By Emily Enders Odom
For at least a year, if my memory can be trusted, that singular refrain punctuated our daughter’s every sentence. “Mama do.”
Once, during a rare visit to our North Carolina home from my family in New York, the precocious toddler’s words even coaxed a laugh from my usually stern father, who wondered aloud how I ever managed to get anything done.
The mere utterance of that phrase invariably brought all work and leisure activities to a screeching halt. And yet “mama do” was music to my ears. It allowed me to more fully inhabit what I understood a mother’s role to be. A generous, unconditional giver of whatever was requested or required in any and all circumstances, from tying a shoe to dabbing away a tear.
“The disciplines of stewardship and self-offering are a grateful response to God’s love for the world and self-giving in Jesus Christ,” we read in the Book of Order (W-5.0103). “As Christians, we are called to lives of simplicity, generosity, hospitality, compassion, and care for creation.”
Being a good parent then, it seemed to me, is much the same calling as being a good steward. And striving to be faithful stewards in every sense of the word, my husband and I prayerfully sought to raise faithful stewards who would similarly follow in God’s ways. It was the only way we knew how to parent.
“Start children off on the way they should go,” reads Proverbs 22:6 (NIV), “and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”
Echoes of “mama do” follow me to this day.
Our daughter, now 24 years old and a professional American Sign Language interpreter and social worker with the Deaf and hard of hearing in Greensboro, North Carolina, was recently married there in a beautiful service, which was both signed and voiced. A year beforehand, when we first started to talk about who would take charge of the wedding planning — who would be responsible for attending to every last detail — our daughter had but one answer: “Mama do.” She knew me to be as meticulous and as careful as she is with time and resources, just as we had raised her and our son to be.
And on this Mother’s Day, I honor both of my children and all of God’s children, who teach me every day how to be a better parent. And a better steward.
These days, as I watch the ongoing love story and the rapid fingerspelling continue to unfold between our daughter and her new husband, I stare hopelessly at my own stubborn fingers, endlessly disappointed that they won’t cooperate in my many attempts to learn American Sign Language. Although these same fingers quickly remember how to play my childhood oboe whenever I pick it up even now, there are seemingly no helpful mnemonics, no muscle memory, to build my ASL vocabulary.
Sensing my frustration coupled with my desire to learn, our daughter gave me and my husband at Christmas the most thoughtful gift of all: private ASL tutoring sessions with two of the couple’s best friends.
Carefully I form the sign for “I love you” because it’s about all I can remember. But just maybe, it’s enough.
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In honor of our children’s “simplicity, generosity, hospitality, compassion, and care for creation,” I have given a Pair of Goats through the Presbyterian Giving Catalog. Won’t you join me this Mother’s Day by making a gift that spreads hope and helps create lasting, positive change around the world?
The Rev. Emily Enders Odom is the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s mission interpretation strategist.