I'm working with Procter & Gamble to help promote their Thank You Mom Contest, a campaign which is refreshingly designed to celebrate motherhood. When they invited me to work with them, they granted me tons of creative freedom -- so I saw it as the perfect opportunity to launch The Motherhood Project, featuring written and photographic portraits of women who have adult children, and who have both experienced being a mother and had themselves been well-mothered. I came up with 9 questions about mothering and motherhood, and every other Friday since September, I've been be sharing the answers, portraits and stories of some really special, beautiful women. I hope you've enjoyed them, and I hope you enjoy today's portrait, the last of The Motherhood Project.
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As I was searching for the last mom to feature here on The Motherhood Project, I put a call out on Twitter. Soon, I received a response from the lovely Keli Goff. "I think my mom might be good for your project," she said. "And she lives in Houston." So a few email exchanges later, and we managed to coax Ms. Opel into participating with the project.
And honey, I am so glad we did. I planned on meeting Ms. Opel in a local park for a quick photo session, and we ended spending over an hour talking. Ms. Opel is a force of nature. She's funny and smart and just oozes that sort of outspoken confidence that you can only get when you are absolutely certain who you are and what you stand for. She was so engaging and so wise that it took everything I could not to whip out my journal and start taking notes. She was an absolute joy to be around.
Luckily for all of us, she also had a lot to share on motherhood. Here's what she had to say:
How old are your adult kids? I have two daughters. Their ages are 48 and 31.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words? Caring, giving and outspoken.
What makes you different? I think the thing that makes me different is I try to see people as they are and embrace their differences. Being an African-American has helped me identify with the struggles that ALL PEOPLE encounter. For instance, I am just as distraught to see a poor white person mistreated as I am a poor African-American, or a Muslim, Jew, etc. My heart goes out to any person I see being mistreated, regardless of who they are or their sexual preference.
I always have strong memories associated with scent. What scents or smells will always remind you of your mom? The smell of fall in the air reminds me of my mother. I was raised on a farm in Oklahoma, in an area known as the cotton belt. The fall of the year was when cotton was harvested. It was during that time my mom taught me at an early age how to work and set goals for myself. Each of us, my brother, sister and myself, had a certain amount that we were expected to achieve by the end of the day based upon our ages. I cannot say that I always reached my goal but it did teach me determination.
What makes your mother beautiful? My mother's love for her children, grandchildren and other children makes her a beautiful person. There is absolutely nothing my mother would not do for her children or grandchildren, except uphold any of us when we are wrong. She cared so much for the children of our community that she donated the lots that were her mother's homestead for a park, and raised the money to buy the park equipment.
Tell me about a time when your mother taught you a life lesson, or gave you advice that you hold close. My mother has an old saying that she used to quote to me and my siblings when we became overwhelmed by situations: "Work gentle when you have your head in a lion's mouth, until you can work your way out of it." I remembered that a lot when I was working and trying to go to college. I would call my mom complaining about the people I worked for and she would remind me of what she always said. Life offers us a lot of challenges, but it's the way we approach those challenges that determines the type of outcome.
What skills did you learn from your mom that you made certain to use when mothering your own children? To love, discipline, support and not compare your children to one another.
Your kids are adults now -- and while you, of course, still love and support your kids, your job raising them is complete. What issues do you see brand new parents facing that you never had to face when you were raising your own? One of the major issues facing young parents today is the advancement of technology. There is so much harmful information and people available at the touch of a finger that it is frightening. Also, I see disciplining as an issue today, because of intervention by the authorities. It appears that parental rights are being lessened while children's rights are being increased against parents.
What advice would you give to someone who is still trying to figure out this parenting thing? That you are their parent and not their buddy. Encourage your child to pursue their dreams and not yours. So many parents try to live their lives through their children. Expose your child to different things but do not try to guide them in the direction you want them to go. I remember when I had my oldest daughter taking piano lessons (I always wanted to play the piano) and she would cry while practicing. One day her piano tecaher called me and told me that she was very good and she could possibly become a great pianist, but he said there is one problem, she hates it. He went on to say that if he were me, he would not force her any longer; so I did not. That daughter went on to become a great basketball player, in fact she went to college at Rice University on a full basketball scholarship.
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Thanks so much to Ms. Opel for sharing her thoughts on motherhood! Also, huge thanks to Procter & Gamble for their generous sponsorship of The Motherhood Project -- it's been an absolute delight meeting all these wonderful women, and sharing their beautiful faces and thoughts with you hear on the site. And of course, if you haven't yet, to read more stories about motherhood and to share your own, be sure to click here for more details on the Thank You Mom campaign. It runs from now through the end of November.
And on that note, have a great weekend, everyone. Don't forget to call your mom.
Images: Opel, photographed on October 22, 2010, in Oyster Creek Park, Sugar Land Texas. Nikon D300, 50mm lens.