When we were young, all my friends and neighbors said that we had the best mom in the world, and that they wished their mother was like ours.
At first I just dismissed this, thinking yea, you say that because she is not your mom. Or I thought it was because mom made us all vanilla milkshakes at elevensies. Or because of candy day, or they were envious that we were allowed to go off and explore the whole neighborhood on our bikes.
But I came to know that raising kids was always intentional for mom, it was a passion and a profession. It may have started for her when she was in nursery school at Merrill Palmer where child development really was a science – she saved one of the reports that was sent home saying they were worried that Sally had only gained 1.5 oz over the summer. It was also at Merrill Palmer where mom met Peggy Lind, a lifelong friend, and where she fell in love with fairy tales and children’s books.
Later, she told her mother that when she grew up she wanted to get married and raise children. That’s not quite what her mother, who had helped found the Social Work Department at Wayne State University, had in mind for her daughter. So, her mother introduced her to a local alum of Vassar College. Mom compromised, graduating from Vassar with a degree in child development. In the spring of 1946, she joined her parents in Berlin where for a year she taught Kindergarten by day (in the country where it was invented), and attended military balls and celebrations at night. As the base commander’s daughter she received many proposals of marriage. Fortunately, and like in the fairy tales, she came back to Birmingham and married her true love.
As a teacher and parent, I tried her mom strategies: milkshakes and cand day, but they didn’t seem to have the same impact.
Fortunately mom, in her way, kept teaching and guiding, well raising this child. I now realize that yes it is exactly about milkshakes, candy day and bikes. Those are the expressions of her science of raising kids, those are the values I want to live:
Vanilla milkshakes at Elevensies for the whole neighborhood, that was about nurturing not just her kids, but a community, in fact building a community. She did this also by driving a car full of kids to Roeper, and in her scrabble and knitting groups. Food was always part of that nurturing, food was love for her, but it was also about listening. In part because she was so curious, and in part because nurturing starts with knowing who people are.
She spoke so beautifully about how as a 5-6 year old in Detroit during the depression, people would come to her back door selling shoe laces. She saw them as powerless yet so brave, not unlike the heroes in her stories. She would always make them a peanut butter sandwich and listen to them.
And Candy Day was her belief that young kids, well everyone, but especially young children could make their own decisions. That given the opportunity and experiences they could and would make decisions that were best for them. She trusted our decision making. Which also of course meant living with those consequences – no winning, we had to pull up our sox and behave. She felt strongly that we all had the opportunity and responsibly to create the world, the culture, the communities that we wanted to live in.
Exploring the neighborhood on our bikes was her saying don’t stay to close to the hem of my skirt, create your own world, explore, be curious. She constantly modeled curiosity and doing new things. Her collections were about learning everything she could about something – from mushrooms, to begonias, to children’s books.
She also tried new things – she was an entrepreneur, with dad she started two business in our basement and then later on her own a catering business.
She lived what she taught – she created around her the community she valued, where she raised/nurtured people (throughout their lives), she was curious and nurtured our curiosity, and she supported us making our own decisions as we continually grew up.
I agree, she was the best mom in the whole world.
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