“listen- don’t talk – don’t get mad- just pray”
That what the index card said. It was taped to the cabinet door with all the other quotes and jokes that get my mom through her day. This particular card was new, though.
“So who’s making you mad?” I asked as we stood in the kitchen. My mom hesitated for a fraction of a moment. All of the things we haven’t been saying jumped into my mind.
“Oh, you know…” she turned away, putting a sauce pan in one of the cupboards. “I’m having to learn how to deal with your sisters.”
I knew what she was talking about, then. Both my sisters are still at home. For the past few years they and my mom have been grating on each other.
One sister doesn’t do her own laundry and cries when Mom and Dad try to push her to do more,. Or threaten to throw her out. She’s in her mid twenties, smart, funny, talented and apparently with no plans but to continue living in their garage forever.
The other sister is a year younger than her. She does a lion’s share of the work around the house, cooking, cleaning, gardening, teaching the little kids school. She seems to have taken it on as her personal identity. And anytime Mom has different ideas about how the house should be run, giant explosions result. She’s a loving person, running over with generosity and passion. She apparently has no plans but to continue living in their kitchen/garden/schoolroom forever.
My parents are getting old. Dad’s hair and beard are mostly white now. I can’t remember when that happened. Mom’s hair is full of sparkling silver threads. They are both tired in the evenings. Dad reads a book and falls to sleep. Mom puts the little kids to bed.
When we girls were young, and the other kids hadn’t come along yet, we used to talk with Mom a Iot. I remember the end of a long conversation with my mom, just her and me. I don’t remember what it was about, but Mom handed me a book (Where have all the children gone? Maybe?). With a quaver of emotion in her voice and a little flash in her eyes, she told me- when I read this book, I would be willing to die for this way of life.
I felt a wave of revulsion that I neither understood nor had the words to explain. I obediently went off and read the book.
I was the golden child, you see. The one who obeyed. The one who was diligent and never complained. The one my parents thought of to encourage themselves, when they were depressed. I had their approval.
I had carefully arranged myself to make sure that I would. I had other problems.
My sisters- I don’t know how it seemed from inside their heads. But from what I saw, the story was different for them. My smart, talented sister had chaffed under the endlessly repetitive drills of our home school curriculum and earned the stigma of being lazy. This stigma snowballed Into other things. She had been given a mountain bike. Biking together on the roads, the thick tires wouldn’t let her keep up with the rest of us on roadsters. Why was she slowing everyone else down? She was lazy.
But when mom gave us a book that was supposed to teach us composition by having us write a novel, she was the only one who finished. Mom, our teacher, who was supposed to be reading and grading our work, was too busy to bother reading it.
My sister had been so excited about her novel. She cried about it for what seemed like weeks afterwards.
I don’t remember much about the other sister. She was the youngest girl- but not the baby, because after her the boys were born. I think that by the time she was bumping her way through the system I had developed my strategy of tuning everything out and reading in a corner. I do remember her sitting under the table crying at the top of her lungs, with a voice that filled the whole house, and mom pouring a glass of cold water over her head. I remember her startled eyes and her gasp.
I had my parents approval. My sisters seemed like they were trying to get it.
Mom used to read Mary Pride and James Dobson and so many other books. She quoted verses about Women Being Saved Through Childbearing and gave us Beautiful Girlhood to read. America would be saved by girls becoming wives and mothers and cooking and cleaning and stuff. Children took orders from (‘honored’) their parents and the wife submitted to her husband, and the husband was the spiritual leader of the house (except our dad liked to watch television which was a horrible evil that endangered our souls)
And that was the future before us.
Except it was a future that never happened.
“I try not to let them get under my skin” Mom said. “I did they best I could, the best I knew, raising them. I had no idea the culture would shift so quickly.”
A note of bitterness came into her voice. “Now, boys are immature selfish jerks and don’t want to- to settle- and girls don’t want to marry immature jerks-”
I’m not sure which culture she means. Her homeschool mom-friends commiserate with her about how the up and coming home school boys in our area aren’t getting married. Does she mean them? But their culture is only as old as their parents. Does it really count as culture change when one generation tries an experiment and the generation who grew up in the experiment declines to repeat it?
I don’t really know.
“So here they are, at home still.” she finished.
She hesitated again for a moment.
“I feel guilty”