My mom is a teacher through and through. I can practically remember her counting with me while she still carried me in her tummy. She was always teaching my brothers and me something. She sang a song about our body parts when she dressed us. She sounded out words for us to spell or rhyme on car drives. And she taught all of us as toddlers in the bathtub the proper names for girls’ and boys’ private parts because, as she’d sternly correct us, “I want you to use the proper names.”
In our house, I was lucky to watch Linda Carter as Wonder Woman because most TV was limited to the PBS channel, you know the educational network with shows like Sesame Street and The Electric Company. That didn’t win me any points with the cool kids at school, but the ten back-handsprings in a row sure did, thanks to endless rounds of extracurricular activities like dance and gymnastics during the school year and sewing and ceramics during the summer.
As a French teacher, my mom created and led a “French Circle” for elementary school children in our home, and I wanted every French Circle day to be a French Bingo day. How I loved trying to recall the French word for the object she showed us and then eagerly finding its match on my bingo card! My mom spent hours and hours coloring and cutting and glueing and lamenating those beautiful picture bingo cards with le chat, la maison, and le arbre on them.
On the few occasions when an illness kept me out of school, mom brought me, my blanket and pillow along with her to where she taught French to preschool and kindergarten children and where I could sneak peaks of her in action. She sang and played games with her students always looking completely engaged in the process – a teaching tornado zig-zagging through the room leaving inspired and delighted children in her wake. Of course I grew up expecting the same enthusiasm from my teachers, and if I didn’t like a class, I knew it had nothing to do with the workload or the subject. It lacked inspired teaching.
As I got older and also got homework, my mom created extra homework pages to make sure I really got it. Breading the pork chops, she timed me completing my multiplication facts on a worksheet she made just like my teacher’s to practice for the timed tests we had in class once a week. If I wasn’t first, I was always in the top three to finish and reveled in sifting through the holy cards as my prize – you guessed it, Catholic school.
Silkworms. They only eat Mulberry leaves found on Mulberry trees. Turned out these trees are not hard to find in Southern California, they were just never on our property. I did the silkworm project at least four times during my academic career. The first two times at my mother’s urging, the second two because I could get more mileage out of the first two efforts. Anyway, Mom ordered the tiny silkworm eggs from a catalogue – just like I do with sports bras today – and even located the Mulberry trees. One time, she came home with a grapefruit-sized ankle after falling off the planter box while reaching for the leaves. And on one weekend day, she came home telling us about the police officer who kicked her off the school playground because neighbors called in about a “mad” woman in the trees on school property. I was so grateful that was her and not me. But I did come to cherish those tiny wild-rice grain-like worms and fascinate at their grey-white mature, plump bodies velvety soft as the silk they spin into their cocoons.
Even with four boys after me and a serious mental illness, my mom continued to cheerlead my education. From my fifth grade state report to my Senior humanities papers, mom regularly stayed up long past midnight typing for me at the eleventh hour – her daughter was a procrastinator par excellence right through high school graduation. I only did finally learn to type my freshman year in college when I learned dearly what a gift my personal typist was! Thanks, Mom!
My own daughter is fifteen years old now, a sophomore in high school and an eager learner. I sang her songs about getting dressed in the morning, played spelling games with her in the rear view mirror in the car, researched ancient Greece with her and even typed a few of her papers – though not nearly the chore in my mother’s white-out and ink cartridge days. I haven’t had to pick mulberry leaves on private property, thank goodness, but I have always been a cheerleader for her education and found a wellspring of ideas and inspiration for doing so from my mother’s PBS-worthy example.