Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Finland and How I Never Knew My Mother

I know, I know. It's been ages since I last blogged, and the posts seem to be fewer and farther between as time passes. It's not that I have nothing to say. Anyone who knows me at all is well aware that I have plenty to say, pretty much all the time. But, as a very good friend pointed out to my soon-to-be-husband back in 2003, "You have no idea how many dead horses you will be beating." In other words a lot of what I have to say is the same stuff I always say. How many times can I blog about poopy diapers, toddler tantrums, soccer games and the majority of what makes up my days? I often think, "I should blog about that. Oh wait, I already have."

Today I have something new to blog about, Finland. My two oldest daughters and I just returned from a weeklong trip there to visit my mother and father. My mom is from Finland and she and my dad are currently living there as missionaries. They've been in Finland for almost a year and have five months to go. Although I've been to Finland several times, my last trip there was 26 years ago. A lot changes in a quarter century.

My perspective as an adult is very different than it was as a young teenager. My adolescent memories of Finland include being irritated that I had nothing "fun" to do, listening to my walkman (yeah, that dates me), and being puzzled by how emotional my mother was. Her mother was in a retirement home at the time and was suffering from dementia. There were times when she didn't even recognize my mother. Unfortunately, as a teenager I was more worried about myself than my grieving mother. My grandmother passed away not long after our trip. Needless to say, that visit to Finland was a bit depressing.

This time around was quite the opposite! We had such a great time enjoying the greenery, the myriad lakes, the people, the language, visiting old friends, and most importantly seeing all the things about Finland that make my mother who she is. All of these things that I had thought were my mother's quirks, like making really runny scrambled eggs, turn out to be Finnish things. My mother's serious demeanor which melts into warmth and sweetness when you get to know her. Her love of cheese and rye crackers. The tone of her voice and the rhythms of her speech. Her nose. My mother's skepticism and her love of beauty. I came to understand things about my mother that I had never fully understood in a lifetime of being her daughter.

One particularly poignant experience was when we visited the home she was raised in. Many times mother told me of the impoverished circumstances she had grown up in. Her family lived in a large house that was shared by six families. The space allotted to my mom's family included a small kitchen with an attached living room which also doubled as their collective bedroom. That's it. They partitioned the room by hanging curtains. There was no plumbing or bathroom (or shower for that matter.) All residents of the house shared a common outhouse and sauna which were not connected to the house. Imagine a freezing winter's night in Finland and having to go to the bathroom...outside. The sauna was their means of bathing. They would sweat out the dirt and grime and then rinse off in cold water.

I thought I had a pretty clear mental image of what the living conditions were, but when we went to the house, I was stunned to see how small my mother's living space was and the general condition of the house. I had a whole new appreciation for my mother's strength and determination, and also for how blessed her life had been since then. It's almost beyond description the differences between her life then and her life now.

Watching my mom interact and converse in her own language, her own culture, in her homeland, I've never seen her so at ease and at peace. And, to have her two eldest grandchildren with her (and her daughter, too) to share it with, my mother seemed to be happier than I've seen her in years. I am so grateful we made the trip and grateful to Kent for staying home with the two babies (I can't imagine how hard the trip would've been with two toddlers in tow.)
It's amazing to me that you can have one of the most intimate relationships known to man, that of mother and daughter, and decades of shared time and experiences, yet in the end I hadn't really fully known or understood her. And, I probably will never know all that makes her who she is. It goes to show you that one can never know another person's heart, not completely. Our own perspective gets in the way.