Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How do moms know?

3:15 a.m., sound asleep, not even my husband's snoring disturbed me, but it's amazing how quickly I woke up when a quiet voice whispered, "Mom, I think I threw up". Our 12-year-old had picked up that horrid 24-hour flu bug, so after we changed the bed and started the first of 4 loads of laundry, my husband went back to sleep and I sat up with Ben, holding the garbage-bag-lined-trash-can while he continued to be sick. In between bouts, I wiped his forehead, rubbed his back, and felt almost indecently grateful that his illness made him not only let me touch him, but he wanted me to do it!

At one point, Ben said, "Mom, how did you know what to do when I got sick?" I told him I learned from my mother, and I used some common sense - and suddenly I felt like a descendant of Caroline Ingalls, who always impressed me with her calm, assured knowledge of everything from the recipe for sourdough starter to making candles, including making a scrumptious faux apple pie out of turnips. (She's the mom from the Little House books - when I mentioned this to my husband, he said, Engels? wasn't she the actress who played the ditzy blonde on the Mary Tyler Moore show?) (I apologize to my future daughters-in-law - I tried to get my sons to read the books and could only talk them into Farmer Boy, the one about Alonzo's childhood . . . )

There were so many iconic moments from those books (and I'm NOT talking about the t.v. show, folks, which my kids only know from the parody on Family Guy with the overweight dad running through a field of daisies like Laura during the opening credits): making a balloon out of a pig bladder, the locust attack, the time Pa survived being snowbound in a blizzard by eating the Christmas candy, Ma's china shepherdess on the whatnot (which I had to look up in a dictionary). I read and loved all the classic childhood book series, from The Borrowers to All of A Kind Family (a great, fairly obscure series about a Jewish family in 1900s New York - really cool, if you haven't read them!). But nothing made quite the impression of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and I think it was partly because I knew the stories were true. Real people did all those things - by the time Laura set up housekeeping with Alonzo, she knew how to do them from watching her mother, just like I learned from my own mom: nothing quite so exotic as churning butter or pickling vegetables (although my mom did teach me how to sew, because she loved sewing, and how to make salad, because she hated making salads), but just by example, she showed me what to do when a kid gets sick.

I don't know if my kids will ever write a beloved series of books (or podcasts, or whatever the format is by that time), but at least they'll have a few memories of things they learned from me (how to make up silly song parodies, how to do laundry, how to make the NYTimes recipe for the world's best chocolate chip cookies). And someday, when Ben is up in the middle of the night with a sick child, he'll be able to explain how he knew just what to do.

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