Finding Courage

OR Lessons from Mom

Life Lessons

Growing up under Patsy’s (my mom) watch came with baggage. She isn’t the type of woman to say I love you, good job. I’m proud of you, or whatever you decide to do. I will support your decision. Except for sex, family love is as complicated as romantic love, both will drive the sanest person to the brink, even to crack open a bottle of Jack Daniels. Patsy is like this and because of all her manipulative ways I’d love to hate her, but I don’t and couldn’t. I love her with all my heart. Because of her, I am what I am, strong and fearless.  She is what she is because she wasn’t given the options she gave me.

Under her watch, she pushed and pushed. When I was failing geometry in the 6th grade, she found me a tutor. When I insisted on moving to Sacramento after college to find a job and could not she came to my rescue and found me a job where she worked. I felt a failure coming home under her wings and taking a job she brokered, but three months later, I had found my own job and moved out. It turns out all I needed was a leg up.

Under her watch, she twisted truth and reality to suit her objectives and needs. She did what it took to fix the game or the numbers of bodies sitting around the dinner table at my Uncle Ted’s house on Christmas day. If she wanted, I gave. My objections bounced off her skin like flying arrows hitting a brick wall. In the name of family, she had the power of attorney to cut the deal without ever discussing the options with me . Over the years, I assumed she was mean.  What I didn’t realize back then was she was teaching me to fly.

She yelled I jumped. I executed flawlessly in public, bowing and curtsying on cue. I was able to discuss books and music, play poker and canasta, set and clear the dining room table without her guests ever realizing I was in the same room. I knew how to make a roux before I could recite the alphabet back to front. In public, I was a model citizen, and in private, I was an angel with a spear. For all her brute force, stern hand, demanding personality, Patsy pushed strength, fearlessness, but mostly independence. She injected my thoughts, slipped it to me in my Kool-Aid, preached strength without ever opening her mouth. If I missed a point, she repeated the lesson—no different to Mr. Miyagi’s wax on-wax off technique—until it was woven into my genetic code.

I had a voice and that a woman has choices. Like me, Patsy watched her mother—Della—make her choices and take her chances. Patsy did too, but not at first. She had her own baggage, which Della inherited from Hinuevea—her Apache mother—, which is what Patsy gave to me, and I have given to my daughter. It’s our legacy. We’re beautifully flawed, but we’re also fierce and independent (notice I didn’t say fiercely independent). So strong are these two traits within me I take them for granted until I have to call on them for strength I never thought I  had.

The lesson I am looking for today alongside my reserve strength, is the one on courage. I know it’s buried somewhere inside of me.  I reminded myself this morning I will also need to draw on my fierce and independent self as I embark on the journey to publish. I confess more than a flurry of panic as I stand at the fork in the road. Doom and dreaded filled my senses for the length of the moment. I’ve spent the last three years writing and rewriting. I didn’t bother with the fine print, what comes after because I assumed it would come to me as I slept. I can be delusional sometimes.

The panic I exhaled when I reminded myself that I survived childbirth, motherhood—military boot camp is easier—broken hearts, death, self-doubt, my naked body in a full-length mirror, but mostly, I survived childhood under Patsy’s watch. I signed, and after almost surrendering my already eaten breakfast, I climbed back into my skin.  Breathe in, breathe out, count backwards from ten, and then jump. I’ve nothing to lose I tell myself, nothing at all.


What gift from your mom, dad, aunt, or any family member, do you most treasure?



I’m a writer and hoarder of one-size-fits-all panty hose. Until the hose fits over my bum, I write to provide an alternative view on writing and perfection.

39 thoughts on “Finding Courage

  1. Jo

    Patsy did a good job, I think. Nice post and good reflection. I learned so much from my parents, it’s hard to nail it down to one or two things. I imagine the most prominent thing they gave me is my confidence. I always believe I can do it, doesn’t ever matter what IT is. lol Sometimes, okay often, I’m wrong about that, btw. :)

    • Jo – my mom is a hoot. I think as adults we appreciate more and of course, we are wiser and can make decisions about what to keep and what not to keep. I am glad for all her ways, if not I might be sitting here pushing myself over the last hurdle.

  2. Oh, Brenda, for one day I wish you could see yourself the way I see you. I’ve read your writing. You are ready. Ready to jump into the publishing game and get your stuff out there. I believe in you, Brenda. And I believe in your novel.

    As for what my parents taught me, I’d have to say to make my dreams happen. They always pushed me to accomplish what I set out to accomplish. Even through tears and frustration, they told me to push forward until I found success. I’m very thankful for that.

    • I too believe in the book, and even the next one. It was just a moment of panic when someone asked me if I was going to a writer conference, etc., and had it done this and that ( I had no idea what they were talking about) but.. after I climbed back into my skin.. I still didn’t know what they were talking about BUT I figured, don’t sweat it. I’ll get to that side of the publishing in a very short bit. I kind of think I would love your mom..(and dad by association) she sounds like a wonderful lady. I remember when you said your tennis partners would sit around drinking tea with her… As always, thanks kindly.

  3. When I think of my mother, I think of Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.” Although Angelou wrote it about slavery and its remnants, it’s about more than that, as she says herself.

    “…Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
    I rise
    I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
    Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
    Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
    I rise
    Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
    I rise…”

    My mother lived through the depression. She became a proud servicewoman during WWII, and returned to a US that tried to shove women back into the kitchen.

    She worked anyway.

    She survived the death of her beloved little brother, of her father (and she *was* a Daddy’s girl), of others she loved. Cancer, an unfaithful husband, a battle with weight, an unwelcome interstate move away from family and friends… She made new friends, she held her head high and treated everyone with dignity and respect and kindness, living with joy, even, no matter how sick she became. Still she rose, not letting anything beat her down (though in the end, cancer claimed her life). She let nothing and no one steal HER spirit and while I admit to a small jealousy for your fierce AND independent heritage (and living mother), I feel truly blessed to have had my own, even if it was for too short a time.

    • Bev- I love that one, thanks for reminding me, it’s been a long while since I read it. I really like your mom’s story and suspect there is a story there – even if you added to it for the sake of fiction ( I do use my family all the time, how can I not.. and yes, the swear to sue me all the time). The next time I am in LA, you’ll have to come over for dinner.

  4. k~

    Courage is the ability to walk through the fire of fear and come out the other side a bit tempered, stronger, and ready to face the next. There is little doubt in my mind that you are courageous. Savour the anxiety, it is like a temporal warning light that helps you guide yourself to the next level in your journey, it’s there to protect you.

    I look forward to seeing the binding of pages, with a name on the cover of your next greatest dream come true. You are already a phenomenal writer, most that taste your words are certain of it… the rest of the world is waiting. The reins are in your hand, ready to ride?

    In answer to your question, the gift I most treasure is the one I got directly from the Universe… insight.

  5. I’m glad I inherited the ability to be creative and artistic from my father, but not always happy for the bipolar disorder which came along with it! My mum gave the best birthday parties ever.

    • E- you are indeed a creative force, as for the burden you carry, I suspect it gives your more strength than you realize. I’m sure it’s difficult, but we (as in a person) rarely has it ALL. There is always something just out of our reach. Yes?

  6. From what I’ve learned on your blog, dear Brenda, the women in your family were/are indeed fierce and independent. Your courage is revealing itself to you. It is in you. And it is rising. We can all feel it.

    My parents are the sort who wouldn’t say ‘I love you’ either. As children, my sisters and I were severely disciplined. We were expected to greet and bid goodbye to every elder individually (and we have many elders); our kindergarten grades could not fall below 98 out of 100; and we had piano, art and calligraphy lessons every week. Gradually I realize they were only wanting us to be the best people we could be, given the best environment to grow, the one they didn’t have the chance to grow in themselves.

    The gift I treasure (or rather, hope to inherit more, to let it grow in me deeper) is my dad’s down-to-earth integrity and my mom’s filial piety (though in a more relaxed, expressive way than hers). :)

    Your journey in publishing will be grand. Lose the worries and anxieties. Enjoy the flow. Enjoy your self, your braver-than-you-think self.

    • Oh Claudine, I will get over myself, but the point of writing them down (to me anyway) is cathartic. Something about weaving a tale and dealing with uncertainty is like therapy to me. I write it down, and for the most part whatever is nagging at the back of head is usually gone after. You and I have similar upbringing. I know I didn’t always understand my mother at the time but I AM SO GRATEFUL as I suspect you are too. I am different with my own children though, I always tell them I love them and have longs talks with them about their lives and what they want to do, etc. Also interesting is now that my mom is older she has softened and says those three words all the time to her grand kids ( I love this)..

  7. There is no fork. You have a talent and I know you willl find a way to marry talent and courage and choose the right path. This book was not meant to gather dust in the bottom drawer (or gather viruses on your hard drive is probably more apropo these days!). Go for it.
    What I’ve learned from all my family? Family is everything!

    • I know, Astra, there is not fork, only a moment of pure OMG, followed by OK, what’s next. That’s how I roll. I feel it, scream it, internalize it, write it, dump it, and then move on. Hugs, for always hanging in there, even when I am in the scream it phase.

  8. God, I love your writing, I love how you create images and put words together. You are a woman somethin’ fierce and I, for one, cannot wait to read your book and spread the news. When the time comes, I hope you will allow me to do a pre-release review on my blog (not that I have a lot of followers, yet) and will grant me an interview—cuz with your mind, the way you think, write and (I imagine) talk, you will turn out to be much sought after when all is said and done.

    • Ms. Ward, it would be a honor From you lips to the granters of dreams, Tinker Bell and Mary Poppins, anyone up there in the big universe that grants wishes.

  9. I just loved reading this…”slipped it to me in my Koolaid.” (awesome line)

    My Dad was not very tall, but strong as an ox, with stories of WWII and the navy. You can imagine the things he saw and felt, being a mine sweeper. He was the oldest of nine children and helped provide for the family. While he could scare you when he was angry with his eyes turning red, he never yelled, never cursed, spoke truthfully. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do or fix. He would just do it. He built a small house, he did everything…

    To answer your question, he gave me the gift of “strength.” Strength that I can do anything. I’m barely 5 feet tall but don’t feel that small. The one thing I miss most about him is the strength I would feel and receive from him when I entered a room that he was in.

    Patsy is awesome!

    • Linda, I think she is too (Patsy) but she always threatens to sue me after I write about her.. She is waiting for me to be famous she said, “when your rich.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, mom. Your dad sounds wonderful. I know we don’t realize what they give to us until later, when we draw upon those gifts. If you close your eyes and remember, I am sure you will feel his strength inside of you.. I promise, it’s there.

  10. So many gifts from my parents! There are too many to enumerate, and yet it took me many years to appreciate them. In fact, I don’t think I truly understood until I became a stepmom and therefore responsible for two tender souls who needed all the guidance I could provide — and a certain dose of the toughness I gained from my own mother.
    My mother taught me to be a fighter. This served me when I got sick with a little-understood illness and had to find my way to health. It served me again when I had to deal with divorce, infertility, and financial insecurity. Now it serves me in my writing career. I get down at times — as a writer I am also tender-hearted, after all — but I pick myself up and continue, dogged and determined.
    Thanks for yet another great post! Cheers!

    • Nadine, there is a story in there, which I have seen by She Writes, you draw upon. You are indeed a strong woman that continues to follow dreams you are writing each day. You know I have to say this, but keep writing because with it you are even stronger. And thanks kindly.

  11. Anna

    Love this Brenda! I too have a strong mom who told me to be who I am and persevere. So thankful for that! Great luck publishing, I personally love your writing!

    • Anna, you and me both. Many thanks for both, publishing and enjoying the words. I am kind of excited about this process, if anything I will another story to tell.

  12. My mother gave me the strength and courage to press on, no matter what’s thrown at me, and the determination to make anything happen. My father gave me a smart aleck sense of humor, and the ability to look at everything from different angles.

    • Shannon – we have parents who are kindred. My dad was a jokester as well.. It’s good to have a solid foundation as we follow our hearts..

  13. –Brenda,
    You are Fierce, Ferocious, & Fabulous (just like the women before you)

    Your Writing Burns Upon The Page like an inferno.

    Would I Lie?

    Believe in yourself as I believe in you.

    You Rock The Words, Girlfriend. xxxxx

  14. I see to always follow Kim here. It’s so true when she says, “Your Writing Burns Upon the Page like an inferno.” Which is just one reason why this is my favorite line in your post:

    I signed, and after almost surrendering my already eaten breakfast, I climbed back into my skin.

    It speaks to me as only the best, lyrical writing can do. You have such a knack, my friend, and such a gift.

    • Monica, it is amazing to me how writers scattered here and there form a support network across the wires. First and always, thank you kindly for your words. I do love the idea of dumping my angst on the page and after it’s over with, long after, if I need a boost, I only need to look over the comments for go find inspiration from fellow writers, such as yourself and Mistress Kim. This is a good thing, yes?

  15. You seem to be lady that when she puts her heart into something ….will come out with flying colors… You seem to take things as they are…you were brought up with courage … strength and a fiery will power!
    As for me I seem to have my father’s philosophical mind and my mom’s practicality!

    • Savy, You are yin and yang, which makes sense given your posts. I see this most clearly now. From you finger tips to the heavens. I confess, I am excited about the next steps.

  16. Patsy must’ve done a fine, FINE, job raising such a spirited, talented child as you, dear Brenda.
    And listen: be bold, be strong, that’s who you. Let the boldness shine through and through, because you are you and wonderful at it!
    Oh, all those gifts from family members. From my mother I received my spiritual penchant. My brother Gerald prompted my musical career when he entered me in the school talent show and mentored me. (I feel a story coming on…) And my father left me the cigarette habit. God rest his soul.

    • Debra, it’s funny how when we are young we don’t understand, but later, as life demands more of us we go draw on those life lessons. I know I do and recently, my daughter–now at college–tells me stories about her new challenges and how she overcomes them. I see my in her, my mom in her, and so on. I love your stories. I am sorry about the cigarette habit, I never got into that one. I thank you kindly, always.

  17. I admire your fortitude so much, Brenda. I love hearing about your family, especially the females, and how they have influenced you. I don’t really have an answer to your question. The way I was raised certainly helped create who I am, but I also think so much of who we are is just in our DNA. I seem to be quite a conglomerate of many of the traits and characteristics I see in others in my family! It is really interesting to think about.

    I find myself always surprised to hear your confessions of worry or fear. It is a good reminder for me that even independent and strong women like you feel the fear too. But you go forward.

    • Michael Ann – I do have an interesting lineage. I am human, as such I am flawed (thankfully) and yes, like you and every other woman on the planet I have my moments of OMG what the hell am I doing, or I don’t have a clue, or like this one, I don’t know how… Of course just because I FEEL it the uncertainty all the way to tips of my size ten feet-toes, it doesn’t mean I won’t overcome it. I will. The moments before uncertainty somehow make he stronger as I fight the unknown. I am from the school of thought facing and admitting what worries you is a good thing. Hugs, and thinking of you often.

  18. Brenda, I came by after seeing you over at the Tribal Blogs party. I live in Alameda, but was born and lived in San Francisco until 20 years ago when we moved here. So nice to find somebody local!

    Mom was a showgirl and Dad was an SF cop. It was a marriage made in hell but there were 4 kids out of the union. I have been married and divorced a number of times, but I’m now married to my “forever” husband, Alex, a Navajo man, 15 years my junior. He’s a defense contractor, ex-military, and works in the Intel Community. We’ve been married nearly 23 years.

    I love the way your describe your wonderful mother. Yes, she was a pistol, but she shoots straight! Love her!

    • Linda… I loved how you described your parents marriage. It sounds as if you lived through and found your place and the love of your life. And yes, Patsy is a pistol. Of course she continues to threaten to sue me if I don’s stop writing about her.. she does go on and on. I am in the East Bay as well… Walnut Creek (like the heat).

  19. My daughter and her family lived in Walnut Creek for several years. Lovely place. My parents are gone now, but I did love both of them despite their crazy making ways!

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