Only after two significant events did I discover how significant they were.
I had decided to teach three of our four children at home. My husband and I had gone to a parent-teacher meeting. We were not impressed when the teacher, dressed in a sweatsuit, bounded about the classroom like Eeyore on crack. We had letters home from a teacher with words misspelled.
I always tried to teach my children to read phonetically before they went to school. I didn’t believe in the so-called Whole Language Concept (I’m capitalizing it because I think that’s how the school system idolizes it), and the principal and my son’s teacher informed me I was messing with their curriculum. It upset them when Michael, who could read the newspaper at age three, in grade one would read books while the teacher taught the other children to sight-read.
I figured I could do as well, or better.
My mother, always full of opinions, told me it was “too much.” The teachers told me with grave looks that the children needed socialization. Isn’t it ironic now that bullying is even more a problem than then, yet schools are considered experts at socialization of children?
So I ignored them all and took the children out of school. I ordered school board-approved correspondence courses, and we worked every morning. I seemed to spend five hours a day with my oldest, who I learned later has ADHD. The seven-year-old pretty much put himself through grade two, with little help from me. And socialization? They had siblings, we concocted plays, measured off a football field to see how big Noah’s ark would have been, visited a local firehall, a horse barn and friends.
Shortly thereafter my newly-widowed father-in-law was told he had inoperable liver and pancreas cancer, and he moved into our house.
Each morning I laid a fire for Wilfred to watch the flames from his recliner. Each day I massaged his feet to chase the fluid out of his legs, and each evening, he gave the most moving supper prayers. The children enjoyed having him around and we had many quiet discussions. Mostly he rested, fortunately without pain, until the last few days when the doctor gave us morphine to help with his discomfort. I had to change him towards the end, as if he were a newborn. He died quietly in his bed at home on a Saturday morning, two and a half months after he came to us. I was exhausted.
A few months later, my mother came to visit. My mother prides herself on her housewifely efficiencies and her inalienable right to point out where I am going wrong on that score, and once gave me a bumper sticker as a gift which read, “Neat people never make the exciting discoveries that I do.” I posted it in my laundry room in my nose-thumbing way.
She was speaking to me about my siblings and their troubled marriages, and informed me, while I kept the skeptical expression from my face, that she never interfered in their marriages. She then pointed out where I was going wrong with my youngest child.
Something primal welled up in me, redolent of the care I had taken of my father-in-law during his terminal illness. That had been poignant and painful work with my husband away at his job all day while I home schooled the children.
I raised my children without any support from my mother because she lived in Montreal while I lived in Vancouver. My children were normal kids, but they were well spoken of by friends, mannerly in restaurants and in neighbors’ homes, and I was proud of them. That primal something flashing through my mind reminded me that in spite of my mother’s claims to perfection, her other children all had troubled marriages. In fact, I was the only one who had a relatively peaceful life. Yes, our youngest one was a bit spoiled, but this was my life.
I said to my mother, “Well … for someone who doesn’t like to interfere …”
My mother looked at me, shocked at the reaction from her usually compliant daughter. She did what I refer to as going straight up and turning left, meaning she reacted angrily, and announced she was going home forthwith to Montreal. I said, “See you later,” and went about my day. She instead went out for a long walk, returned chastened, and after that I began to get respect from my mother.
Perhaps it’s the way I was raised; my brothers tended either to be the favored ones or the ones in trouble. Perhaps it was some of my childhood experiences that made me feel I was not quite good enough. I was raising four children and should have been proud of that accomplishment alone.
The day I stood up to my mother and simultaneously realized how fulfilled it made me feel to have been my father-in-law’s caregiver was the day I made the startling discovery I am a worthwhile person.
I found my self-respect.
© Copyright 2011 by Barbara Pottie Holmes