My Mother Made Me a Thinker

by Bryn Watkins

Given the nature of my workplace (I’m a dancer), bloody toes come as often as the days go by. And the other day after rehearsal, looking down at my friend’s tragic collection of corns and blisters and cracked toenails, without thinking I blew the blisters a kiss and said, “Sana sana colita de rana, si no sana hoy sanará mañana.”

“Heal, heal, tail of a toad, if it doesn’t heal today it will heal tomorrow.” I know: it loses a bit in the translation. But trust me on this, that little rhyme totally works; my friend’s blisters would disappear overnight, no question. Now what was that Mexican proverb doing in my vernacular, here on the underbelly of the planet in New Zealand? My inner voice intoned the answer: “Mommmmm!”

Well, that’s not the first time I’ve found myself paying unconscious tribute to my mother in my casual, everyday habits. For example, I made cookies recently, which happens infrequently enough that I found myself reflecting on the activity as I mixed in the eggs. “If I don’t bring a plate of these to my neighbors, were they ever made at all? It’s like ‘if a tree falls in the woods…’ I’ll share them with my flatmates, though, for sure. If I ever get any in the oven, I guess… I mean, what exactly is meant to keep me from eating all the dough before I put any on a baking sheet? Adulthood is so freeing. Okay, gradually add the flour mixture… I don’t think my mixer should be making that sound… Gosh, I’m so domestic. So appropriate for Mother’s Day! And I’m using this recipe my mom taught me, too. Killing it on the homage-paying front.”

So, it’s true. In my mind, cookies equal Mom. But before I start telling myself that baking counts as an appropriate activity to pay homage to my mother, I need to take a step back and consider the other rooms my mom has occupied besides the kitchen.

So, let’s see what else I did that day.

Earlier, while I waited for my butter to soften, I went to a museum with a friend. We spent a couple hours soaking in good art and then discussing it while we wandered between exhibits. I love museums, so exhibit-wandering makes for a pretty golden afternoon in my mind. Next to that museum is the central library—I love that place too. I’d been to that museum-library square three times just that week alone. I also love schools; when I visited Sydney, Australia, last year I spent three hours tragically lost as I wandered down Oxford Street just trying to find the University of Sydney, where I knew I wouldn’t only find the Macleay Museum but also a buzzing university campus to boot. Not that I was enrolled—I just really like the vibe you get on college campuses. It’s the best. I also love going to any used bookstores and free lectures I can stumble across; I love listening to podcasts and class series on iTunesU. My nerdiness doesn’t stop there—the other night, in a self-consciously but unavoidably pretentious effort to share my favorite poetry with a friend, I read the entirety of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Renascence” out loud, pretending I was cool enough to do something like that and not come off as totally full of myself. It’s just that I really love that poem. It’s beautiful.

The thing is, I don’t think any of this is incidental. My mother makes some great cookies, but I think between my brothers and me, she’s also made some very active, itchy brains. My mom taught me to read the plaques at museums and to devour books. She taught me to participate insistently in my learning, wherever that may occur—on a campus or otherwise. She always kept NPR running in the car so, whether I was seven or seventeen, we could be mutually conscious of the news breaking around the world. By profession, she teaches, but when in my senior year my French class needed a tutor in the middle of the school day, she volunteered her time free of charge. She’s trilingual, and I can barely conjugate in English, much less French. Never mind that her undergraduate degree is in Spanish.

In addition, my mom may have taught me how to use pudding mix to make cookies (as I did that night), but she also taught me how to use my awareness of others to share them. Every Christmas my siblings and I were tasked with creating cards for our neighbors and with secretly dropping goodies on our friends’ doorsteps. The one Christmas I’ve spent away from home, I couldn’t keep myself from following tradition, so I grabbed a buddy and set off with plates of cookies. To this day, my mom spends many December days preparing dozens of cookie mixes for friends because she prizes kindness above anything else. So, yes. Cookies equal mom. But as you can see, there is much more to that association than my memories of mixing dough and snitching chocolate chips.

I burned my cookies a little bit that evening, but I don’t think that needs to infringe on my Mother’s Day homage. My life is already so full of references to mom that I don’t even consciously realize it as I go about my days, selecting my podcast for the morning or my book for the night. I liked using my hands in the kitchen, but even more, I like using my brain and my heart every day I participate in my world. And my mom taught me to do all of that.

I know better than to think my mom is the only one who’s shaped her children by her eager engagement in learning and growth. I love that mothers everywhere have done that for their children. Mothers are the first to pull the cord on that brain-engine, and if we really want to pay homage to that effort, we’ll keep it going every opportunity we get.

So let me say it again, even if it doesn’t fully align with what’s on the calendar: Happy “Ladies Who Are Engaged in the World and Teach Other People to Be That Way Too” Day! ¡Celebremos!

5 Comments on “My Mother Made Me a Thinker

  1. Oh, how blessed I am to have as my daughter your mom to whom you have paid such a marvelous and deserving tribute. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful memories of a mother who taught you the fine and wonderful facts of a life worth living and of giving to others.

  2. Your mom makes fantastic cookies. And fantastic children. Specifically the girl kind.

  3. proud to know you…and proud to know her! You are both exceptionally people! xo

  4. What the heck! Why didn’t anyone warn me BEFORE I put on the mascara?

  5. What a beautiful tribute to your mom and moms everywhere who love and inspire charity and a thirst for knowledge. The world would be a better place if the occupation of “mom” was held to a higher esteem. Thank you for sharing!

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