Whether it was cultural, part of the child-rearing wisdom of the time, or personality, my mother adhered to the belief that to compliment a child excessively would lead to conceit, a “swelled head.” A number of my aunts and female friends of our family were of the same mind. Oddly, though, my dad and a regiment of uncles seemed inordinately and vocally proud of their children’s achievements.
At Mom’s funeral, one of her good friends approached me to say, ‘Your mom was so very proud of you and Sharon.’ Although a tiny child’s voice inside my head whispered, ‘Then why couldn’t she tell us so,’ I realized in that moment that without heaping praise, both Mom and Dad had planted in us the unfaltering sense that we were loved. Unconditionally.
When our children were very young, Robert and I spoke jokingly with friends about all of us striving to“improve” on the child-rearing techniques of our parents. Although, they could hardly have been “techniques” because this was not a generation who read books on how to increase your child’s self-esteem, which activities and advantages were essential to her growth and well-being, and how to discipline. Dr. Spock’s Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care was published two years before I was born, but there would have been no place for it in the Harke family bookcase.
Sharon and I, when we shared the accomplishments of our children, or simple pleasures like showing one another a particularly precious rose in one of our gardens would often share the one family joke that neither of us had forgotten. Mom’s highest praise: “Well, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
In many ways, we have raised our children according to the same strong values our parents held, and I see in all three of my own and in my niece and nephew, the qualities that I am grateful to my mom and dad for nurturing in their “girls.”
When Mom died – far too soon, and Dad eight years before her – my grief and sense of loss was made even more profound because my children would never have the chance of getting to know Grandma and Grandpa Harke. So I have tried to include in my own expressions of pride and love, the joy Mom and Dad would have felt.
On a trip to the Alberta Books Awards in Edmonton three weeks ago, I took along two irises and two small clumps of primula (which were transplanted from the mother plant in Mom’s garden to mine almost 40 years ago). We stopped at Mt Pleasant Cemetery just a few hours before the gala, something I rarely do, to visit. I stood between their graves – Albert Morris Harke and Martha Harke – and whispered, ‘Hey, Dad. Mom. Know why I’m here? Tonight, I’m the recipient of an honour that I know would make you proud.’ In my mind I heard Dad proclaim, ‘That’s my girl!’ And Mom, I know you were smiling when I heard you say, ‘Well. There’s nothing wrong with that.’
And you know — there’s nothing wrong with that.