REMEMBERING MAMA

REMEMBERING MAMA

From Chicken Soup for the Mother of Preschooler's Soul

Remembering Mama

Remember when we were teenagers and our parents were idiots? They knew nothing about fashion, music, hairstyles or anything else that was important.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, it’s amazing how much smarter my mother seems now that I’m older myself. Since my oldest daughter was born seven years ago, my mother has gotten progressively more intelligent in my eyes. Unfortunately, she died almost ten years before I had my first child, so I can’t tell her just how wise I now realize she was.

My mother raised twelve kids. But, as anyone from a large family can attest, there were always many more than that playing in the backyard, eating around the dinner table—even, it seemed to me, in the bathtub. A few cousins were spending the summer. Someone’s parents were going through a divorce. Someone else’s family moved away, and the kids were finishing out the school year with us. Yet there was always enough food on the table and enough of her time to go around. (Mama used to say that you don’t divide your love; you multiply it.)

My mother never raised her voice. This is not an exaggeration; it is a fact. I never really appreciated the self-control this must have taken until I had my own houseful. I have to admit, there are days when I hear a screaming maniac in my house and realize it’s me. How did she do it? And why didn’t I inherit her peaceful nature?

Mama sang all the time. She sang in the kitchen. She sang in the car. She sang when she asked you to do something. I can hear her now: “Michelle, please empty the dishwasher; Denise, please sweep the kitchen”—all to the tune of “A Tisket, a Tasket.” Anytime she was on the brink of losing her temper, I realized, she broke into song— sometimes chanting through clenched teeth, “Leave your little sister alone. I’m not going to ask you again”—this to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

In the grocery store the other day, I hung at the end of my rope when, suddenly, I heard myself singing, “We’re almost finished. Then we’re going home.” (The tune was unrecognizable. I inherited a wee bit of Mama’s patience, but none of her tunefulness.)

During her forty years raising children, Mama acquired some unbelievable tricks of the trade. Whenever she wanted to introduce a new food, she would serve it in a small casserole dish and announce, “This is a little something I fixed for your dad. If you’d like to try some, you may take a little on your plate. But you don’t have to.”

Of course, we’d all scramble for it and clean the plate. Dad was lucky to get any at all. Then she’d wait a couple of weeks and serve it again, but in her usual large portions. Someone would exclaim, “Wow, zucchini for everyone!” After that, it became a family favorite.

Hanging on the wall of our kitchen was a chalkboard on which my mother wrote her thought for the day—usually religious, always inspirational. The children in the neighborhood took to cutting through our kitchen on their way to the bus stop in the morning to read it. A few of them, after they went off to college or got married and moved away, would even call from time to time to have it read to them over the phone.

I tried my own thought-for-the-day board. It hung on the fridge—for about a month. I remembered to change the thought—for the first five days. Then the board hung there, with the same thought half-erased, for the next twenty-five days—right next to the behavior charts I had forgotten to keep up with. I’ve decided to try it again— when the kids are old enough to read.

Yes, she was an incredible woman, my mother. Though I often feel I fall miserably short when I compare my mothering to hers, it gives me great comfort to know that her gentle spirit is within me somewhere. I’m sure it will make itself known—especially when I introduce zucchini to my children.

Mimi Greenwood Knight

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