Hey. You didn't respond to my text.
You sent a text? Hang on. . . oh crap. "Send response by noon." Well, that didn't happen.
Help me out here. I'm going to write about some of the things that makes Mom such a great parent.
Um, panic. My brain just went completely blank.
Okay, I'll start. One thing our home was defined by was a lack of electronic clutter. I grew up without constant TV and radio and other entertainment. Patrick grew up with that: all the time, at least two things turned up loud, and with nobody really paying attention to it. The multimedia was background noise. We both wanted to create a quiet home for our family where it's easy to focus and feel peaceful.
It was the same thing with me and Liz. That's why we decided not to have cable or satellite. When I was little I didn't understand how much I benefited from not having it. As an adult, I realize how many things are more valuable than watching TV. There's an idea in our culture that TV is how we entertain ourselves, and so when there's nothing on we flip through the channels and even watch infomercials, just to have something to watch.
So Liz and I wanted to do the same thing Mom did, in our home. Almost universally, when I am trying to figure out a difficult problem from a parental perspective, thinking about how I want to raise my children in this aspect or that aspect, I think: how did Mom deal with this? What would she do if she needed to deal with it now? Because it's something I want to emulate.
When I was in my senior year in college, I did research on Montessori early education for my senior Interior Design studio. That was when I realized how much work Mom had put into creating a child-focused environment in our home.
The house was filled with books. There was never any sense that somebody was forcing me to read and learn. The lowest shelves were filled with children's art history, World Book color encyclopedias, and other brightly-illustrated educational books. I remember sitting in front of the bookcases, pulling out a stack of books, and spending the afternoon reading them for fun.
That's something that we're trying to pass on to Sophia now. We've set her room up with a floor mattress and low shelves with a few bright toys, and she's free to roam around and pick things up and play with them. Often in the morning we find she's scooted off her bed and is carefully pulling her board books out of their crates. She grabs one and shakes it and squeals until we come in and read to her.
When I was a kid, Mom drove me an hour to Chattanooga so I could volunteer at the zoo. I wanted to work with animals and she sacrificed several entire days every month to support my dream. She would pack up all her paperwork and do her class prep in a McDonald's instead of at home so I could be at the zoo.
I learned a lot of working skills that I still use. I learned how to take orders in a working environment, and to try and go above and beyond what the orders were.
I remember taking the lunch that Mom would bring me, and I would take it into this one indoor windowed exhibit. It was Hank the chimpanzee. He was a circus rescue, and he was so humanized that they had to keep him separate from the rest of the chimpanzees. I would sit there on the other side of the glass, and I would eat my food, and he would have a snack or just watch, and we would interact. He recognized me. I had this necklace with a big cross pendant that I showed him one day and he was fascinated by it. The next week I had the same necklace on but it was covered by my shirt, and Hank motioned that he wanted to see it. That interaction was very precious to me.
We took Sophia to the zoo for the first time yesterday. Instead of rushing through trying to get our time and money's worth, we found a few exhibits that she enjoyed spending a long time at. She was squealing with excitement at the meerkats as they bounced around, and she wanted to take the goat home. That was something I learned from Mom: let the child set the pace.
Mom understands children. She did a lot of study into early childhood education when she was homeschooling us, but beyond that she has a crazy ability to see things from the perspective of a child and to act appropriately for that child. Like when she couldn't find the car keys and realized you must've put them inside the typewriter. That was a Sherlock Homesian chain of inference.
Thanks for bringing that up. Really.
One of my last memories of Dayton was of shopping at the We Care thrift store. Val came in with her latest baby in a stroller. Mom hunkered down and started talking seriously and gently to the baby, who didn't understand a word of it but was fascinated by her. Here was a stranger coming down level and speaking right to the baby, using words and cadence that adults use with each other instead of using baby talk. That was her method. I grew up with a large vocabulary and a good handle of how to speak to people, with an interest in science and fine art and literature and history, and it's because Mom didn't dumb things down for us or fling age-inappropriate material at us, but instead met us at our level and presented a challenge for the developmental stage we were in.
She puts so much thought into the most minor things when it comes to children. Everything is about the child. She would plan these elaborate trips to the butterfly museum and all sorts of other school trips, and trips that weren't for school but were just someplace she wanted us to get to go to. She would do all this research and plan the perfect stuff for every event.
From a child's perspective you don't really get how much she dedicated to the planning, but what the child does understand is "This is somebody who really cares about me." The work that goes into the event isn't understood until a later age, but what's apparent to the child is that "this person cares about me and loves me."
And that dedication and love of discovery is what our kids are going to get to experience with her. I remember the dress-up trunk and the craft closet, and the silly thrift store costumes we created, and the historic events we'd reenact for school, like turning the loveseat into a Conestoga wagon or crossing the Delaware in the bathtub. We put together Halloween costumes out of that trunk, and just goofed around and probably confused the neighbors any day of the year. Dress-up was a way of exploring other people's stories, real and imagined, past and future, whether it was American history class or career day or I-found-a-strange-hat-day.
Mom is in a new apartment in a new city, and she has a dress-up corner waiting for our girls, newly stocked with costumes. I'm excited to see how history repeats itself in the new generation of our family.
One thing I wish didn't repeat itself, though, is the mushy-gushy stuff I've been saying ever since Sophia was born. You know the worst part of my day as a child? When Mom would come in and wake me up the morning. I hate waking up. She would come in and sing,
Good morning to you
Good morning to you
Good morning, precious children
Good morning to you
And we would wail, "Go away, Mom! We hate you!" But now I have a baby who screams when she's woken up and when she's going to sleep, and when I go into her room I sometimes start to sing that horrible song without thinking about it.
When Sophia was a few weeks old I realized that I'd started calling her "Sweet Precious." That must be something that Mom used to call me and I picked up on without realizing it.
That's what she calls the cat.
Dave & Ouisi:
We love you, Mom, and we are so grateful that we got to grow up with you as our parent.