Things I Learned from Mom

May 12, 2002

Welcome to Wyndspirit Dreams! This essay is dedicated to everybody who is a mom. To those of you with small children: they will learn even more from you than you ever realize. To those of you with adult children: they will never stop learning from you. Following are some of the things I have learned from my mom over the years. Maybe they are not all things she would have chosen to teach me, but, nevertheless, they are things I have learned from her.

Mom taught me that life is not fair, but you need to just deal with it. A social butterfly by nature, she spent most of her married life stuck out on a farm in the middle of nowhere, with only a taciturn dirt farmer and a bunch of kids for companionship. When the youngest started school, she was finally able to ride the school bus into town to volunteer at the local library, and it opened a whole new world for her. Then she was hired there, and I literally watched her come to life. She was happier than I had ever seen her. Then the beginning of this year she was laid off. I know she’s lonely and unhappy to be stuck back at the farm, but she has created herself a new sewing room—a longtime dream—and has been making major inroads into her many neglected projects.

Mom taught me to be a fatalist. I remember once during my teens, I was trying to do the usual teenage "labeling." I asked Mom if she was an optimist or a pessimist. She said neither; she was a fatalist. I instantly decided that’s what I was, too. When you live on a farm, it’s almost impossible to be anything else. So much happens on a farm that is outside human control, just in daily life. If it rains, you might have a good crop. If it doesn’t, you might end up with nothing. A cow could give birth to a seemingly perfectly healthy calf, only to have it die for no apparent reason. I swore when I left home that I would never be a farmer. Don’t get me wrong, I loved growing up on a farm and would still love to live on a farm, but I never wanted to spend my life with so much uncertainty. I have gone through a series of miserable (and a few not so miserable) jobs, but at least I always had a regular paycheck that wasn’t so dependent on the whims of fate. Until this year, that is. I have previously mentioned all the upheavals at work, and things have only gotten worse. While I still have a job for the moment, the future is uncertain, and I find myself bracing for whatever fate will dump on me next. I guess, in my somewhat negative fashion, it’s my way of coping and preparing for the future. And it’s the way Mom has had to live all her life. So, yes, she is a fatalist, and I still am, too.

Mom taught me that, "This, too, shall pass." One time after I was an adult, I asked Mom how she dealt with all the hardships on the farm and the hassles of having a bunch of little ones underfoot in a generation where women had to do it all alone. She said, when things got tough, she always reminded herself, "This, too, shall pass." At the time, it made me sad, knowing what our life had been like, visualizing her just surviving one hassle, only to be hit with the next thing down the line, with no choice but to just endure each thing as it came, and the only defense she had to keep herself sane was, "This, too, shall pass." But I came to find out, that’s real life, but it’s not that bad. Even when you do seem to have bad thing after bad thing happen, life is lived on so many levels that there are still plenty of things for you to take pleasure in. I may be wondering where I’m going to find the money to pay my bills, but I can still read a good book, do some crafts, chat with a friend, pause to admire a sunset. And, as for the bad things, "This, too, shall pass." Life goes on, and even the worst crisis will eventually be behind you, no matter how it turns out. And I find myself passing on her wisdom to my friends. Babies will eventually sleep through the night. Toddlers will outgrow the terrible twos. Teenagers will outgrow their rebellions. You won’t be unemployed forever, even if it seems like it now. "This, too, shall pass."

Mom taught me the joy of words. She claims I love books because while she fed me my bottle she always read, so I’ve literally had a book in front of my face ever since I was born. She also tells me I was making up poems when I was two years old. But what I remember is Mom always reading, always writing. I remember her reading to us every night even when she was so tired she would fall asleep between words. When I was a teenager I took over reading to the younger kids, and I had a glorious time introducing them to my favorite books. Mom and I still always talk about the books we are reading, even though we seldom read the same books. And when I stay at the farm, I still love waking up to the sound of her typing downstairs below my bedroom. She has gone through several typewriters, some manual, some electric, but I swear I could tell the rhythm of her typing from anybody else’s. I was allowed to use her precious Smith-Corona typewriter as soon as I knew my letters. I remember proudly showing Grandma a page of gibberish I had typed, and asking her to read it to me. (I was totally mystified when she was unable to read it. I certainly didn’t know what it said, but grownups were supposed to be able to read everything!) She wrote letters—I had to write letters. I suppose it was because it was so obvious how much she enjoyed it, but it turned out that I loved it as well. And I would still rather get a letter from her than from anybody else. Her letters have taught me everything I know about turning the mundane details about everyday life into something that others enjoy hearing about. She wrote poems—I had to write poems. When I was young, that’s what I thought writing was! She wrote stories---I read her stories and loved them, but I wasn’t brave enough to attempt to write my own till I was given it as an assignment at school. Mom claims to like most everything I write, and, while I think, "Of course she does—she’s my mom!" her approval always means more to me than anybody else’s.

Mom taught me an appreciation for the handmade. Our only close friends were rather high class, as far as farmers go, and their kids had much nicer things than we did. We always exchanged Christmas and birthday gifts, and Mom was always brainstorming over what to make them. We certainly couldn’t afford to buy them the kind of nice gifts they gave us! I remember her making Barbie clothes, Barbie furniture, stacking soft sculpture boxes, even a bendable "fashion doll" made with a coat hanger stuffed into padded limbs made from socks. (I always did envy my friend that doll!) They always loved the gifts she came up with, and they envied us having a mom who knew how to make such neat stuff. Some of my earliest memories are of stringing button necklaces. My grandma taught me to crochet, and my great-aunt taught me to knit, but Mom taught me how to sew and embroider. Even now, we are both working on embroidered quilts. Every one of us enjoys crafts of one sort or another, and family gatherings frequently turn into craft-fests involving everything from counted cross-stitch to quilting to rubberstamping.

Mom taught me common sense. All right, maybe you can’t teach common sense, but you can certainly learn by example! When I was a child, I thought Mom was the smartest person in the world. Then, as I grew older, I came to realize that much of her smarts was just plain common sense. And, amazingly, wonderfully, some of it seems to have rubbed off on me. It’s probably the most useful gift she has given me.

And there you have it… I have listed just a few of the things I have learned from Mom over the years. About the only thing else I have to say is… Thank you, Mom!

Wyndspirit Dreams