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my mother’s words from my lips
to thine own self be true
by jj freyermuth

Mother’s Day is quickly approaching, and as I pretend not to hear hushed familial conversations about my potential presents, my mind wanders to thoughts of my own mother.

It is a tough holiday for me. My mother has been gone for seven years now. And despite the fact that she caused quite a commotion while in attendance on this planet, she passed away quietly in her sleep of a massive heart attack. She was 63.

Anyone who knew my mother was forever changed for having encountered her. She was larger than life. Her voice boomed with sarcastic humor constantly. Her comedic timing was second to none. Her laugh was full and from deep down in the belly and it seemed to shake up the molecular structure of every living being who heard it. She was fantastical and imaginative and unreal. And boy did she suffer.

My mother was an addict. My mother also suffered from mental instability that left her unable to maintain healthy relationships, a job, and a home. Basic functions of normal living were overwhelming to her. The idea that there were consequences tomorrow for your actions today never seemed to bother her, even though she paid for her actions dearly.

It was hard to be my mother’s child. I share this fact in common with a brother and a sister.

But despite the demons that plagued my mother, I still remember some of the pearls of wisdom she shared with her kids:

1. Always wear clean underwear because you never know when tragedy or opportunity will strike.
2. If kids act up, it is perfectly okay to spank them with a ‘pancake turner’ (also known as a spatula).
3. Never let your alligator mouth get your sparrow ass in trouble.
4. March to the beat of your own drum.
And most importantly:
5. To thine own self be true.

The last bit of advice has been on my mind a lot lately. It is actually a Shakespearean quote from Hamlet. These words were uttered in play by Polonius to his son Laertes. Laertes was leaving on a boat to Paris when his father gave him this advice. Now, as far as the Elizabethan ideal of what this advice contained, it was probably more along the line of “don’t do anything to muck up your good reputation as a man of civility and honor... dummy.”

I don’t think that is what my mother meant, however. I think she saw her struggle with staying true to herself. I think she had enough awareness to know she was mixing a dangerous elixir of self-loathing and drug addiction that would one day stop her heart. And she wanted us to be better than that.

As I recall my mother preaching these words, I seem to remember her also saying that no one can live your life better than you can. Whatever you are, whomever you love, whatever it is that turns you on, own it. Declare it in your own style and don’t ever apologize for it.

I am not always good at being authentic. Sometimes I say and do things simply for the pleasure of others. Sometimes I am untrue to myself and my desires. Sometimes the thought of being really genuine scares the hell out of me. I like to be liked. I love to be loved.

So how do you reconcile authenticity with admiration? How do you speak your truth without offending? Well, maybe you don’t.

My mother’s advice doesn’t mean you walk around shouting “Hey I am what I am, so you can shove it!” Although I do believe sometimes we need to say that. Her advice is actually much more meaningful than that. It means, even when the whole world seems to be judging you, when those you love are angry with you, when you seem to be friendless and hopeless, it is important to stay true to who you really are. Don’t change simply because it ensures companionship or love. Change only when you know deep down you need to. Let those who love you know, you need and deserve to be loved, warts and all.

I miss my mother, in ways too innumerable and immeasurable to share. The deepest regrets of my life center around what she and I could never have together. But what I can do now is listen to her words. I know she was sharing them because they meant something to her and she wanted me to understand.

So, I will spend Mother’s Day with my own kids. I will eat a lovely lunch with them at one of our favorite restaurants. I will utter my mother’s words from my lips “Remember kids, to thine own self be true.” And then I will whisper to heaven - “Happy Mother’s Day, Jan.”


JJ Freyermuth is a mother, wife, writer and editor currently living and working in the bustling metropolis of Casa Grande, Arizona. Armed with a Pentel RSVP ballpoint pen and a three subject notebook, she usually writes interesting, heart-warming and sometimes odd articles on life in small town desert territory and the joy of being a middle-aged woman with a teen-aged brain. She is sure to leave you laughing, crying, scratching your head, or just plain sighing with general contentment.

more about jj freyermuth


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