Mother's Day (Un)observed

My mother, from whom I seem to have inherited an allergic reaction to formal, mainstream holidays/occasions of any sort, has never been very interested in celebrating Mother's Day. It was such a non-event in my childhood that I suggested a few days ago we take Hanna's parents out to lunch on Sunday and couldn't understand why she nearly had a heart attack: I had forgotten that everyone and their mother (not to mention their third cousin twice removed) would probably have the same idea, on account of the holiday.

But of course, the fact that the holiday itself hasn't meant a lot to me, or my parents, doesn't mean that we don't mean a lot to each other. So in a celebratory spirit (hey! it's the end of the semester!), I thought I'd give my mom a shout out for a few of the things that (in my opinion) make her a great parent.

5. Good art supplies. My mother, who got her start in education working with preschoolers in the Greenville, Michigan, Headstart program during the 1960s, has always appreciated the importance of decent materials for creative endeavors. One of my memories from early childhood is the regular trip to the art store to replace the heavily-used colors in our Prismicolor pencil set. We always had scissors that cut, glue that stuck, pens that weren't dried out, and enough paper for whatever projects we had a mind to pursue.

4. Sharp knives. In some ways the same principle as above: my mother's argument was always that rather than remove sharp objects from the reach of children, you helped them learn how to use them safely. Hence the swiss army knives we all got the Christmas we were six years old. And the lessons in using the microwave, stove, kitchen knives, washer and dryer, and the power tools. More broadly, I appreciate that Mom and Dad were focused on helping us acquire the skills we wanted or needed to be independent actors in the world, from the days when we were very, very small.

3. Books. There's a reason that the sound of someone reading aloud, whether in person, on the radio, or a book on tape, has an instantaneously soothing effect almost regardless of what it is they are reading -- as Hanna says, "they could be reading the phone book and I'd still be happy to listen to them." Thanks, Mom, for reading, reading, reading, and surrounding us with books. My life is so much the richer for it.

2. Never asking what I planned to do with a Women's Studies or Library Science degree. Majoring in Women's Studies as an undergrad, I got to hear lots of colleagues tell stories about parents who didn't understand what possible use the degree would be in the "real world." I have always been grateful that I never had stories of my own to swap in this regard. Likewise, it's amazing to me how many folks I've met since moving to Boston whose parents were skeptical about the utility of a library science degree -- or even more simply, of their child's desire to go into the field and spend their life with books, manuscripts, etc. My parents (closet librarians at heart, I feel) never blinked at the decision, and at times express more enthusiasm than I can muster at the possibilities for my future career!

1. Trust. Above all, I'm incredibly grateful for the way in which my parents have trusted all of us kids to find our way in the world, and to find (and create) living spaces, new relationships, and learning and work environments in which we will, ultimately, thrive. That confidence is humbling and the older I am, the more I appreciate how rare a gift it has been.

(Apologies to Mom and sister Maggie for re-using this tongue-in-cheek photograph; it was taken on Mother's Day, 2005, incidentally the same day I graduated from Hope College.  The card was a joke from Maggie to Mom. The scarf my mother is wearing is, in my opinion, one of her more lovely fashion accessories).


  1. I totally second the Giving Large Knives To Small Children thing. My parents had us wielding deadly kitchen knives from very young ages. When I got to college (a young person's first communal cooking environment) I could definitely tell who had never been shown how to handle a knife and who had never been allowed to touch one. I remember having to say, "DUDE. NOT OKAY to pretend this is the shower scene in Psycho" a lot. Mothers: Let your children have knives!

  2. She sounds like an excellent mother!

    And yes, good knives are important. One thing I am thankful for is that my mother, who really isn't fond of cooking or baking, let me bake muffins and cookies 'by myself' (she was in the kitchen doing other things) when I was in second or third grade. As a result, I learned how to cook, handle knives, work with the oven and gas range, etc. at an early age. Very useful!

    Plus, there were always plenty of books!

  3. Also, in terms of sharp tools, growing up on the farm I learned to use a pitchfork at a fairly young age. I think the over-protectiveness that seems increasingly common is something of a suburban phenomenon.