I am a
My mother had a limited understanding of the Bible. It was limited by her own reading and study, because she didn’t put much stock in the interpretation of others, especially some of the “peace, love, and understanding” preachers we encountered in CA in the sixties. Ironic since Mom was such a peaceful, loving, understanding person, but she grew up with the “fire and brimstone” preaching of the past and believed that most of life’s choices were good or bad, yes or no, not “maybe”. She often spent time confirming what was said in church by reading it for herself in her own Bible- a habit I’ve tried to emulate. She also felt that it was her duty as a parent to make sure that her children were trained in Biblical principles.
Some of my earliest memories are of long boring sermons and hard wooden pews. I don’t remember Sunday school classes or children’s church. Perhaps they didn’t exist. Perhaps Mom and Gran (my father’s mother) felt that my place was by their side. I don’t know. I only know that while they differed profoundlyin their religious convictions, they were strongly united in their belief that children must have spiritual training. As a result, I grew up in the Church of Christ, but also frequently attended the Baptist Church…while attending school in a predominantly Catholic community. Of course I was often confused and bewildered when my friends and I compared rules and expectations, but we all got the basic message, “Behave or else!”
Don’t laugh, but the strongest memory I have of my early church experience is a feeling of fear and guilt because I preferred to sing in my grandmother’s church, where they were allowed to play instruments. My grandmother didn’t even sing! She always said she couldn’t “carry a tune in a bucket” and didn’t want to embarrass anyone. I made up for her silence by singing loud enough for both of us!
I also remember carrying my weekly offering tied inside a handkerchief. I remember wearing shoes that hurt my feet and that stayed in my closet until the next Sunday so they would be pretty and shiny. I remember sleeping on Mom’s lap when the preacher spent too much time in the Old Testament. I remember not being able to see over the big hats worn by some of the women. And I remember that my mother was usually alone. My father seldom attended church with us. I don’t think they ever reconciled their religious differences, so he deferred to Mom’s choice for our basic training.
I have to admit that even though I didn’t always agree with her and in later life chose to attend a different denomination that hers, my early training has always benefited every aspect of my life. I have never said or thought for a moment “I wish we hadn’t gone to church so much”. Instead, I find that Bible verses or hymns often pop into my thoughts like old friends. Memories of good times help me through bad times. I know that many people fall back on “What would Jesus do?” in times of crisis and decision making. My tendency is to ponder, “What would Mom do?”
My mother was no stranger to hard work and she made sure that I was also well acquainted with its benefits. “Idle hands are the devil’s tools” was certainly the mantra of our household. She also grew up in the generation that had some definite ideas about the division of labor between men and women, and she had mixed feelings about women with careers. While she admired and encouraged the ones she knew, she made it clear, at least to me, that they must never neglect their husbands, homes, or children in exchange for a salary. If the family needed the money a woman earned then she was obligated to provide it, but she had to also have a clean home, happy husband, and well-behaved children. I blame her generation for the “superwoman” myth that still haunts us.
It’s no wonder that my mother seldom worked at a paying job until after we were nearly all grown. The work of maintaining a home was so different then that there was little time or energy for much else! My mother washed clothes with a wringer washer and hung them on the line. She kept chickens and collected the eggs for breakfast. She tended the garden and spent hours harvesting and processing the vegetables it produced; we usually had rows of canned goods and a packed freezer. She cooked nearly everything from scratch. She was a “move the furniture once a week” kind of housekeeper. She made our clothes and her own. And when we lived in CA she usually worked beside us in the vineyards or cotton fields! I get tired just thinking about how much she did.
My mother was also very keen on the notion that children were a part of the household and must help take care of it. I learned to wash dishes when I was still young enough to stand on a chair to do so. I folded clothes and swept the floors and snapped beans. I learned to iron when I was about nine. My brothers picked up their toys and made their beds (most of the time) and set the table. If we ever complained about being “bored” Mom quickly found a remedy for our condition!
Although my father will tell you that he taught my mother to cook and that he was and still is a better cook, I don’t remember him “helping around the house” very often. He worked at his job or in the fields, or both. He maintained our frequently ailing cars. He took care of the larger animals. He mowed the yard. He took care of home repairs. He did all the “guy stuff” that fathers of his generation were supposed to do.
My own working life was somewhat erratic, but although I spent a few years as a stay-at-home mom, I certainly didn’t have to devote as much time or effort to my household tasks as my mother did. Modern appliances and packaged foods and store-bought clothing made a tremendous difference for my generation. If my mother had any criticism of my less-than-super cleaning or cooking skills she kept them to herself. She was much more likely to give advice about caring for my children and she didn’t do that very often. I suppose the only thing that hasn’t changed much for any woman is the time, effort, energy, and attention required by our children. Child-rearing is still the 24/7 job that it has always been, so she usually had a sympathetic ear if needed.
My mother eventually got a job outside her home and made the necessary adjustments in her expectations about housework and cooking and laundry. We’ve all had to change our priorities in those areas as we’ve joined the workforce, but I still feel lazy compared to her. I can tell you that if she was still alive I’d probably dust more often! I might even cook.
My mother believed that people were good until they proved otherwise. She tried to understand them. She gave them second and often third chances. She imagined “walking a mile” in their shoes before criticizing them. She made excuses for them when they didn’t have any of their own. But if they proved unworthy she was not one to withhold disapproval or punishment. I was often on the receiving end of both…especially during my teen years.
I decided long ago that God created the whole pregnancy-baby-child process of development so we’d be firmly attached to our children before they become those horrible alien creatures known as teenagers. And while I didn’t rebel on any grand scale, I did routinely declare my independence by dating boys mother disapproved of, wearing clothes she found distasteful (too short), saying things she thought were disrespectful, and doing things she feared were risky. I know she must have lost a lot of sleep over my actions, but at the time I wasn’t often sorry.
I was also the oldest child and only girl, so I was sort of the “test run” for my parents’ ideas about teens and behavior. In fact, because of our age difference, one of my teen chores was helping to raise my youngest brother. It wasn’t much of a chore…he was sorta cute! But I still think my brothers should thank me for paving the way because by the time they reached their teen years Mom had radically changed some of her expectations. She told me it was because they were “boys”. No fair! It was years before I realized that many of her hopes and dreams and fears for me were based on her own teenage experience. I guess I wasn’t that intuitive in my younger years!
I cut my teen years short by marrying young. My mother was understanding, but not pleased. My father was totally against it. I think they both knew I wasn’t ready to make that decision and they were proven right a couple of years later when the marriage ended tragically. However, once I made my plans they were supportive and encouraging in every way possible. The rode the roller coaster with me until it was clear that the ride was over.
I wish my mother was still here to give advice to our family members who are now raising teens. I think she would have lots of wisdom to impart. I do my best, but I’m not sure I’m always that helpful. I’m rather fond of quoting my paternal grandmother, who often told me “You’ll pay for your raising girl!” or Mom’s mom, who said, “This too shall pass.” Because I’m a “long distance” grandparent I’m not that knowledgeable about some situations and my influence isn’t that significant. Many times I’m not even consulted. I’ve come to terms with the disadvantages of being a separated family. But I still care and I still spend some sleepless nights wondering and worrying. Prayer is my first line of defense.
I think Mom would be very upset by the actions of some of the teens who have been in the news lately. But I also think she would be more understanding than most. Because of her own bouts of depression and anxiety she would be the first to say that many of the troubled youth of our country are suffering from illnesses that need treatment, not punishment. She would want to find the good in them before the bad took control.
I’m well aware that today was not Mother’s Day, just as I was aware that Friday was not Cinco de Mayo. I’ve found it best to express myself when and where the spirit leads. I never know who might be waiting for a message that’s given to me or a memory that I feel led to share. Our lives are short and we can’t always wait for the politically correct days to do what we need to do.
I woke up this morning feeling grateful for the lessons taught to me by my mother. I didn’t always follow her rules or live up to her expectations, but she was always there to give me advice for the next mile of my journey. I found myself thinking this morning that we don’t always raise the “child of our dreams”; we raise the child God chooses for us. I’m not sure I was exactly the girl that Mom thought I would be or the one that she was prepared to support and encourage. But she did the best she could, even when I was temperamental and rebellious and stupid. I am reminded of my students who repeat that old adage “take what you get and don’t throw a fit”. To her credit, she never gave up on me.
It hardly seems fair to set aside just one day a year to honor our mothers, so I might just write about mine every day this week. I’ll still not have enough time to sing her praises.
Since my thoughts and experiences have not changed, I am reprinting this post from last year.
Cinco de Mayo
My thoughts have been on immigration reform this week. I grew up in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood just outside Fresno, CA. Although we moved back and forth between communities and even states throughout my childhood, we always seemed to return to Highway City to live for brief periods or at least to visit my grandmother. I suppose if any place seemed like home it was that rural area of grape vineyards and cotton fields and olive orchards.
I worked in the fields alongside Mexican families. I watched pregnant women labor all day long with their husbands and children. I shared looks of boredom and desperation with them. Even though they couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Spanish we managed to communicate that we wanted to be running in the park instead of picking cotton. It never occurred to me to ask if they were in this country legally. I’m not certain my dad knew or cared either. They were willing to work and so were we.
My classes at school were dominated by Mexican culture and Catholic traditions. Kids spoke Spanish on the playground and sometimes in class. We ate fish every Friday. I envied the pretty communion dresses of the young girls I saw outside the Catholic Church. I learned about Mexican holidays and celebrations. I grew up understanding that Cinco de Mayo is an American holiday, originating in California, not Mexico.
Of course Fresno and all the surrounding communities changed over time as other immigrants moved to CA during the sixties and subsequent decades. We lived for a time near a Laotian neighborhood. Our church added a Cambodian service. We had German neighbors, French neighbors, Italian neighbors. I don’t remember anyone showing us their citizenship papers.
I suppose my childhood background is what leads me to have mixed feelings this morning about who should be allowed to live in our country and who should not. Studies have shown that people are very tolerant of their neighbors- even in areas where there are major problems with border control and illegals are a burden on local services- until the issue of immigration becomes a political squabble and gains media attention. This seems to happen about every four years.
I have read postings on FB recently about the need for everyone to learn to speak English. Most of the tirades are aimed at those who speak Spanish and yet many older immigrants from other countries maintain their native language and rely on children and grandchildren to help them live their daily lives in an English-speaking country. Vast neighborhoods in the East are dominated by other languages, as are areas of San Francisco and other major cities. Spanish labels are easy to criticize, but there are parts of the country where labels are printed in English and French. Our country actually joined English, French, and Spanish territories to become the U.S. A. And what of our Native Americans? Would we have them give up their language in order to live here? By rights I suppose we should be required to speak Choctaw in order to live in Bryan County.
And English really isn’t. Have you taken a good look at a dictionary lately? Our daily language has evolved so far away from the native language of our ancestors that it would probably seem like a foreign language to them. And to be honest, many of the people I come in contact with each day can’t speak English well enough to communicate with anyone other than their redneck beer-drinking buddies. Most Chinese school children speak better English than our own.
Yes, we need for our government communications and documents to be in one consistent language. But do we also want to make it nearly impossible for someone from another country to manage their daily lives and learn to adapt to our ways? Have you ever tried to shop in a grocery store in a foreign country? Ever have a problem in a foreign country and breathed a sigh of relief that someone nearby spoke English?
So, how tightly to we want to guard our borders? Who do we want to keep out? Who do we want to send home? How much money do we want to spend on the problem? We all have foreign doctors these days. I could barely understand the instructions given to me by the Indian respiratory therapist who treated me after my last surgery. I watched the Kentucky Derby with a sense of amusement yesterday. I could barely understand the winning jockey because of his heavy accent. But we don’t want to keep him from being in the country! The immigration reforms are going to provide special treatment for the educated and desirables who come over the border. Apparently it’s just those who are uneducated or might be violent or might be on drugs or might have too many children who need to be stopped. We already have so many of those who were born in this country! We sure don’t need any more.
We constantly hear about our need to be able to operate in a global market. We need to educate our children for a global economy. We need to protect our global ecology. We need to respond to changes in global politics. We need to share our wealth with those less fortunate in the global community. The Bible even admonishes us to share the gospel with the world. I’m not sure we can do all of that while living in a fenced, protected, insulated, isolated country. If we want to visit and live and work in other countries, are not obligated to make it possible for others to do the same here?
Do I have an answer to the problem? No. Because there isn’t one. Immigration reform is an issue with as many complications as there are immigrants. Besides, I firmly believe there are six domestic problems we will NEVER resolve to the satisfaction of every citizen: healthcare, immigration, education, taxes, person freedom (gay rights, gun rights, etc.), and unemployment. We will continue to have reforms and debates until my grandchildren have grandchildren.
But on this Sunday of celebration I offer you this little reminder to ponder. My own original ancestor to this country came here because he was in trouble in his native Friesland for allowing his child to be baptized by an unsanctioned priest. He didn’t speak the politically correct language. He wasn’t the “right” religion. He wasn’t educated. Yet, he adapted. He became a businessman and a community leader. He helped defend his adopted country. He raised a family and they went on to help settle a new state and build other businesses and have other families.
And here I am…an English-speaking, well-educated professional who has to remember from time to time that she comes from humble beginnings.
I love the first day of a new month! It always seems like a fresh start, if only in my imagination. I’ve always suffered from “first child syndrome” and I’m constantly berating myself for not getting things right or doing my best or completing a task or reaching a goal. The beginning of a new month feels like a “do over”. I love those!
May is an emotional month for me. The end of the school year finds me elated by the progress of some of my students and guilt-ridden over a couple of others. May is my last chance with this group and it is bitter-sweet.
May brings Mother’s Day and Memorial Day- both somewhat sad holidays for me.
But May is also joyous because my two granddaughters, Hope and Taylor, are celebrating their birthdays on May 8. Yes, same day!
In my mind May is the first month of the summer, even though today’s weather would say otherwise. I’m excited by the prospect of some major changes this summer. I’m eager to walk more, spend more time in the garden, and complete some projects.
I hope this first day of May is marvelous for all of us!
Our school year will end in a couple of weeks, but some of our kindergarten students are not finished with the kindergarten curriculum and will not be going on to the first grade. I don’t consider this a “failure” of their efforts or ours. It is simply a reality of education. Children are not cattle to be herded through one gate after another until we turn them out to graze on their own. They are not fruit to be picked on a certain date, regardless of whether or not it is ready. They are unique individuals with their own abilities and they learn at their own pace. I consider it my duty to make sure they are fully prepared for first grade before sending them onward.
Some parents may not agree with me. I don’t argue with them because they are the ones who will have to support and encourage their child next year. They are the ones who will have to suffer whatever consequences result. In most instances where parents have ignored my recommendation and placed their child in first grade, that child has been retained a second year there. Children who need more time eventually obtain it.
I have felt from the beginning of my teaching career that this is one of the major flaws in our education system- this arbitrary division of grades. I’ve voiced my opinion before and will not bore you with it again. However, I have observed that it punishes both the challenged and the gifted students. I have heard more than one “old timer” state that they advanced quickly in an old one-room school house because they overheard the lessons taught to the other students and/or were allowed to participate in whatever lessons were being taught that day, regardless of who they were designed to instruct and inform. I’ve seen items in the old newspapers indicating the advancement of a pupil mid-year. I have three students who could have gone on to the first grade in January with very little difficulty except for the social aspects of the transition.
We are required by law to place children with disabilities in the “least restrictive” environment available for them. I wonder sometimes if we shouldn’t apply that philosophy to all children. I know that would be difficult, but as long as we keep the farmer’s perspective of education that each crop has to be harvested at the same time, we will always have a few apples that aren’t yet ripe.
I have been a bit overwhelmed lately by the grief and despair of others. Not only is the nightly news filled with doom and gloom, but FB has also been the source of some very sad status updates. My daily prayer list grows longer and the supplications more serious.
However, in the midst of this season of sadness, there are also daily reminders that life is good…and it goes on until the Lord decides otherwise. I’ve seen photos of four new babies this week. News of some wonderful accomplishments. Reports of some new goals to be pursued. I’ve even received some thanks for a couple of things I’ve done. Gratitude is always, always appreciated, and sometimes helps us take just one more step.
I’m also aware that while sympathy and prayers are appreciated and effective, worry is not. Our requests must be accompanied by a release of our fears and an acceptance the will of God. All of our experiences can’t be joyous and carefree- I have learned many a life lesson through pain and suffering.
Perhaps the best therapy for me is my daily walk around the yard. I can’t be too sad or too stressed or too worried when I witness God’s care for the smallest creatures of our world. I can’t look at the beauty of the flowers without recalling the words of Matthew:
25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.