by Jen Rouse
The Short Years
In the past 10 years or so, I’ve gotten really into baking bread. I love kneading the dough, smelling the warm, yeasty smell as it rises, and most of all eating the finished product. There’s nothing better than a good loaf of home-made bread.
These are old-fashioned kinds of hobbies, I admit, but I enjoy them. And, because they are old-fashioned, I assume, people sometimes ask me, “Oh, did you learn how to do that from your mom?”
The simple answer is no. The bigger answer is yes.
You see, my mom was not into any of those things. We sat down to a home-cooked meal every night of my childhood. But it was not usually anything elaborate. My mom worked hard, every day, as an elementary school teacher. Dinner was something she threw together after she came home from work, and as soon as we’d cleared the table she was sitting down to grade a stack of papers. Spending hours in the kitchen fussing over bread or adjusting the seasoning in the soup was not a part of her daily routine.
She did try to teach me to sew, a time or two, but I wasn’t that interested and it didn’t really take.
As a kid, my mom–like many other children of her generation–didn’t get summers off to play in the sprinkler and read books, like I did. She and her brothers went out to local farmers’ fields and spent hours picking berries or beans. I think that as an adult, she enjoyed NOT spending her summers working out in the vegetable garden. During my childhood summers I remember her taking us to the lake or the river to swim a lot, or catching up on projects around the house that she never had time for during the school year. So I didn’t learn to grow vegetables from my mom, either.
Here’s what she did teach me: how to figure things out for myself.
My mom is a teacher. And the best kind of teacher is not the one who feeds you information, but the one who teaches you how to learn. She took me to the library more times than I can remember. She filled our house with books and gave me time to read them. If I had a question about something, she would show me how to look it up and find the answer myself. If I had a question I couldn’t solve on my homework, she or my dad would help me with it until I could figure it out. She showed me every day what it was to be a smart, hard-working, productive person. Giving up or not completing a task were not options.
And so, in my 20s, when I suddenly found myself wondering how one goes about canning applesauce or sewing a quilt, it didn’t occur to me that these were the kind of domestic mysteries that could only be passed down in a sacred fashion from one generation to another. I bought a book on canning and studied quilting websites online until I had a pretty good idea of what to do–and then I went ahead and did it. After all, I knew how to read, I knew how to study, and I knew how to keep trying until I’d mastered something. What else could I possibly need to know?
Confidence in my own ability to learn. How to find information when I need it. Perseverance when things get frustrating. A strong sense in the value of working hard at something. She gave me all these things–and, in turn, all the knowledge, skills, and hobbies I’ve picked up along the way because of them. That’s what I learned from my mother.