For some reason, the internet has lit up a bit again debating the virtues and vices of SAHMs (Stay-At-Home-Moms) and WMs (Working Moms). Knowing that family and community work against injustice, and that there are many forms of family and community, AND… that I'm a kid who had both a SAHM and a WM… I thought I'd write my own Valentine's letter to a woman who couldn't have lived it better.
I remember the days you stayed at home with us — me, Jonathon and Lindsay. There are so many memories, I don't even know where to start.
I remember heating our house in Grande Cache with a wood stove and, after you had seen Dad off to work, you would get that going before making us crawl out of bed into a cold house. And while we were eating breakfast, you'd put our mittens and toques by the fireplace to make sure they were warm before we walked to school and/or waited for the bus (we did both, as I recall).
I remember walking home from school each day over the lunch hour, grumbling "Peanut butter sandwiches AGAIN?!" (much to your frustration; I conveniently kept forgetting they were put together on the bread you made). I remember you putting my winter gear in the oven to try and dry it out before I had to walk back to school.
Who could forget the Great Chicken Pox Outbreak of 1986? (I think it was '86 because I was in Grade 3 with Ms.Sayer) You said it was like being in prison — first Jonathon, then me, then Lindsay — boom, boom, boom! No leaving the house for you for nearly a month! But I remember, too, you putting calamine lotion on my itchy spots, rubbing my tired little shoulders, and bringing specially cut sandwiches (on that homemade bread again) down to me in front of the TV.
Speaking of being sick, dare I count the times you stayed up with us when we were puking, having bad dreams, coughing, or demanding we sleep with you and Dad? How is it you didn't strangle us?!
Then there was the summer you went on strike. Tired of ungrateful kids, you showed us how to work the washing machine, forbade the use of the dryer (teaching us to hang our clothing outside) and had the cable cancelled. I wept many tears that day… but I learned to appreciate a mom who works hard for her family (and how to separate my darks from my whites).
You helped me with my homework, you brushed my very long hair because my wee arms were still too short to do it all by myself, and you somehow managed to convince me that "Yes, Erin, pancakes CAN be supper food too". I remember you walking Lindsay to the bus stop for the first time on her first day of kindergarten, and I remember you making sure Jonathon got to Beaver Scouts on time. I remember you keeping a stash of not-always-easy-to-come-by change so we kids could walk up to the swimming pool in the summer.
Call me crazy or "Erin's just remembering stuff again", but I DO remember when you went back to nursing. I didn't understand all the reasoning behind it or that financially our family didn't have a choice anymore. I just remember Dad calling a family meeting at supper the night before your first shift. He tried to explain why you needed to be a nurse again, and how some things were going to change around the house. I was about 9 or 10. You said very little, but your eyes were misty. It wasn't until I grew up that I really understood why.
Things did change after you went back to work. I began doing more babysitting, and we all began to learn how to pitch in with more chores. We definitely weren't perfect. But I remember being so proud at school telling the other kids that "My mom's a nurse! She even helped deliver a baby in an ambulance once in the middle of nowhere!" Yes, we missed you at home but I was also bursting at the thought that my mom was one of the kindest helpers in the whole world. I didn't even mind when Dad would get mixed when you BOTH were working the night shift, and he'd call HOME (waking me up) instead of your workplace. After initial grumpiness, it was all good.
Plus… I always seemed to have a leg up in biology class. Ha! No matter what science questions I had, you either had the answer or had resources where I could look them up for myself.
And… piano lessons kept going. We were able to all attend the school you wanted us to attend. Through savings, you were able to cut down your hours to help with some home schooling too. We still had a garden. We still had homemade bread. Yes I learned to cook (but never leared to sew… sorry!), but you never stopped being "mom". Not once.
Do you know what held me to that, especially during those terrible teen years when I never seemed to want to talk to you? Or when I acted out against you? Or when I yelled at you? Or when I cried so hard because I felt I had disappointed you?
Every single morning… whether you were working the dayshift (thus leaving before we got out of bed), or coming home from the nightshift (thus needing to go to bed before we got up), or the afternoon/off shift, you ALWAYS came down into my bedroom, kissed me gently on the cheek and said: "Good morning, honey. It's time to get up. I love you."
Forget that it was suicide for ANYONE to enter my bedroom in the morning, it was one of the most profound memories I will ever have of growing up — SAHM or WM.
I know it was an honour for you to be a SAHM… and so much work you thought you were going to go stir crazy some days. Between glue in my long hair while teaching us crafts or the sibling squabbles we got into or washing cloth diapers with the youngest, potty-training the middle while keeping track of the pre-schooler, I don't know how you did it.
And as hard as it was for you to return to work… you put your all into it. You treated your patients with love and dignity and respect. When you worked at the palliative care centre, I remember you making sure all of us kids came over on Christmas Day to help feed and spend time with the patients there who had no families. I especially remember Emma… a lady in her sixties with Down's Syndrome. She always had hugs to give, and you were teary the day she passed away.
Oh sure if someone made TOO much of a drama over a little needle, you told them (me) to "Suck it up!", but you were one of the most gentle, caring professionals I will ever had my good fortune to meet. And that goes for all the many patients you've cared for over the decades.
Most of all, because it continues to this day, your line of "It's a Great and Glorious Adventure!" will never leave my spirit. Okay, okay… I admit I wanted to tell you to "Shut up!" at 5am when you chirped those words before leaving for family vacation (but I didn't dare seeing as "Shut" and "up" were swear words), but it didn't matter what we were doing or where we were going. We could have been driving to Ontario or going through a family crisis. You always said: "It's a GGA."
I love you for staying at home with us, and I love you for making hard choices about work. Both held honour and God's blessing. I love you for not judging other moms either which way or even suggesting that there might be only a couple ways mothers could be "moms". You love and support SAHMs and you love and support WMs. Your hard choices in both places in life helped me "rise up and called you blessed".
Most of all, I.love.you.
Happy Valentine's Day, Mom.