Things My Mother Taught Me

Things My Mother Taught Me

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

Things My Mother Taught Me

If you want children to keep their feet on the ground,
put some responsibility on their shoulders.
~Abigail Van Buren

At thirty-three years old, I can cook a full-course meal, clean an entire house, do laundry, pay bills, and conduct business professionally—and I am not afraid to speak my mind. While this may not seem unusual for an adult, I was doing all of this by the time I was ten years old.

When I was seven, my mother and I were leaving a friend’s house. My mother lost her balance and fell down a flight of stairs. I was so scared for her and cried all the way to the hospital. That night, I fell asleep alone in my mother’s bed awaiting her return. She arrived early the next morning with a broken arm that was wrapped in a cast held in a blue sling. After the fall, I noticed she was not quite herself. She also seemed to have an endless number of doctors’ appointments. I knew something was wrong but did not know what.

My mother was forty-seven years old when she was diagnosed with muscular sclerosis (MS). That diagnosis changed our lives forever. I am the youngest of seven children, and as the “baby girl,” my responsibilities were far and few between. As my mother faced her mortality, she began to reflect on her children’s lives and wondered if we would be prepared for the world once she was gone.

With this new diagnosis, my mother became driven to prepare me for the world and make sure that I had all the tools I would need to thrive. She wanted me to be independent. My family knew very little about her life expectancy, or how her body would respond to the disease. As the youngest, I had always spent the most time with my mom. I soon became her “helper.” I went with her to the bank, doctors’ appointments and grocery store. I helped her do the laundry and various other chores and errands. My life lessons had begun.

One summer day when I was eight, my mom asked me to gather up all her bank statements, bills, checkbook and the phone. While we sat on her bed, she dialed a number and handed me the receiver. She told me, “I need you to find out how much money is in my account.”

I was terrified, realizing I was about to be on the phone with a real live adult who was not a relative. As the phone rang, I looked at her and said, “I’m only eight. I don’t think I should be doing this.”

She just looked at me and said, “I will tell you what to say.”

I got all the necessary information, and after that we continued to make numerous phone calls. We called the gas company, the light company and a few more places. She guided me through each conversation. By the time I was ten years old, I was well known at the bank and could balance a checkbook without help. I was eventually able to monitor and manage my own savings account. Each month we paid the bills together, and when she could no longer write, I filled out all the checks, addressed the envelopes, purchased stamps and mailed off the rent along with all the other bills.

My mom was an amazing cook and to this day nobody (not even I) makes better cornbread stuffing. Thanksgiving was always a huge feast at our house. With a large family, my mom always wanted to make sure that she had enough food for everyone to eat and enough leftovers to seemingly last us a lifetime. Two days before Thanksgiving, my mom bought all the groceries that she would need to make dinner. The night before, she stuffed the turkey and put it in the oven to cook. The next morning, I found her very upset and crying because she was not feeling well. She did not think she was going to be able to finish Thanksgiving dinner. For the best cook in town and the mother of seven children, this was more than she could bear. I told her I would cook; all she had to do was tell me what to do. I started cooking at seven in the morning and cooked all day. She sat at the kitchen table instructing me at every step. That was the first time that I cooked a full-course meal for my entire family including my brothers’ wives, friends and our regular strays. It was the first of many cooking lessons.

By the time I was fourteen, I was cooking dinner on a regular basis. I was able to cook for our family during the holidays, and I could do a lot of it without instruction. However, there were still dishes that I had not mastered. Consequently, my mom had to taste-test everything before it made it to the table. I loved being able to cook, and I enjoyed the time with my mom.

As her MS progressed, she became bedridden. One day she just got in the bed and never got out. I continued the work of helping my mother to manage our lives. When I was seventeen, we lived in a “bad” area. I remember thinking to myself, “We’re moving!” I walked into my mother’s room and said, “I don’t want to live here anymore.” The next day, I started making phone calls and looking for a new place to live. In the process, I met the woman who would become our new landlord. She told me that she could not believe that I was only seventeen and insisted on meeting my mother. She was so impressed with the way my mother had raised me that she gave us the house, and we moved two weeks later. I made the necessary calls to get the utilities turned on, have our address changed on our checks, and have the mail forwarded. During the move, there was not one skill that my mother taught me that I did not utilize.

My mother was the single greatest influence in my life. Through every challenge she faced, she led our family with grace and awe-inspiring strength. She made sure that we would be self-sufficient and capable. Ten years after her passing, I still miss her very much. Nonetheless, when she died, I never felt scared or wondered about my future. And the year my mother died, my family and I celebrated her birthday with all her best dishes. I was able to make each one for my family in remembrance of her.

With the blessing of hindsight, I realize how scared my mother must have been, having a young daughter and not knowing how long she would have to teach her all she would need to know. Even though I had different responsibilities than many of my friends, I understood why. My mother did her very best to make sure that I would have the tools I needed to be a responsible, independent and capable adult. And for that, I am grateful.

~Kris Hale

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