June piles the children into a canoe on an Adirondack lake in 1949. Black flies fill the air, biting and buzzing their little heads. Being outdoors is good for you, she teaches, without saying a word. I am decades in the future, my girls decades more. But the lessons began long before they were needed, long before they would be realized in the here and now.
Elenora sits at the piano in her second grade classroom in 1964, leading two dozen squirmy children in song before they turn to math and recess and Dick and Jane. She sings to them in her strong alto. Being in school is good for you, she teaches those children. It’s even good for mothers. It will be decades before I hang the sign from her classroom: ”Mrs. Schweizer” in my own office at school.
Carol piles my sister, our two friends, and me in the car for swimming lessons. It is an early morning in July, 1978. I am disastrously old to finally be learning to swim. Swimming in cold water is good for you, she lets us know. And then, on the way home, she keeps the windows rolled up tight to warm us all up. This is what it feels like to be me, and to be loved.
Linda boils the water for the eggs. It is 1984, and Bill is eating the family out of house and home. She snaps the green beans, slices summer tomatoes, boils the new potatoes, and whisks a vinagrette in a bowl. Delicious food is good for you, she teaches, setting out the stoneware plates, the cloth napkins in their rings.
Debbie drives across the plains of South Dakota. It is July, 1993. Her sons are in the backseat, singing songs about the states at the top of their lungs. I am in the passenger seat, watching the certainty with which she steers the car and lets her boys steer themselves. It is good to sing, and to play, and to pick sage to keep on the dashboard, she teaches. We park and set up the tent while they run round until dusk.
Grace stares up at me with a look that is half bewilderment, half happy to be here. It is 1999, and she works so hard to keep her little eyes on my face. It is good to look into the eyes of the people you love, she teaches me, and to stop everything else just to be in love with the people who need you.
Abigail packs up her backpack and puts on her raincoat. It is May, 2013, and time to walk out the door and head for the bus. Outside is a downpour, with thunder and lightning. Somehow this smallest child of mine has grown to my height, and can get herself wherever she needs to go on her own steam. It is good to walk through the cold rain, outside, singing, on your way to school, with a belly full of delicious food.
But before my girls walk out the door into the downpour, off to school, off to the world, they stop and look deep into my eyes. I love you mom, they never fail to say before they walk out the door, no matter what has come before. Somehow all these lessons have been passed forward, through time and space and memory. And there they are, in every ordinary day, in the faces of my girls.
Hundreds more mothers have taught this grand course, Mother 101. Loni and Juliana and Katie and Stephanie. Kate, Maria, Martha, Eileen. Mary and Alison and Bonnie and Toni. Sue and Jill and Pat and Dina. Jessica and Gail and Lindsey and Hilary. Caroline and Jen and Emily and Beth. Laura and Robin and Pamela and Joanna. Teri and Juliet and Lauren and Kimberly. Jen and MaryLou and Mary Catherine and Emmanuelle. Kristen and Therese and Susan and Annie. I learn by doing, by reading, by watching, and by growing. I learn to forgive my children and forgive myself. I learn, not even knowing I am learning until I stop to think.
Happy mothers day: to the mothers who were, who are, and who are someday yet to be.