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Lessons learned from children

I had a few false starts before landing on a title for this column 24 years ago.

I considered “Mommy Knows Best” – a takeoff on the 1950s sitcom “Father Knows Best.”

Too hokey, I decided. Not to mention, dated.

There was the short-lived “Mommy Business.”

Too much like potty training.

I considered “Mommy Tracks.”

Nix. Sounds like Mommy’s on heroin.

But when a colleague suggested a twist on the movie title “Bringing Up Baby,” I knew she nailed it.

Even if my cynical newspaper cronies sometimes called my column “Bringing Up Breakfast” when I waxed sentimental, the title fit.

Even then, I already knew that just as I was raising my children, so were they raising me.

Thus it has been these many years. If I needed to teach my children to use their inside voices, first I had to use mine. If I expected my children to follow the rules, first I had to quit sneaking popcorn into the movie theater. If I wanted my children to eat more fruit, wash their hands, say their prayers, brush their teeth, wear their seat belts, look people in the eye, write thank-you notes, clean their rooms, show up on time, I had to do the same.

At times, motherhood becomes an exercise in perfection, like so many opportunities for analysis and duty, performance and failure.

Somebody is watching me.

And not just somebody.

But my children.

And that becomes a lesson, too.

These days, with a 24-year-old gone from home, traveling often to dangerous countries with his job in U.S. foreign aid, and with the other two 20 and 15, I’m not so much Mommy anymore.

I think sometimes, in fact, I should change the title of this column to the potentially more accurate “Bringing Up the Rear.”

The fact is, they’ll always be bringing me up.

It is an upbringing these days not so much present in the gritty details as it is in the nuance, as I learn to balance my innate desire to be Mom against theirs to be self-sufficient.

Now they need me, now they don’t, and it can change in the same paragraph of a conversation. I have become proficient at running zig-zag – like the Florida natives taught us the year we lived there. “Alligators have no peripheral vision, and they won’t know which way to go to chase you if you run zig-zag,” they said.

Sometimes, just like those years when we said prayers at night and I lay my head on the pillow next to theirs, we connect in some ethereal space that bespeaks the connection of the mother-child relationship.

At other times, there is a clash of wills, the brash righteousness of the 15-year-old smack up against the maternal resolve to share those life lessons Mom thinks she knows best.

Regardless, there remains for me a duality, this word defined online as “the quantum-mechanical property of being both a wave and a particle.”

It is this that carries motherhood through for me: No matter when or where or how old we are, for their sake, I will always determine to grow in my relationships with my children. Whether my 15-year-old is beside me, testing my patience while he learns to drive, or my elder son is traveling far away, and I’m waiting for his call, but the call’s not coming, and the call’s not coming, and it turns out he forgot – there are opportunities and lessons in humility and understanding, impermanence and release.

At times and often still, I am but a babe in the woods again, a young mother, learning, reaching, unsure.

And so it is, I’ve decided, that the name of this column I brainstormed in the infancy of my motherhood, can stay.

It was authentic then. It remains so now.

Contact Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio (, at or join her Facebook group: Mommy/