The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 12, 2000


History repeats itself: Mom is the greatest!

The job description for a mother hasn't changed much in 150 years. The tools, the resources and the challenges mothers have today may be greater but the fundamental tasks are the same. At least that is my conclusion from my meetings with the Alcott book group, conducted by the Orchard House in Concord.

Now, you all have heard of "Marmee," haven't you? She was the hard-working, well-mannered, and picture-perfect mother immortalized in the semi-autobiographical Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Marmee's primary assignment was to care for her children. A hired woman helped around the house. If you try, I'm sure you can apply this characterization to a few Carlisle mothers you know.

Abigail May Alcott had a rich and demanding home life, but yet she felt the need to contribute more to the world.

As it turns out, the real Marmee, Abigail May Alcott, was even more of a typical mom than depicted. She had married in her late twenties, unusual for her times, and against her family's wishes to educator/philosopher Amos Bronson Alcott. She devoted her days to the needs of her four daughters, spending most of her time cooking, cleaning and sewing. She often filled the roles of mother and father as her husband spent time away from home delivering unpaid lectures rather than working a conventional job. She separated from her husband several times in her marriage to stay with family and friends due to financial need, emotional stress and physical exhaustion.

Abigail May Alcott had a rich and demanding home life, but yet she felt the need to contribute more to the world. Despite her limited resources, she chose to help those with even less. She tried working outside the home to pay the bills, first as manager of a health spa and then as a social worker to help place immigrant laborers. At the end of the day, she seized a few moments to write in her journal. She could be a contemporary of ours, yet she was born almost two centuries ago!

Growing up

my mother's daughter

Most people admire their mother, and I do as well. She is a wonderful person with a knack for making people feel great. My mother was born on a beautiful Adriatic island in the part of the world known today as Croatia. She was the first person in her immediate family to attend a four-year college, and then worked as a teacher. In her twenties, she left her home town never knowing if she would see it or her mother again (she did), and bravely made the journey to America.

I remember a childhood where my mom was always working: cooking, cleaning, or sewing! In the evenings, she went to night school and earned a Masters in Education. She learned Spanish (she can speak five languages), and returned to teaching when I was in high school. Everything she did she excelled at, but she never seemed to have time for herself. Even though I loved my mother (and still do!), I vowed never to be like her...

Twenty-five years and two degrees later, here I am, privileged to be a stay-at-home mom. I confess that I spend most of my time cooking and cleaning. And, yes, I occasionally sew.

I really enjoy cooking. Nonetheless, it can easily consume a few hours every day, when you include preparation and clean-up. Don't forget wiping up those handy gadgets, sweeping the kitchen tiles and visiting the compost pile -- that's easily another half-hour. Then, every few days I spend time planning menus and food shopping.

As most mothers know, a weekly maid service does not nullify daily cleaning responsibilities. Add another hour or two. Although children can help with the chores, I have yet to find a Montessori school that provides instruction on how to remove blueberry yogurt from carpeting.

I struggle with the logistics of sewing interlocking triangle Boy Scout badges on a miniscule pocket.

I'm not an accomplished seamstress like my mother, but I do deal with stray buttons and can mend minor tears. Somehow I struggle with the logistics of sewing interlocking triangle Boy Scout badges on a miniscule pocket.

Not only am I shockingly similar to my mother in terms of my daily activity, but dare I suggest it, I do believe my liberal arts education at Barnard has advanced me further! As a feminist, I have tackled that last male refuge -- the transfer station!

Back to the future

Most of my life may be mundane, but I feel very lucky. I can go to the symphony or a show at the Museum of Fine Arts with a friend. I can contribute time and money to a dear charity, the Multiple Sclerosis Society. I set aside a half-hour for exercise every day. I make time for reading every day. I write newspaper articles, do some technical writing, and jot down story fragments. I rarely have time to write in a formal journal, but my organizer is a modern-day record of my life.

Best of all, my husband enthusiastically supports whatever I want to do. His life has improved now that I no longer work full-time as a communications manager. He appreciates having a clean shirt and packed lunch every day, and the fact that he doesn't have to go to the transfer station (not necessarily in that order). Although when he came across Transcendental Wife by Cynthia Barton atop the bannister, he did ask in astonishment, "What are you reading? Is this something we should talk about?" I told him not to worry; it was nothing personal, but something for my book group.

This year I shared memorable experiences with my second-grader, Alexander, by volunteering at the school library and by serving as one of his Destination Imagination coaches. I enjoyed a one-on-one lunch every day with my pre-school daughter Roxane. I was there to tackle her serious questions about death. Another time, I persuaded her not to give up eating meat completely, and convinced her that it's physically dangerous to become a vegetarian if you won't eat anything green, yellow, or orange!

I can't accurately describe my happiness when my son or my daughter rushes over at the end of their school day to embrace me with a huge hug. This past week my daughter told me that I was her "best friend." When she grows up she wants to be "a mommy" and an "artist" in her "free time." My son, who greatly admires my mediocre piano playing, requested that I play them to sleep every night. These are the reasons moms are moms. And why history keeps repeating itself.

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito