Voices of Experience: Go Ask Your Mother

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Look both ways when you cross the street. I still hear the Mom's firm voice echoing in memory whenever I approach a street curb, especially when I hold the hand of my granddaughter, Sophia. She is almost two and learning survival tips now. Her father learned Swim to the side! from a YMCA class we took together when he was a toddler. He became an accomplished swimmer and was always a fearless climber.

What did you learn from your mother? I learned safety and anxiety. When I cross the street, will that car a block away accelerate due to the driver slumping over, inert foot pressed to the accelerator? When I'm in the pool, how will I forestall a potential vertigo attack leading to drowning? Fortunately, I also inherited a propensity for risk-taking from my father, so life is balanced.

When I assist people who are writing personal and family history books, the authors often tell about mother's influence. Sometimes mothers are a mystery to be puzzled. Sometimes they are a source not only of one's life, but of one's way of life. Mothers sometimes go missing in family histories: men have the careers, the women only birth the men who have the careers and birth the girls who marry into a different last name lineage, sometimes falling off the family tree. Recently, a Japanese-American told me she's writing only about the mothers, who were left out of her family's history. Mothers are the flip side of family history.

Birth stories are a thrilling way to include all mothers. Go ask your mother about the day you were born! When you were born, I held back because we had been to the hospital before, but it was a false labor. So we got to the hospital just minutes before you were born! If it's too late to ask, but you know the story, do pass it along. Tell your children or younger relatives about their own births. You may even save a life with the knowledge you share, or forestall a fear. You were born at home, but the midwife-in-training didn't clean out your nose and throat. A day later you started turning blue, so we rushed you to the hospital in a cab. I was clutching you and praying the whole way. We were terrified. The doctors quickly restored your breathing ability.

May is Personal History Awareness month. Take another look at the stories you are telling and saving. Go ask your mother, even if she speaks only in your memory.

Deborah Wilbrink is a personal historian with PerfectMemoirs.com and author of "Time to Tell: Your Personal & Family History." She is secretary of the Association of Personal Historians. Contact Deborah at (615) 417-8424 or deb@perfectmemoirs.com.

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