I wasn’t going to write about my mother. Nope. That would be too cliché. Perhaps I’d tell of my older mentor and fellow music teacher Nina, or my generous and entrepreneurial siblings, my perfectionist husband, or perhaps the eighty-year-old, redheaded bailiff I saw while on jury duty. When it came down to it — who could invigorate, stimulate, cheer, coddle, relieve and generally light a torch under me — Mom was the one for the job.
To begin, I know Mom values education. Raised on the mountains of southern Quebec, the daughter of a ski hill owner, she became a champion skier, often skiing to school. When she came of age, her family didn’t have the resources to send her to races and also to college, so she chose to go to school. She trained as a physical and occupational therapist and worked four years before she and Dad had children. By her example, we knew education was a key factor in finding our place in this world.
More than once, Mom’s resourcefulness, willingness to adapt, and inventiveness helped us all. When she arrived in small-town North Dakota, far from the mountainous terrain she had known and on “green card” status, she tightened her bindings and dug into the community. We lived fifty miles from a major shopping center and restaurants, so Mom became quite creative at devising ways to repair useable items and redeem lost causes. She tried new recipes to coax picky eaters, and knit scarves and sweaters to keep out the Dakota winters. Perhaps out of frustration with Dad’s burgeoning collection of books and recordings and his fulltime medical practice, she became good at wielding a hammer, a paintbrush, and a circular saw. Our living room got a wall-to-wall bookcase, the house exterior got several new coats of paint in her choice of color, and the dog got a doghouse.
Never one to be left behind, Mom always had a healthy curiosity about music. All four children were involved in music lessons, a passion of my dad’s. Mom would drive us — out of town, of course — to lessons. She must have either become curious or felt left out, because in her forties she began taking organ lessons and in three short years became quite competent.
Mom’s grace was tested every day of the week. She worked as a receptionist at my dad’s clinic. Sometimes on evenings or weekends we would host diabetic or emergency patients at our house since the clinic was closed and we lived in an accessible location on Main Street. Another time when I was young and hot-headed, I became argumentative with my Sunday school teacher, who started crying and quit. The next thing I knew, my mother was the new Sunday school teacher, like she needed a new venture.
In my adult years, Mom has been life support. Whenever my concert pressures mount, she offers to help with children and other household matters. Whenever she and Dad visit, she always brings food — lots of it. If we visit them, she usually asks what we would like to do. Sometimes, our response is: “Nothing. We just want to recharge.”
At seventy-seven, Mom diligently keeps in physical shape and pooh-poohs her grandkids for complaining about a short walk to downtown. She and her friends take weekday morning walks and catch up on knitting trends and grandkids. I have to admit at least once a week I hear this Mom quote trot through the back of my mind: “Did ya get your exercise today?”
Raising her children, she has always been a careful listener. She encouraged me to follow my own strengths and joys even in the face of weak finances and pressure from others. Conversations with her led to pivotal questions like “Where do you want to go?”, “How resourceful are you when the going is tough?”, and then “Lean on me — it’s my treat.”
I believe the way she dealt with her children helped me be a better teacher. I learned to not presume to know a student’s complete situation or what he/she really wants. She taught me to listen to the individual and address each unique person. Mom knows the importance of sharing time with people, like the boss who mingles among her employees to get a sense of what their battles are, and to pick up ideas which might benefit the entire company. Strangely, the care she took in various household duties, such as following a recipe or matching colors in a decorating scheme, taught me to prepare for performances with great detail.
We all need inspiration, a rich vein of faith and fire. Searching for that mother lode can take us far afield. I feel lucky to have found mine close to home.