Love and Work Ethic

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Sound of Love

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She was a big baby, nine pounds two and one half ounces. Her mama weighed only one hundred pounds so the nurses thought she belonged to the other woman in the semi-private hospital room. There was laughter and unmitigated pride that the child was so beautiful and healthy save for a broken clavicle that resulted during the final moments of birth. The little one wore a sling and the doctor assured the young mother that the girl would heal in a week or two which is exactly what happened.

She was a happy child who loved to sing and dance and run outside in the grass, but she always seemed to have a runny nose and ear infections. There were many visits to the pediatrician who soothed the mother with assurances that such things were normal for a little one. Still the worries increased when the tiny girl stopped singing and had uncharacteristic bouts of frustration and anger. The fevers and ear infections continued and on many long nights the mother held her child close to ease the pain that her baby was experiencing. Each time they visited the doctor he chided the mom for worrying so much, and even hinted that she was being neurotic with her concerns.

Time passed. The toddler years were gone and in a blink it was time for the child to go to school. She was terrified and clung to her mother with all of her might. The kindergarten teacher suggested that the girl was a bit slow and unsocial. She recommended counseling and perhaps even testing for special education. The mother did not know what to do. She knew that her little one was very bright, but exceedingly shy and quiet. The defiant mom insisted that they wait and see how things worked out once the child had adjusted to the demands of school. After all, it had been a tumultuous time for the whole family with deaths of loved ones and a string of serious illnesses that afflicted both parents. Somehow the mother believed that things would ultimately work out for the better.

First grade came for the little girl. She had a sweet and observant teacher who took great pains to get to know each of her students. The educator noticed that the child was carefully watching the lips of anyone who spoke. Her level of concentration for this task was intense. The thoughtful educator had an idea, and sent her student to the school nurse for a hearing test. Just as she had expected the results indicated a forty percent hearing loss. The child was not slow, quite the contrary. She was having to learn with an extreme handicap and still doing very well.

When the mother got the news about her beautiful little girl she cried. Everything suddenly made sense, the times when the child was surly, the frustrating moments when the girl appeared to be ignoring her, the sudden end of the singing. That beautiful baby could not hear.

A visit to a specialist supported the findings of the school nurse. The good news was that the condition was being caused by a build up of fluid in the ear canal. The doctor assured the mother that with a bit of surgery, the insertion of tubes and the removal of the tonsils and adenoids the child would soon be hearing quite well. A date was set for the procedures.

The mom’s heart beat quickly as she walked beside her daughter’s hospital bed that was being wheeled into the operating room. The wait for news felt like an eternity, but in a time much shorter than it seemed the prognosis was wonderful. All had gone well. The child’s future would be so much brighter.

As the mother and father drove their little girl home they were stunned by what happened next. The child’s eyes widened and she gasped while putting her hands near her ears. “What is that?” she exclaimed. “What is all that noise?”

The parents realized that their child was hearing normally for the first time in a very long time. They smiled and cried at the same time. They understood at that moment just how difficult it had been for their baby to navigate in a world full of voices that she could not hear.

Life did indeed change for the little girl. She proved to be an outstanding student, a bright girl who would achieve many great things. She began to sing and dance again and enjoy the sounds of the world that make life so much more pleasurable. The mother would always feel a special gratitude for the teacher who had so lovingly advocated for the little one rather than judging her to be slow and awkward. That educator had changed a life in a very special way.

The girl grew up, earned a college degree from a prestigious university, married and had a great big family of her own. She still had problems now again with her hearing, especially in big crowds or when listening on a phone. The wonderful world of texting has been a boon for her and she has learned to cope with the moments when she doesn’t quite catch what is being said. She still loves music as much as she did when she was barely walking when she would move her tiny feet to the beat while attempting to hum along. Thanks to her first grade teacher her life was enriched in a multitude of ways. Everyone knows that she is bright and capable and accomplished.

Today is that child’s birthday. Her name is Maryellen and she is my baby all grown up. I will be eternally grateful to the wonderful woman who took the time to unravel the paradox of Maryellen’s behavior. Today Maryellen is the incredible woman that she was meant to be. But for the intervention of her teacher things might have been very different. Because of that woman we were all able to hear the sound of love.

I wish Maryellen a very happy birthday on this morning, remembering what a beautiful infant she was, and feeling so thankful for the amazing woman she has become.

Shifting Responsibility

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Our country was founded by rebellious people, many of whom were descendants of folk who were having a difficult time in Europe. They were people that might be referred to today as “deplorables” from religious sects that had been persecuted, poor who came as indentured servants, youngest sons who would never inherit land, adventurers who wanted to try something new, troubled souls who barely escaped jail or a hangman’s noose, fatherless boys and girls called bastards. Each and every person who came here was looking for opportunity, a chance to reboot and make something of themselves. What they found was a harsh environment very unlike the places from whence they had come, but they carved out a place for themselves and many times made good on their desire to make something of themselves in a way that would not have been allowed in their homelands. By the time of the revolution that created the whole experiment called the United States of America many generations of people had only known life in the colonies. They bore the independent characteristics of their ancestors who had long ago settled there. They had been taught to be wary of infringements on their rights, and so when the king of England pushed harder and harder to get them to finance wars with untold taxes, they pushed back and eventually chose to break completely.

It’s important that we note the characteristics of our beginnings whenever we attempt to understand the political thinking of today. We were a nation of people who were very consciously concerned that too much interference from the government might lead to the same kinds of prohibitions and problems that had driven many of their ancestors here in the first place. The Constitution itself along with the Bill of Rights were designed to keep governmental interference as much at bay as possible. Because of the very nature of the people who began this experiment in democracy, it is difficult and maybe even a bit ridiculous to compare our nation to others. We are quite simply put very different from them.

Admittedly there were glaring flaws in the first iteration of our laws. The fact that women were not given the vote and slavery was legal were egregious mistakes that haunt us to this day. Still, creating unity among so many disparate voices and ideas took compromise without which we might still be part of the British commonwealth and only a fraction of the size that we are today. It’s been an uphill battle to set thing right, particularly with regard to the souls that we enslaved and their descendants. The incremental tendencies built into our Constitution can be frustrating, but they are also a bulwark against hasty legislation that has the power to dilute our freedoms.

We are a young country compared to our European counterpoints and more diverse in every possible way. Pulling all of us together in a common cause is not easy, especially as we deal with problems that our forefathers could not have foreseen. Still beneath all of the quibbling and unwillingness to work together that rises up again and again, there is a belief that somehow we will ultimately find a way to mend the injustices and grievances that have been part of every government that has existed since the beginning of time. There is no perfect ideology, nor is there a sin free group of people. As humans our flaws create problems that we sometimes allow to fester until we grow weary and realize the necessity of finding solutions. Thus we engaged in a revolution that freed us from the greedy grasp of the crown, and then later fought each other over the question of slavery that should never have taken so long to address.

Today we are a global nation as are all places on earth. It is virtually impossible to be isolated from the symbiotic nature of our world. We must take part in discussions and resolutions dealing with places seemingly so far away that they have little to do with us. Additionally we have questions specific to our own country that need to be answered. Juggling all of the modern day political responsibilities is a balancing act indeed, and it plays out against a backdrop of considerable numbers of people who share the same fears of losing freedom as the people who long ago shoved King George out of their lives. On the other side is a growing group that wants government to take more responsibility. The debates over which type of political system is best is seemingly a reiteration of questions that created the glorious cause so long ago.

Front and center of our national angst is the growing trend of violence in our schools. There are so many layers to this issue that believing that any one thing will solve the problem is little more than wishful thinking. That being said we all have a sense that something, and perhaps many things must be done sooner rather than later. We know that we cannot live in the fear that is overtaking us nor can we allow the murderous copycats to continue their ways.

Among the many ideas making the rounds these days is to hold parents liable if their children use guns that they have left unsecured. This idea ranges from giving them monetary punishments to actually charging them as accessories to murder. As someone whose ancestor fought in the American Revolution I find myself shuddering at the very thought of such an invasion of freedoms. I also base my belief on the decades long relationships that I have had with teenagers as an educator. One thing that I know for certain is that young people can be quite shocking in the things that they do, even when they are being carefully monitored by loving and caring adults. There is almost a kind of secret life in the years of adolescence when young people are experimenting and involving themselves in pursuits that would in no way be reflective of the lessons they have been taught at home and in schools. Most of us if we are honest would attest to doing things that now cause us both regret and a modicum of shame. We would not have told our parents what we were doing and are thankful that we made it through our experimental stages without getting into serious trouble.

What I am saying is that even with locked gun cabinets and responsible training there will always be teenagers who find ways to break the rules. Holding parents legally responsible is a very slippery slope unless it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the parents were so lax that they actually encouraged the bad behaviors. There is a huge difference between giving a teen alcohol to drink and then allowing him/her to drive and having that same teen stealthily take a family gun from a closet to do harm to others. It might be argued that the gun should have been locked away, but even then how is it possible to prove that the gun was just lying around so cavalierly that it was an open invitation to disaster? Teens never fail to amaze me. They watch adults using combinations and memorize the numbers. They find keys to unlock forbidden doors. Unless the parent is alert twenty four hours a day and essentially following a teen’s every single move, there will be times when they lose control.

In most cases the parents of shooters are as shocked and overwhelmed with grief as anyone. They must truly wonder what they did nor did not do to be such failures. I can’t even imagine having to walk in the shoes of a parent whose child has become a monster. To further their own anguish by insisting in a court of law that they also be held accountable seems to be a violation of all of the freedoms that we want our country to represent.

There are bad seeds among us. We need to deal directly with them. We can create laws that restrict their access to weapons and public places, but surely we do not want to be so vindictive as to send their parents to jail as well. Unless it is certain that adults actively contributed to perpetrating violence punishing them further has no place. We must attack this issue from other angles that are in keeping with the intent of our forefathers. Our fears must not allow us to be unjust or to shift responsibility. 

It Takes A Village

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Fit pitching seems to run in my family. If you’re not sure what that means, it refers to over the top defiant behavior by a child between the ages of two and five. My eldest daughter was quite adept at creating embarrassing scenes both at home and in public. One summer she wore fur lined reindeer slippers everywhere because she refused to put any other type of shoe on her feet. Not even two of us were able to hog tie her so that we might force a more appropriate type of footwear onto her tiny feet. I used to marvel at her strength and wonder if perhaps I had given birth to a superhero. I finally gave up deciding that once her little toes got sweaty enough she would surely eschew the footwear designed in Norway for harshly cold winters. With a mind of her own that is evident to this very day she persisted, and I endured shaming looks and unwanted advice wherever I went.

My niece was not to be outdone. She is the child of an Anglo father and an Asian mother, a beautiful girl who very much resembles my eldest, but has definite Asian features. My mother, my more grown up and matured daughter, this niece and I were once on a shopping adventure together. My niece was still a toddler, but with three of us to help keep her happy we were certain that there would be no problems. I don’t recall what set her off, but something did and she began carrying on like a demon possessed. Her cries and screams became exponentially more insistent with each passing second until my mom wisely decided that we had no recourse but to leave the shopping behind and get her home for a nap. My niece had other ideas and resisted our efforts to move from the spot where she was entertaining a crowd of critics with reproving faces. Picking her up was a bust because she wiggled from our grasp each time we tried that maneuver. When we attempted to get her to walk she lay down on the ground challenging us to drag her if we wished to move forward. Somehow we ultimately got her to the car but not without worrying that we were going to end up in jail for kidnapping as she yelled, “You’re not my Mama! You’re not my Mama! Go away!”

My eldest grandson was not to be outdone by the ladies in the family. On one particular outing he repeated his mother’s propensity for footwear after he saw a pair of very expensive tennis shoes that he wanted to take home. When we denied his request he went into an act of rebellion that outdid anything I had ever seen. It got so bad that I actually whispered to my daughter that I would spring for the shoes if she didn’t mind. Thankfully she stood firm because she was a good mother, insisting that he had to learn that we would not be moved by a tantrum. Having grown weak as a grandmother I wasn’t as sure of her reasoning in that moment, but I ultimately felt proud of her strength of character.

The good news is that all three of these children turned out to be quite remarkable. They did exceedingly well in school and were often complimented by their teachers and other adults for being exemplary young people. My daughter graduated from the University of Texas with a business degree and now balances an accounting job with caring for a household of four young men. My niece is a Pediatrician and works at Texas Children’s Hospital while mothering three boys of her own. My grandson was an honors graduate of his high school and is studying at Texas A&M University and serving as head coach of his neighborhood swim team. All three outgrew the behaviors that had once made them appear to strangers as spawn of the devil.

I have more often than not found that very inquisitive children sometimes become intractable, especially when they are tired. They want to freely explore the world and learn for themselves without barriers. Since we adults have to guide and protect them we sometimes have to inhibit their native curiosities and desires for their own good. We find ourselves locked in a battle of wills that is exhausting and might even make us look bad to passersby.

I feel great compassion for a parent who is attempting to deal with an angry child. Sometimes the struggle becomes so public because the little one does not care that he/she is creating a disturbance. It is apparent that the adult is doing everything possible to quell the situation all to no avail. I always want to help but know that my interference will undoubtedly make things worse. All I can do is quietly send signals of support to the harried adult.

There is a hilarious video circulating on Facebook in which a quite funny woman tackles the issue that mom’s everywhere have endured. She vividly describes the scene of a mother dealing with an uncooperative child in a public place. She wonders why there always seems to be someone in the crowd who signals unrelenting disapproval for the mama, even though we all know that sometimes these things happen. She notes that our inconvenience is temporary while the parent will continue dealing with the problem at home. She wonders why we can’t all be more supportive, especially given that this is supposed to be the era of solidarity with our sisters from all over the world.

In the age of Pantsuit Nation women are doing their utmost to break glass ceilings and join one another in #MeToo moments. Why can’t we also demonstrate a bit of understanding and compassion for anyone who is dealing with a difficult toddler moment? Why do we so often become judgmental rather than helpful, when anyone who has been a parent honestly knows that there are many times when we feel totally inept and defeated by the tiny creatures that we are working so hard to raise.

I always loved my mother-in-law because whenever either of my daughters behaved badly in front of her she would smile impishly and suggest that maybe they had taken after her. She would then recall multiple stories that her elegant mother had told her about her own childhood missteps. One involved a scene in front of a downtown department store which became so heated that her mother had to give her a little swat on the fanny to get her back in line. When my mother-in-law shouted that her mother was embarrassing her the reply from her mom was, “If you embarrass me, I will embarrass you.” My mother-in-law repeated this tale rather proudly as if it conveyed the strength and conviction of her mother that she believe inspired her to become a great woman in her own right.

Next time you see a parent dealing with a seemingly bratty child, try not to judge. Instead send a vibe that let’s the weary individual know that everything will one day be amazingly good if they just hang in there and do what is right. Show that we are all in this parenting thing together. Hillary was right. It takes a village.

Our Foundation

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It’s the day after Mother’s Day and I find myself thinking about what it means to be a mom. I learned all that I needed to know from my mama who was exceptionally good at the task. I always marvel at the fact that she somehow managed to raise three children each of whom is totally different from the others. She allowed us to be ourselves and ultimately it made us into very happy adults. She loved and guided us, teaching us right from wrong, but then let us develop our own passions. She parented us all alone because our father had died when we were eight, five and three respectively.

A truly good mother like her is able to provide everything that children need, but it is a challenging  job that requires full time devotion, and my mom was always ready to give us her all. She admittedly spoiled us but only with love, not things. We appreciated her, but nonetheless I don’t think that we ever really knew how important she was to us until she had died Now we remember all of the little things that she did that once seemed so insignificant. In fact I find myself calling upon her wisdom and generous spirit more and more as time goes by.

My mother-in-law was another model of motherhood who was only able to bear a single child which was quite dangerous for her. She had a congenital heart defect that doctors felt would shorten her life, and so when she became pregnant they were certain that having a baby would kill her. Not to be bullied into terminating the pregnancy, she insisted on taking the risk. The delivery was complex but ultimately successful, and one of the proudest moments of her life. After my husband was born she the proceeded to love him so much that she turned him into one of the sweetest people to ever walk the earth. Her parenting style proved that some good things are never too much.

I was a young mother who still resembled a child when I first became a mom. I made the kind of mistakes that come from immaturity, but I know without reservation that my girls were the most wonderful gift that I had ever received. I literally thought about them almost every waking moment. More than anything I wanted them to grow to be great women like their grandmothers, and my dreams have very much come true. They are not just good moms. They are extraordinary.

Mothers are the foundation of society, the first teachers of the young. They quietly sacrifice for their children, rarely drawing attention to the many things that they do. They awake in the middle of the night to feed a hungry infant or to console a feverish body. They juggle routines and schedules to get their little ones to lessons and activities. They slowly help them to develop their talents and interests, sometimes adjusting their budgets to provide opportunities for their hard work to take hold. Their own responsibilities and worries grow, but they rarely share the concerns and stresses that rattle around in their heads. The children’s joys are their joys, just as the pain becomes theirs as well.

Sometimes we grow up and look back at photographs of our mothers and marvel at how lovely they were before we were born. We forget that they were once young themselves, dreaming of lives that may or may not have turned out the way they had imagined. We find ourselves one day looking at their graying hair and wrinkled skin and we remember when they ran and played with us. We think of those times when they tucked us into bed, or just smiled at us from across a room. They seemed to love us for no particular reason, but simply because we existed. We gained and lost friends, but our moms were ever faithful, ready to hug and comfort us even without being asked, even when we had ignored them or hurt their feelings.

Moms come in so many different versions. Like snowflakes no two are exactly the same and yet they are all similar. Some moms carry us in their wombs, and others choose us when we have no other place to go, loving us as much as they would have if we were their very own. Some moms dedicate themselves to the home and others balance their care of us with careers. All of them are beautiful.

This past weekend I attended a lovely graduation party for one of my former students. She spoke to us about the things that her mother had done to help her to earn her degree. There were nights when she was up in the middle of the night studying, nearly exhausted. Her mom would arise from her own sleep and bring coffee and encouragement. When she was frustrated her mother would cheer her onward. The young woman believes that her achievement is just as much her mother’s as her own. She understands that without the sacrifices that her mom made her great day might never have come. She rightly credited both of her parents for the wondrous things they had done from the time that she was born, and realizes that they will continue to walk beside her in her journey through life.

We sometimes forget how remarkable and demanding a job being a mom actually is. Sadly the day eventually comes when she is gone. Still her spirit somehow lives on inside our hearts. We see her in the things that we say and do. Her face in forever etched in our minds. We know that she is with us, guiding and consoling us through time and space.

God bless all of the mothers of the world and those who use their maternal instincts to help all children to grow in wisdom and grace.