Presently, I am sitting on the patio, enjoying the early morning quiet, just me and the dogs. The early morning California sun is weaving its way through the leaves of the trees, the birds are singing their morning tunes, the air is clear and the dogs have scampered off into the jungle thinking they may have spotted that elusive squirrel.
I found a card propped up against the coffee pot, a Mother’s Day card from my boys and my husband. It says “Motherhood – The Toughest Job in the World”. As I look at this card, I still find it hard to believe I am a mother. Granted my boys are 17 and 18 years old – one would think I might be accustomed to this title by now. Maybe, it’s because I don’t feel grown up enough to be a mother, or perhaps I think I need more practice being a mother before I can take on that title.
Of course, all of this makes me think of my Mother, who in actuality I think about several times, every single day. She told me once, the best thing you can give your child is experiences they can carry with them throughout their lives. I would have to say she was the master at providing experiences. I remember as a very small child, going to the tide pools near where we lived in Australia to collect worms in plastic bags of water for some type of research she was doing at the time. I recall a garage full of mice cages, when she was raising mice – for something. I remember going to the Forest Preserves outside of Chicago to collect lake water with tadpoles, so we could watch them grow in our aquarium (along with the mosquito larvae). Or the time we decided on a whim to go the Grand Caymans, and inadvertently became scorched while sitting under the huts on the beach (we walked around like little beet red Gumbies for the rest of the trip).
I loved the Shakespeare plays, the museums and especially the visits to the Brookfield Zoo. And of course, the traveling; I remember the three week cruise from Sydney to the United States, the trips to England, the drunk guy staggering down the street on an early morning in Oslo, the fireworks in Copenhagen, the Tivoli Gardens. I remember all of that.
My Mother also said one must always encourage any interest a child might show in something. I really wanted to be a Marine Biologist (still do). She sent me to the Caribbean one winter as part a school course on Marine Biology. I also went off on an Aquatic Biology course up in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and spent six weeks canoeing, camping and enjoying the most beautiful scenery (and fighting off the mutant black flies and mosquitoes). I remember the time we spent an entire Spring Break dashing around the countryside stopping at road kill because I needed a specimen for Taxidermy as part of a project for my Natural History class. Our guideline for that mission was to find a DOR (dead on the road), and not a DORM (dead on the road and mutilated). We only found DORMs and in the end I was sent back to school with a white lab rat, whom I named Rufus and kept, having great fun terrorizing the uptight English major that lived next door to me. I never did use Rufus – couldn’t do it. Luckily, my Natural History teacher gave me a squirrel to stuff, he had an extra one in his freezer. Scientists are a strange bunch.
The most important lesson I have learned from my Mother, is to expose my children to wide variety of people, from all walks of life. Because of my Mother I have met some of the most interesting people. Of course, growing up in Hyde Park, the neighborhood that surrounds the University of Chicago, it isn’t difficult to meet really fascinating people, all types of people. I remember going to chat with the microbiologist who worked down the hall from my Mother’s laboratory. Or the lady who worked in the Cardiology department who I absolutely loved talking to and always treated me as a grown-up, even when I was just a kid. Or the lunches sitting in the lab, talking with Dr. Cohen – who is probably one of the wisest people I have ever met. His words I have carried with me all these years. At lunch, we ate pickled herring and matzo and we would just talk and discuss and explore issues. I remember he told me once, that school was like riding a bike; at first it might be difficult, like getting through the first gears on a bike, but the faster you peddled, the easier it became. I have passed this on to my own children. I remember the secretary who worked in the same department as my Mother, who was really brilliant, she came from an Italian family. Her father was a world renowned physicist, with factors named after him. I babysat for her children. My Mother and I were invited to their family dinners, which were always an experience for us. They spoke to each other in Italian, hands gesticulating, it seemed as if they were angry, but in fact were just having a normal conversation. I loved those dinners.
Because of my Mother, I am who I am. In everything I do, there is a little part of her. When I fry an egg, I use a dedicated fry pan, and only butter. When I clean the floors, I get down with a bucket and a cloth and scrub (otherwise the floors aren’t really clean). When I clean the kitchen, it is clean – clean enough to do tissue culture in. When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is make my bed. When I cook, I use a little dash of this and a little dash of that (cooking after all, is really just another form of chemistry – according to my Mother). When I garden, my Mother is right there with me (even though she is 2000 miles away). When I take a photograph, I can hear my Mother, guiding me, centering the image. In helping my kids with their school projects, we always went above and beyond. We made a shield for my son for a Greek Mythology class – to protect the warrior from Medusa. Every bedazzled jewel that was glued to that shield, my Mother was right there with us, because she says if you are going to do a job, you do it well. And when I listen to my children, I listen and offer advice only when asked – just as my Mother did and still does.
I will never be as good a Mother as my own Mother, but I am practicing, and I hope someday my boys can look back on their childhood memories with fondness just like I am doing right now.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Thanks to en.wikipedia.com and boundarywaters.com for the photos