In honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to make a short list of some of the valuable homemaking skills I learned from my own Mom. My Mom came to mothering and homemaking and homekeeping as a somewhat fresh slate, having been occupied with other pursuits for most of her growing-up days, and I’m pretty sure that’s part of the reason she’s been good at it! While at home raising us children, that was her career and focus: to mentor seven new human beings to full, self-sufficient adult lives. Along the way, here’s what she taught me:
My Mom has the same sort of temper I have (kept just as tightly under control the vast majority of the time), but she also knows there are times to giggle… and giggle we did! Ridiculous made-up song lyrics, dreadful puns, the ability to giggle along with a six-year-old who has just discovered the glory that is a knock-knock joke… approaching life with good humor makes everything better, even when it’s hard.
When Humor Fails, Have Coping Strategies
She once told me, “If the baby is screaming, she’s still breathing. It’s okay to put her in her bed, and sit on the porch for ten minutes to just breathe.”
She also told me, when I expressed dismay over the crayon-snapping habits of one of my children (I prefer a box of color-sorted, intact, unused crayons, myself), that “crayons are wonderfully therapeutic! Didn’t you ever wonder why there were so many short crayons in the family crayon box?” When I posited that I’d just assumed it was because we had so many little kids using the crayons, she said, “Well, when it came to a choice between child abuse or snapping crayons until I felt better, I chose crayons.”
Exhibit 1: Toddler-Me needed a snow suit. Winter for lumber families was not the time to be needing things, because winter usually brought unemployment and very restricted cash flow. So, no money for a snow suit, which doesn’t obviate the need for Toddler-Me to have a snow suit. Mom prayed about it. Mom had a dream that night, showing step-by-step how to cut apart, re-shape, and sew a toddler snow suit from a coat my father had outgrown. Mom got up the next morning, and cut apart the coat, acting in full faith that the Heavenly Father who answered her prayer knew exactly how to sew something. It was one of her first sewing projects, and served multiple toddler siblings in subsequent winters.
Exhibit 2: Early Teen-Me needed school clothing. It had been a rough year, employment-wise, and there really wasn’t much money for back-to-school wardrobes for the whole family. A few days before school was to start, Mom invited us to join her for a family prayer after breakfast, to pray that way and means would be opened to allow us to get everyone decently clothed for the school year, and that He’d provide everything that was needful. When my Dad came home from work that afternoon, he looked at the bags and bags of hand-me-down clothing sitting in our living room, and said, “Your mother has been praying again, hasn’t she?”
Exhibit 2.5: Mom (and Dad) taught me that to live a life of abundance, we need to give. Those bags and bags of hand-me-downs were sorted, we chose our favorite pieces, and then Mom helped us re-sort everything that remained, to pass along to other families. Her ability to let things go, to appreciate that we had a sufficiency, has been a big thing for me. It’s taught me a measure of trust in God, that He really will help me, with plenty to spare, so I can relax and share what I’ve been blessed with freely, secure that should I have other needs in the future, He will help me then, too.
It’s Okay to Start With Hard
Mom is one of the best self-starters I’ve ever known. She’s okay with jumping in the deep end, on the theory that “it’s going to be hard at first anyway. Might as well do something interesting and hard.” It’s helped my mothering tremendously to be okay with jumping in, comfortable that the hard parts will get easier with time and perseverence. It’s why I learned to knit by making stockings (well, one stocking, anyway… I got bored…), why I check out books on diverse topics and just give things a whack. Being the Mom isn’t always easy, but it’s okay to get the hard parts done first. Bake interesting things, start a garden, learn to can and preserve, learn to sew… just give it a whack.
Exhibit 1: Me. I was a colicky, reflux-y baby who screamed just about constantly for months. My grandfather fostered a milking goat and delivered raw goat’s milk twice a day, stealing me away to feed me, mop me up, and give his daughter a break (because he could hear my screaming echoing all the way from our cabin, up the glen to his cabin). Mom and Dad spent months laying strategic towels around whatever chair they sat in, to catch my very enthusiastic gurpage. They didn’t sleep much. It was hard, and not terribly interesting. Just hard. But, it got easier, and they had more kids, too. It’s okay to start with hard.
Homemaking is Literal
Part of being a homemaker can involve building additions, remodeling, re-wiring, building furniture, refinishing tables, or taking a reciprocating saw to the cabinet you really hate above the fridge. (Okay, so that last one is more home-demolition than home-making, but it’s all connected.) Part of the Take A Whack At It theory of life development is a willingness to dive into projects that might sometimes be considered out of the realm of typical domesticity, including wood-cutting and splitting, hunting, and reading blueprints.
Mom encouraged me to try my hand at everything related to living, which is why, when my Volkswagon van sprung a leak in the fuel line, I consulted a second-cousin (mechanical expert with a focus on Volkswagons), bribed a co-worker with baked goods to drive me to the auto-parts store, and replaced the line myself, all before work in a dance-supply shop one afternoon. If it has to do with shelter, transportation, or bodily or spiritual needs, it’s my purview as a homemaker, and a girl can become a homemaker long before she’s homemaking for others.
We lived on a budget. It was a frugal one. That was okay. Mom taught me there’s nothing wrong with choosing to be very frugal, and working hard to gain the skills you need to live well on practically nothing. That resilience has served me very well as an adult, as a wife, and as a mother. Living well doesn’t mean having the newest or most expensive. It doesn’t mean going into debt for transient pleasures. It does mean living with depth and awareness, sucking the marrow out of life!
Any moment can be a rich one, if we look for it, and work at it. A well-lived life involves sweat and tears and laughter, not lots of money. No amount of money can buy the satisfaction of slathering a fresh-cut loaf of home-ground wheat bread with great butter and home-made jam, or salting and eating a fresh-picked tomato you grew yourself. There is satisfaction and contentment and luxury in a clothesline full of freshly washed laundry. Painting a wall you framed, drywalled, taped, sanded, and primed with your family (or all alone) is a beautiful thing. So is going outside just to smell the rain, or putting a snowball in the freezer to save a bit of winter for summer days.
Feed Your Brain
I did not come into motherhood ignorant. I’d had charge of multiple siblings from infancy, had scads of babysitting experience, and had even been a professional nanny. It took less than a week for me to call my Mom and cry.
“My brain is melting! I just look at the baby, and she’s sweet, but I’m going to DIE!”
She reminded me that yes, the baby is sweet, but it’s still my responsibility to give myself interesting things to think about, and had I thought about hitting the library, turning on talk radio, listening to books on tape? She reminded me that I am, as she is, a terminally curious omnivorous learner, and shutting off that portion of my soul would be detrimental to my health, my sanity, my marriage, and my mothering.
So I went to the library (after getting a stroller with a large under-slung compartment), I listened to local political talk shows, I sang along with the radio, I read while nursing the baby, I listened to fiction and non-fiction on CD while tending to household chores. I gave myself input, and let things marinate. I felt like ME again. Motherhood is not an excuse to get mentally lazy. There’s always time to expose myself to something new, or revisit something treasured.
Tell Your Stories
My favorite bedtime stories were not in books: they were the family history adventures Mom shared, tales of her own growing-up, and of her parents, and grandparents. The stories of her brother hijacking the family TV broadcast, of her pet chipmunk who stored nuts and things in the top of the drapes, of her pet turtle who liked to eat butter and sit on the telephone, her horse that knocked on the door and stood on the porch when it rained, her motorbike racing, the story of how she chose her winter coats, the story of each of our births and early lives, stories of her parents in World War II, and her grandmother during the flu pandemic in 1919, and coming out from Kansas on the train… all these were a wonder and a delight to me!
How many Moms treat their own lives as a great mystery? How many children grow up, hear stories of their parents, and wonder where those people went? Mom taught me the homemaking skill of laying a foundation in history. Those family stories helped me know her, and my dad, and relatives who died before I was born. I tell my children those stories, and add in the stories from my life and my Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow’s life.
I learned that there is no need to hide who I am… whatever my story, it is mine, and it counts.
Love the Warts
People are not perfect. Watching my Mom come to terms with the emotional and physical limitations of people she loves, and watching her loving and serving them anyway, taught me that it’s important to love the warts, to accept that what others have to offer may be imperfect or limited, and that’s okay. Mom gathers strays, and loves them. I’ve had more than one friend tell me that any time they drive past my Mom’s house, they know that they could drop in, and be welcomed and loved, no matter what. That’s a big skill, and a gift, and most of the time, I don’t think she knows what a big deal it is to us warty folks.
Of course, along with the attitude stuff, Mom taught me minion-hood. I was allowed (encouraged, nagged occasionally) to participate in every aspect of home life, as my Mother’s Minion, and that has served me well in my own homemaking. I’m happily training my own set of Minions, and it’s a delightful thing.
Rebel against the Holiday Industrial Complex and their mandated Mother’s Day, but don’t forget to celebrate the many skills your Mom taught you.