Recently, the Provo Big Ocean Women Cottage met and shared stories of women who were not their own mothers who had blessed their lives by their mothering. These experiences show that to be a mother is something all women can do.
I met Ardyth on our first day in a new congregation. She just sat down next to us in the pew and asked if she could take care of my 4 year old throughout the service. Of course I said, “Yes!” We became fast friends after that.
Mary Ellen Estill Rudin graduated from college in Texas the year I was born. We connected in 1969 when my newly PhD husband accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, far from our families in the west. At a time when long-distance phone calls were a carefully budgeted extravagance, hand-written letters heralded the weekly news and parental support. Welcome to be sure, but a remote resource.
Mary Ellen and Walter Rudin (both distinguish
Our fourth child was born with Down’s Syndrome and attendant complications. Somehow Mary Ellen heard that news and bustled to visit me—the first person to come. She told me about their child with Down’s and how he fit in and was a welcome part of their family. Her confidence and warmth transferred over to me in a way that is difficult to describe. I hadn’t had time to think about how we would manage or even what questions to ask. I just remember feeling the confidence and welcome warmth in contrast to the worry and concern about our daughter’s health issues. Mary Ellen had come to the hospital to be my Madison mother in a moment when I very much needed a mother at hand.
In high school, I had a fantastic teacher. She not only took me under her wing and showed interest in me and my life, but she also showed me that being nerdy and quirky is cool. In a time in my life that was uneasy and tumultuous, she was a kind, loving place that gave me confidence in myself and my abilities.
As I watched her work with her students, whom she had spent nearly 40 years mentoring, it quickly became clear that “mentoring” wasn’t what she was doing at all. She was mothering. She was a mother to every single student who stepped foot into her room. They loved to be around her, they respected her, and they looked forward to her advice. She pushed every one of them out of their comfort zones, but nurtured them in remarkable ways that allowed them to blossom. She and her husband weren’t able to have children of their own. I know this caused her heartache. Thousands of young people, however, have been able to realize their potential and reach their dreams because of Mary Jane’s talent, encouragement, time, and love. She gave her whole self to them, just as any mother does for her children.
Photography by Sarah Rasmussen. See more by Sarah @sarahroser on Instagram.