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May 12, 2013

Patti Callahan Henry: The Greatest Gift My Mom Gave Me

Posted by tom

We wrap up this year’s Mother’s Day Author Blogs with Patti Callahan Henry, whose latest novel is AND THEN I FOUND YOU. Patti recalls warmly how her love of books blossomed from her childhood, throughout her adolescence, and into her adulthood. Her mother’s encouragement was the key to her transition from spellbound reader to confident storyteller in her own right. The freedom to explore the worlds of her imagination was the best gift her mom could’ve given her, and one of the most important things a mother can do for her kids.

Imagination is the fertile in-between land of childhood, and Mom often allowed me to live there inside books and stories. She read to me at night until I could stumble my way through words on my own. In my childhood bedroom with a book open on my lap, I tripped over words like “island” --- pronouncing it “is-land” --- willing to get it wrong just to know where Peter Pan was going that night. I skipped the parts I didn’t understand just so I could walk through the snowy woods with Edmund and Lucy. Books were scattered around my room in an echo of the clothes that would later litter my teen bedroom.

Books --- they were everywhere in my childhood home. There were so many that my dad built a room in the garage to hold them all. And although I often heard the lament, “You are going to miss out on life with your head in a book like that,” I continued to be enthralled with the world inside stories and words.

And then came high school, and books were my constant companions. I joined the Latin Club just to learn more about the language I loved so much. And it was here that I discovered mythology --- the gods and goddesses, the heroes and the damned. In Latin, I discovered more than the root of the English language. I found the true power of story.

Moving messily into adolescent angst, I started to write my own stories and poems. Mom never discouraged. Placing the typewriter in the middle of the dining room table and allowing me to “pretend” to be a writer, she never once told me I was foolish or unfit for such a lofty dream. She didn’t critique or mark up my story; she just allowed me to explore this world I would eventually fully embrace.

Sometimes a gift isn’t wrapped in ribbons and bows, something to put on a shelf. What my mom gave me was the freedom to explore the world of words and stories without intrusion, critique or judgment. 

And as we celebrate Mother’s Day and all these women did for us, we need to remember that sometimes it’s not about what we “do” for our kids, but how we allow them to explore not only their inner life and the outer world, but also the in-between world where creativity and imagination thrive.