Our mothers are truly our first teachers. They show us how to use a spoon, tie our shoes, share with friends, and explain why eating dirt is generally a bad idea. Daily interactions between mother and child are always a mix of love and education.
My mom wasn’t a formal educator, but she was intellectually curious and encouraged me to be the same. In my family, that encouragement was usually in the form of weekend day trips to the ‘Burgs: Gettysburg, Williamsburg, Antietam, Harper’s Ferry…if there was a colonial settlement or a Civil War encampment within a day’s drive, you can bet your horse and buggy we were there.
Many of my childhood memories are of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out of a tote bag, bare legs swinging under a weather-beaten picnic table on a Civil War battlefield. Or in a sweaty blacksmithy on a 100-degree day, watching a man in pantaloons hammer a glob of molten iron into a horseshoe. Which is, I’m sure, how all pre-adolescent girls spent their Saturdays.
Occasionally I’d get to bring a friend. This was a rare treat for me, as an only child, because it meant I could talk about kid things instead of being forced to admire the craftsmanship of the Amish, who made amazingly sturdy barns without power tools. Sometimes, not yet realizing that I had inherited my mother’s curiosity, I’d make offhand comments like, “This is a really impressive quilt display,” or “There’s a butter churning demonstration around here somewhere. Let’s go find it!” As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I DID find this stuff interesting. Through the years I started to welcome the smell of kerosene lamps and the sound of foot-pedal sewing machines like old pals. I was hooked.
Now that I’m a mother, I encourage my kids the same way. We lay in the grass and find shapes in clouds. Examine leaves for signs of caterpillar munching. Collect more rocks than you can shake a stick at. And we also have a stick collection. One day soon, when they’re a tiny bit older, I’ll drag my sons to the ‘Burgs. I’ll extol the virtues of candle-dipping and they’ll roll their eyes at me. But maybe, just maybe, something on our trip will ignite a curiosity that will last.
Mothers hold a unique position in their children’s education, because they are out in the world with them in a way a school teacher can never be. Every vacation, walk through the backyard, or trip to the grocery store is an opportunity to learn something new. To give context for the world we live in.
As Dorothy Canfield Fisher says, “a mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary.” Here’s to moms everywhere, who never stop teaching us. Happy Mother’s Day.