Of all the lessons I learned from my soft-spoken, warmhearted, Norwegian-American mother, the greatest and hardest of all to teach was how to let go.
“A mother’s love for a child must always be greater than the child’s love for the mother,” she once told me, “otherwise the child would never leave home.”
By her example, my mom showed me early on that a mother’s love is unconditional. What a wise old bird – Mom gave me roots to grow strong and wings to fly away. When I pursued my dream to play professional basketball, Mom hid her heartache, smiled and waved until my Air France plane bound for Paris was out of sight. When I fell in love with a Frenchman, she embraced her new foreign son-in-law with open arms.
In turn, I, too, learned how to let go. My first step was leaving the safe confines of the hospital after my daughter, Nathalie, was born abroad. The next challenge was letting go of her two-year-old hand at the primary school gate, fighting an innate urge to pull her back into my protective arms. As a seven-year-old, Nat marched off on her first week-long field trip to a farm in Normandy; the days apart felt interminable. Yet each separation prepared her for the next one.
As a 16-year-old, she flew “solo” across the Atlantic to compete in the World Scholar Athlete Games. Then when my daughter left Switzerland for the opportunity to combine athletics and academics and play basketball at University of Wisconsin-SP, I did not scream, “Don’t go. You might get hurt!” Instead I rebounded her sweet jump shot until the last minute, and then helped her pack a bag. When Nat was accepted at University of Minnesota Medical School, I cried with joy, though I knew, inevitably, she would settle in the States to practice.
Due to the great space separating us, my mom could not be by my side during long hours of therapy after my car crashed in France. Nor was she with me during my miscarriages or my daughter’s birth. Yet, I heard her concern during phone calls and read her love in letters, as her long distance support sustained me during the tough times and rejoiced with me during triumphs. She was not physically present when her first grandchild was born in Paris, but as the proud grandma, she sewed affection into every article of children’s clothing and cross-stitched courage into every wall hanging she made for Nathalie.
The knowledge that she did all she could to make me strong, gave my mom the faith to know that she could trust my judgment.
I was not physically there when my daughter played in an NCAA Final Four, or when she took her Hippocratic Oath as a doctor, yet a spirit wearing high tops followed in her shadows every step of the way.
Though at times, I pine for my daughter, just as my mom misses me, we find comfort knowing that we are where we are supposed to be, doing what we were destined to do.
Mom knows that her footloose, misfit daughter with a soft spot for the underdog would one day grow into her skin. As if she sensed that I was destined to unite people in the international capital of the world, Mom was not surprised when I found a home in Geneva, Switzerland. Just as I understood that my daughter’s fate meant caring for inner city children and immigrant families in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
In his bestselling children’s book, I’ll Love You Forever about the cross-generational, everlasting link between a mother and child, Robert Munsch said it best.
“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
as long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.”
No matter how many miles separate us, we are never more than heartbeat apart.
I’ll love you forever and always. Happy Mother’s Day!
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