I bore my testimony in a youth conference and I suggested that our parents probably know more than we, as teens, give them credit for. This was immediately followed by a roar of laughter, but I was serious and didn’t get why they were laughing. Spiritually you couldn’t find two more different people than Mom and Dad. Dad thinks his way through things, Mom feels her way through. She knew and did what was right because it was right. You don’t just skip church because you don’t feel like going. We’re doing FHE whether we gain something from it or not. We’re reading scriptures before you all go to school and that’s the end of it. There was no complex logic backed up by historical and scriptural references to give credence to this endeavor. It was right so we did it.

I was hard on my mom, I hated the chores she made me do and I hated the rules she imposed on me. But her tenacity is what made me into who I am today. I don’t think she was being “brave”, I think she was just doing everything she could think of to raise her kids in righteousness. And she was amazing at it.


  1. Rusty, I’m going to study this, but I just wanted to say that I’ve always wondered if one of the reasons James killed himself is that I didn’t realize how psychologically damaging wearing toughskins was to him.

    These are the things that just torture me. And I’m not joking, I’m serious.

    I think I’m in the anger phase of mourning after 14 years. “Rusty had to wear toughskins and he didn’t shoot himself! You big stupid!”

    Comment by annegb — May 15, 2006 @ 12:44 am

  2. Motherhood by desperation is probably the way most of us do it. It’s that one perfect example that makes life hard for the rest of us.

    I tell you, every few days or so, I will be hit by the hardest feeling of guilt and remorse over James begging me to buy him Wranglers when he was in the 7th grade. Which I immediately did, thinking my son was a little nutso. They were perfectly good, brand new jeans, those toughskins.

    And the last 14 years, I’ve thought, “why didn’t I see I was damaging him for those 7 1/2 years (age 5-12) till he broke under the pressure and told me he had to wear a different brand? What if?”

    I’m going to tell you all that stuff and you tell me if your mother did it, and I will feel not so bad because it didn’t make you kill yourself, okay?

    Comment by annegb — May 15, 2006 @ 12:51 am

  3. annegb, Can I email you privately? I’m at donaldclifton@yahoo.com

    Comment by don — May 15, 2006 @ 12:27 pm

  4. Rusty once made the statement that he was raised perfectly and wouldn’t change a thing. The results speak more than the process.

    I think annegb is right, mothood by desperation. Rusty’s mom tried desperately to be a good mother, she did a fantastic job, in spite of me and her children…she was great, and we love her for it.

    Comment by don — May 15, 2006 @ 12:31 pm

  5. What’s funny is that my last line originally had that phrase “motherhood by desperation” (that’s why Annegb repeated it). Then Sara told me to take it out because she thought it sounded kind of negative, so I replaced it with that line. Maybe I should put it back the way it was before.

    Comment by Rusty — May 15, 2006 @ 12:49 pm

  6. Annegb- my daughter has a list she calls “the things I’ll never forgive you for”. She is only half joking. The things on her list are mostly things I never knew I was doing, and the things that I worried about and lay awake at night wondering if I was ruining her life- well, she doesn’t remember them.

    Comment by C Jones — May 15, 2006 @ 11:04 pm

  7. Don: bad idea to post your email like that online, unless you don’t mind lots of spam. A better way might be donaldclifton AT yahoo DOT com

    Spammers use software to search for emails on the web.

    Comment by pete — May 16, 2006 @ 9:22 pm

  8. Time to change the email address again, Dad. (Uhh, thanks Pete, for clearing up my wondering why people list their emails like that online…)

    What a nice Mother’s Day card, Russ. Dad printed it and took it home so Mom could read it, right?

    Mom did do a terrific job. And I think if I weren’t her daughter, I might see her as one of those model mothers that makes the other moms feel guilty. But our children know the worst about us — they see all our weaknesses on a daily basis. So I think it’s marvelous when a child can forgive his/her parents for their faults and focus instead on being grateful for their strengths and efforts, as you have done. I hope mine can do the same someday.

    I hope I have a kid who turns out like you, Russ! (No, not one who is like you were, growing up… ha ha)

    Comment by Amy — May 17, 2006 @ 1:42 am

  9. (to Mom and Dad:) In case that wasn’t clear, when I said, “I hope mine can do the same someday” I was talking about my children doing the same; not hoping I can forgive you someday…

    Comment by Amy — May 17, 2006 @ 1:46 am

  10. I’ve put my e-mail address out from time to time and I haven’t gotten any bad results yet. Lucky, I guess.

    Comment by annegb — May 17, 2006 @ 1:12 pm

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