My mother pretty much raised us eight kids by herself because Dad spent most of those years in and out of the hospital. That meant Mom was really busy.
Barely eye-level with the table, I observed her kneading bread and rolling out pie crust. I watched my mom can peaches, raspberries, and applesauce. I held my nose when she singed freshly-plucked chickens, and butchered them for flying.
On hands and knees, in her zip-up-the-front housedress, my mother scrubbed the linoleum kitchen floor.
In the evening, she read Bible stories to us, and listened to our prayers. Many nights, from my bed I heard the rhythmic whirring of her sewing machine, afterward.
On Sundays, my mother managed to get us all to church. Regularly. We walked, about nine blocks, pushing the youngest children and the babies in the baby buggy.
In the church balcony, surrounded by squirming children, my mother balanced a hymnal and sang “Holy, Holy, Holy,” with the choir as it walked below us, up the center aisle toward the loft.
I think it seemed easier for my mother to do many tasks herself, rather than take the time to train us. But I learned a lot anyway, just by watching. I first realized this right after I got married, when I discovered I knew how to cut up a frying chicken. I found I could do a whole lot that I can’t remember my mother ever trying to teach me. She just modeled it.
This Mother’s Day, I’m not only thinking about my mother; I’m looking at myself. And other mothers. And I wonder. What is the legacy we’re modeling for our children? What are our children learning from us, just by observation?
Adapted from my newspaper column, published Wednesday, May 9, 2001