My mother was a beacon of right and wrong, love and anger long before I knew the words. When I find myself honing habits of nutrition, organizing, tidying up, grooming, anger and forgiveness, I realize the first teacher for many of these habits was my mother. 

She was not a lounging-about mom, a tv-watching mom, or a sit down and chat mom. Dad was an authentic model for that. My mother was pretty much always in motion. Cleaning, sewing, preparing meals, polishing furniture, overseeing the activities of her three girls, dancing. Even in her senior years, these habits continued. “Saturday morning, time to change the sheets and towels.” Something about this orderliness appealed to me. 


Finding a Balance with Habits

Like my mother I am challenged to find the balance. Periodically I have to examine habits to make sure they are still worth the space, ease, or free time they provide. Some gleanings from habit review: A visit to the naturopath can streamline vitamin intake. Daily “straightening up” is absolutely not necessary. Never feel guilty doing that last-minute check in the mirror. You can love from a distance. Forgiveness erases stomachaches and over-ruminating about the past. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.  

A Treasure from Mom

In my annual spring housecleaning and closet decluttering (a Mom-modeled habit) I found medical folders and journals we kept when my mother was in a nursing home for the last 5 years of her life. Also among them were her journals and this: The Story of a Lifetime: A Keepsake of Personal Memoirs by Pamela and Stephen Pavuk.

Using the Treasure

During the last two years of her life my two sisters and I took turns visiting Mom almost every day. Some days were quite fun if Mom was “up.” The we’d visit in the activity room with me pushing her wheelchair, tell stories from her childhood or teen years, or marriage, or she’d mimic the habits of one of the residents. 

Some days were tedious. She was querulous, or snippy about a supposed insult or neglect. I am sure I’d be querulous too. Recalling the past through this book was a wonderful distraction and chance to learn more about this remarkable woman in her ninth decade. Only in the past ten years had she became open and verbally introspective with me about her life. 

I’d sit and put on my “secretary” glasses. “Good morning, Mrs. Erickson. Shall we do the storybook today?” As “secretary“ I read a question and wrote her answer down verbatim. She rarely sniffed and turned away. 

Most often, she’d turn to me and sit up a bit straighter. “Yes, what’s the question?” Or she’d introduce her own topic and I’d write furiously. “You will write down everything I say- no censoring?” she’d ask with suspicion and a tiny glint in her eyes. “Yes, every word.”

My mother’s words have her “voice.” The other night I sat and read the book. I am moved by her honesty. Sometimes her answer was a quick No. Okay, on to the next question. Sometimes the reply led us through a stream-of-consciousness maze. I loved those. She did test the no-censoring, but hey, her book, her words. Quite a few mysteries were cleared up as I did this with her and read over questions she answered with my twin and older sister. This book is a treasure.


Sunday May 14- Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and all those people who have mothered me and countless others.

  • “The world needs our mothers.” —Liya Kebede
  • “A mother is always the beginning. She is how things begin.” —Unknown
  • “There is no way to be a perfect mother, and a million ways to be a good one.” —Jill Churchill
  • Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. These days, in Tucson Arizona, she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Artists Standing Strong Together, and anywhere there’s a mic or a Zoom room.