Lessons and Gifts from our Mothers

Tucked into the corner of our kitchen, sits a Mother’s Day gift made by my daughter years ago.  It is a square piece of solid wood, painted white with a border of red ribbon tacked down to frame the contents.  The middle is made up of glued Scrabble tiles, from our now defunct Scrabble game. Vertically, the tiles are painted hot pink and spell out the word “Mother”.  Horizontally, each of these letters has a corresponding word starting with Amazing (“M”), Loving (“O”), Patient (“T”), Honest (“H”), Special (“E”), and Strong (“R”).  I sometimes look at this sweet gift and chuckle, because there are days, I am anything but these words that were chosen by my daughter to describe me as her mother.

I became a mother when our only child was born almost 18 years ago.  It was the most profound and scariest day of my life.  I held in my arms this precious baby girl to whom I had the responsibility, along with my husband, for raising, nurturing, and loving for the rest of my life. However, there was only one thing missing: my mother.   

Eight months after Will and I were married, my mother passed away and I was left with a great void.  I was raised by a strong woman and she was supposed to be there for this moment.  Evelyn Tepera was this amazing woman who balanced career and family and who taught me I could do anything when you work hard.  Her loss left me with so many unanswered questions that I never took the time to ask her.  Questions about her thoughts on marriage, career, and some of our family traditions.  She was the keeper of this information.  Instead I was left with boxes of old family photos, a vinyl collection to rival many, and a storage unit full of items I wasn’t ready to let go, much less the energy to go through.  The 23 years that I had with my mother set the foundation for the woman and mother that I am today. 

After my mother died, is where my relationship with my mother-in-law began, however profoundly different.  As I described my mother as being strong, I would describe my mother-in-law as being tough.  And when I say tough, I mean she was resilient.  Ann Brown was best known in our community for her volunteerism, her love of church, and her devotion to family.  Throughout the next 23 years, she taught and shepherd me in her world of philanthropy.  She encouraged me to aim high in my career but stay grounded in giving back to our community.  Whether it was the Junior League, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church & School, Friends of Hospice or simply helping a person on a street corner, she reminded me that “it was better to give, than to receive.”  When she passed away in 2017, she prepared me to be there for my husband and daughter, and to continue her legacy.

My mother and mother-in-law were different, and these differences made an impact of me.  When I got engaged to my husband, my mother gifted me her entire collection of Erma Bombeck books with a note that said, “Read.  All of them.  One day you will understand and appreciate the humor of being a wife and mother.”  Opposite of this, my mother-in-law gifted me a copy of Emily Post’s Complete Book of Etiquette and San Antonio Junior League Flavors cookbook with a note that read, “Thought you could use these.”  And they were both right.

As I reflect about Mother’s Day, I remember the lessons that these two women gifted me in their own special ways.  They taught me to be strong and tough, to have compassion and empathy, and most importantly, humor.  Today, as we are raising our daughter, I see these gifts shine through in her.  There are these moments when our daughter laughs or in a glimpse of her profile, when I see them both.  It is with these little reminders that I know they are still with us, raising us, nurturing us, and loving us, every day.  

Jenifer Brown
Vice President Strategic Partnerships