“I learned to groom through the funky-smelling Frenchy’s bins, holding up old lady clothes to see if they might work, and finally retreat to the dressing room with a heaping basket.”
When I was growing up, my mom, a former 70’s teen, kept two big tubs around the house at all times. One contained La Leche League baking mix, an all-purpose recipe gleaned from her breastfeeding club that lent itself well to biscuits, pancakes, and cinnamon rolls. The other held homemade granola–a smart, thrifty concoction, like my mom herself. Money was a scramble in our hippie household, but my mom’s creativity and do-it-yourself spirit kept things lively. A teacher by nature and later by profession, she treated every facet of our family life as part of one grand lesson plan–whether that meant designing custom-made activity sheets for each province and state we passed through during our one-time Niagara Falls vacation or introducing us to a virtue a week that we’d pin on a paper-bag virtue tree. My mom did things differently, and four of the lessons I learned from her continue to make life just a little more magical.
1. Love is more important than housework.
My mother saw herself as a proud stay-at-home mom–definitely not a housekeeper. Cobwebs would gather while she entertained us kids with play dough, or donned her mouse mask when we were home sick from school to cheer us up. We could count on her to go head-to-head with the teacher when any of us got bullied at school. She’d spent hours teaching us math and reading, using toy cars to make division fun, or turning our birthday cakes into elaborate clocks and swimming pools. She wanted to make sure we knew we were her first priority, and if that meant leaving the dishes for later, so be it.
2. Creativity is the best tool for problem-solving.
That’s not to say she couldn’t deal with dust bunnies brilliantly. She’d point to the dirty floor and hand her cat-crazy daughter a wet cloth. “Here’s your kitty, now let’s see if it can eat all the chocolate in Kittyland!” Laundry became puppies we had to transfer to the pound. Nowhere was she more creative than with her pet cause of healthy eating. When one of my younger brothers disdained cottage cheese, she formed it into a canine face complete with fruit features. My brother’s reward for eating this suddenly-interesting meal was a paper badge that named him “Member of the Dog Club.”
Helping others was important to my mom, and to instill this value in her kids, she drew on her usual dose of inventiveness. I was really into my imaginary friends, so to engage me, she introduced me to the husband and wife who lived behind our couch. Needless to say, it was dark and dingy back there–the perfect setting to become “The Land with No Colors.” My mom instructed me to show my new friends kindness by bringing them colored objects to look at. Blocks, pillows, rainbow stuffed animals–it was a blast. There were real-world applications of this lesson, too–we spent one Easter making styrofoam and cotton-ball bunny baskets to bring as gifts to a seniors’ home–but I remember the couple behind the couch as my starting point.