Saturday mornings never varied when my brothers and I were kids. We’d wake up with the chickens and turn on the shows designed just for children. They were so good back then, and they’d last for hours, or so it seemed. Our mother usually slept a bit late after working all week which we didn’t mind at all because it meant more time to view our programs. When she did finally join us it was usually with a big mug of coffee and a long list of chores that we had to accomplish before the weekend fun began.
Each of us got special jobs beyond the usual duties of cleaning our rooms and folding laundry and putting it away. For some reason I inherited latrine duty. I was as well trained as a G.I. when it came to making our bathroom spic and span. An inspector might have run a mirror under the toilet rim and never found a single germ. I took great pride in my work and enjoyed my mother’s compliments once I had finished. My brothers often had the loathsome task of mowing the lawn which was made even more difficult by the fact that they had to use a push mower with no motor. They claimed that it made them stronger which was probably true, but I always felt terrible for them. Somehow sanitizing the bathroom fixtures seemed much easier than what they had to do.
We always had to change the linens on our beds as part of the weekly routine and our mother taught us how to make tight corners on the top sheet. With our work abilities we would have been great candidates for the military, but none of us ever leaned that way. Instead we imagined ourselves as characters in some exciting adventure as we made up stories to make our work seem more like play. Our mom turned on classical music as we merrily did our chores which were often punctuated with pauses for sword fights or pretend flying through the sky. Somehow she managed to convince us that our labors were tons of fun, so we willingly dusted and swept and made our home gleam again.
On Saturdays once the work was done we were rewarded with a shopping trip. Back then my favorite place was Palm Center because it had the best places to spend the quarter that she gave us for jobs well done. The hunt for some item worthy of our hard earned pay was all part of the fun and our mom was quite patient in allowing us to spend as much time as we needed to make a selection.
During the school week our focus was on our studies. Our mama didn’t worry too much about how the house looked when we had to read, write papers and study for tests. At the end of each evening she’d manage a five or ten minute drill that involved taking whatever belonged to us to our respective rooms. That way the shoes and socks and clothes were confined to the back of the house leaving the front area looking rather nice save for the dust that accumulated from Saturday to Saturday.
My mother and I took turns washing dishes each evening. We couldn’t even imagine having a dishwasher back then. It was a luxury for wealthier folk. Instead we used the sink as it was originally intended, filling it with warm sudsy water on one side and saving the other for rinsing. Mama was compulsive about removing all of the soap residue, so she often checked my work. Luckily she thought that it was okay to let the items air dry on a drainer making the task go more quickly.
Eventually we grew older and added real jobs to our resumes. I was the local babysitter until I landed a position as a summer receptionist at my doctors’ office. I was all of fifteen years old and appeared to be around ten. I must have been quite a sight to the patients, but the doctor thought that my work was swell. He paid me eighty eight dollars a month for my services. I suppose that I was a bargain for him because I worked five days a week from nine in the morning until six at night. I never missed a day and I faithfully accepted payments from the patients and balanced the books at the end of each day. I did this for three summers until I landed a better gig at Holiday Inn. While I didn’t make much money I would one day be quite happy when it came time to claim Social Security. Those quarters from my teen years added up.
My brothers worked at a produce stand along the side of Mykawa Road. Like me they earned little money but they took great pride in their work and were able to get regular pay starting from very young ages. They followed up with a variety of work with better compensation like moving furniture and driving a mail truck for the United States Postal Service.
All three of us eventually graduated from college and later earned advanced degrees. Our work ethic was formed in those years when we were no more than eight or nine. Our mother had high expectations for us and we never wanted to disappoint her. By the time we were adults we had created our own goals and aspirations for ourselves. To this day, even in retirement, we energetically fill our days with a variety of responsibilities and somehow make even the most mundane tasks seem like fun. Our mother slyly taught us how to do that long, long ago. Not only did she require us to learn the value of work, but she did so with heaping mounds of love. That was the real secret to our willingness to work hard even to this very day.
Researchers now agree that two important traits of a good parent are showing love and developing a work ethic in children beginning even when they are small. I recall my mom handing me a dust cloth and demonstrating how to clean her collection of salt and pepper shakers when I could not have been more than about five or six years old. I graduated from there to folding towels and carrying them to the linen closet. Little by little she advanced my skills and those of my brothers, always finding ways to let us know how much she appreciated our efforts, even when she was not able to do so monetarily.
My mother often joked that she should have written a parenting book. She was quite proud that we had turned out so well in spite of being raised in a single parent home. I think that perhaps she was quite right in believing that she had somehow found the secret to mothering success. I still have a tendency to spend my Saturday mornings tidying up my home, and then going out to shop in the afternoon. I turn on music and dance my way around the dusting and mopping and fondly recall those days of long ago when my mother’s routines spelled order, renewal, accomplishment. They set the foundation for lives that my brothers and I have lived quite well.