Today I'd like to publicly thank my mom for the things she did that helped set me on the path to becoming a writer.
My parents, in a lot of ways, were a recipe for disaster. Married in their teens, when my mother was still in high school, they lived first with my mom's parents until Dad's job at the glass plant allowed them to move into an apartment with walls so thin, the toilet paper fluttered each time the wind blew. Higher education was out of the question. Mom was still nineteen when I was born, and two more kiddos followed in short order. Money was tight for years, but somehow they stuck it out. Dad worked a lot of double shifts (swing shifts, too, which are hell on your body and on family life) to get us into a house. Mom worked when she could (not easy with three small children), and in spite of the challenges of their early years, the two of them are still together. Pretty amazing.
As parents, they made their share of mistakes (who doesn't?), but they did a lot of things right. My mom in particular, since my dad was so often away at work, had a huge influence. Here are a few things she did that helped make it possible for me (and for all three of her children) to pursue a dream.
- She made the time to read us stories. Snuggled in and around Mom's lap was the place to be, and I can still remember the excitement I felt picking my first few written words out of an oft-repeated (I'm sure Mom was sick of it) picture book and reading them aloud (though "saw" and "was" gave me some trouble.)
- When I caught the reading bug, she hauled us to the library. Just about every week, though I was (and remain) the only bookworm in the family.
- Because she was so young and cooped up with a bunch of little kids, in a strange way, she extended her only childhood. My mom played with us. She was the one mom in the neighborhood who would come out on snow days for sledding or a rousing snowball fight. She enjoyed walking in the woods, pointing out a box turtle or an edible berry, and reveling in nature as much as we did.
- When I caught her enthusiasm for nature and started reading everything I could find about animals, she helped me conduct all sorts of projects, from hatching and raising baby chicks (the Chick-U-Bater still stands out as one of the best gifts ever) to collecting preying mantis egg cases for show and tell (was my teacher ever furious when one supposedly-empty case hatched and filled the classroom with hundreds of the tiny predators), and spawning blue gouramis (bubble-nest-building tropical fish) in an elaborate aquarium set-up. While most girls received Barbies (I got my share, too), I was given a microscope for Christmas, and we all learned (Mom included) a great deal about "wee beasties."
- She allowed me the privacy to write when I needed it. A friend and I started writing stories together when I was in my early teens. We spent countless hours at it, but we never wanted anyone else to see what we were up to. Grave suspicions arose (and probably some furtive peeking), but my parents didn't insist on micromanaging this activity, even when I locked up the results.
- When she was in her early forties, Mom took classes and pursued a real estate license, then launched a flourishing career that she's been in ever since. Getting into a profession was a huge leap for someone whose working-class family produced a succession of housewives and factory workers. Any kind of education was looked on with suspicion, and there was plenty of griping that my mom was "getting above herself." But she didn't give a damn. She did what gave her joy, and it was this final lesson that set the example that encouraged me to quit dabbling and get serious about pursuing my own dreams.