“OK, I have to tell you guys something,” Mom blurted out sheepishly during dinner the other night. “I was asked to be grand marshal of the Hopkins Raspberry Parade and I’m not quite sure what to do about it.” Her authentically humble announcement was met with a chorus of cheers from my dad, sister, husband and me.
“What do you mean you’re not quite sure what to do?” my sister asked.
“Well, I just don’t think I’m really grand marshal material. I mean, it’s a huge honor, and I’m not really sure why they asked me. There are so many better people for the job, like…” Typically, I would find this type of remark from a woman with a list of accomplishments and awards as long as hers to be nauseating, disingenuous at best. Coming from my mom, however, the statement is both touching and incredibly frustrating because of its purity. My mom’s humility makes her accomplishments even more impressive, and it certainly makes her easy to love, but at the same time I wish she could, just once, say “yes, I deserve this honor” without any caveats or diversion tactics.
My mom is proud of the work she has done for the community, to be sure. However, when asked to do an interview or accept an award or honor, she never fails to deflect attention away from herself and shine the spotlight on anyone else who worked on the project with her. I’ve seen her do this countless times over the years. Even while talking with her family in the privacy of her own home, she mostly focuses on the contributions and accomplishments of others and rarely on her own. She constantly argues that she’s “just doing her job.” Technically, my mom’s full-time job is Family Partnership and Volunteer Coordinator for Hopkins Schools, but over the years she has extended that job description to respond to a variety of social, educational and health needs within the community. In truth, she’s always done much more than “just her job”— and Hopkins is a much better place because of it.
I’ve spent years trying to figure out the source of her genuine humility, a quality that is rarely found in our narcissistic society. The conclusion I’ve come to is that, for my mom, it’s never been about the recognition— it’s always been about the direct outcome of the work. This is what gratifies her. Knowing that a grade school kid from a low-income family will be able to eat lunch at school, that an elderly lady will have her “need to be needed” met through a volunteer opportunity, that an immigrant mother will have the resources to create a better life for her children— these are the “rewards” my mom reaps, the ones she really cares about.
Along with other visionaries in her community, Mom has constructively combated the closed-mindedness and the “I’ve got mine” mentality that pervades suburban America through education and countless hours of philanthropic work. Her commitment to social justice has never waned, in fact it has only grown stronger over the years. It is for this reason that she has received some of the top honors and awards the city has to offer.
After several days, we were finally able to convince her to accept the grand marshal honor as well. She’s still up to her usual antics (Mom: “In the interview for the local paper I’m going to mention that you were Junior Raspberry Princess in 1985-86.” Me: “Really, there’s no need for that, Mom. Keep it focused on you, that’s what people want to hear about.” Mom: “No! And I’m going to talk about when my uncle was the grand marshal and all of the wonderful things he did for the community… oh! And of course I’m going to mention that my baby granddaughter, the first member of the next generation, will be riding in the parade with me!” Me: *sigh*), but she’s already getting into the spirit and has started applying her unique brand of vision and creativity to this scenario as well — let’s just say this afternoon we’re going shopping for props to use during the parade. After all, we’ve got to put on a good show for her many fans.