If you frequent 18th-century forts, fireside chats, or trade fairs, chances are you’ve run across a dirty, raggedy, snaggle-toothed Irishwoman named Maggie Delaney who cheerfully demonstrates colonial laundry methods or educates the public on the horrors of indentured servitude.
If you haven’t met her, then you and I are in good company. I’ve actually never met her, either.
Now this is sort of complicated. Maggie Delaney is my mother. But no—she isn’t my mother. My mother is Carol Jarboe—who sometimes comes to my home wearing Maggie’s clothes, kisses me and my husband and my babies quickly before running upstairs to wash all that dirt off, then come back downstairs the lady I have known my whole life as Mommy.
But it occurred to me recently that maybe—just as I know of Maggie, but haven’t met her—maybe this woman I call “mom” is just as unknown to me. Not because I haven’t met her (obviously) but perhaps because my own naivete and self-centeredness has simply caused me to see her through a darkened lens. Like the child in that touching Mothers Day video, I have always seen her through the frame of my own life.
Let me explain.
Last week I was standing in the kitchen, cooking lunch for the family and reading this article on the growth of the homeschooling movement. According to research, the number of homeschoolers in the US has increased by 75% since 1999. (Aha! I think to myself.) Currently, 4% of the population teaches their children at home.
Woah, woah, woah. My kitchen and everything in it came to a screeching halt. 4%? That’s it?
Upon reflecting, it does of course make sense that the number would be small, but since I was raised in the homeschooling community and am still mostly surrounded by it, I never really considered how rare it actually is. And if the number of homeschoolers reaching 4% of the population is considered an “uprising”, then what must it have been twenty-something-odd years ago when my own mother took it upon herself to pull us out of our private school and teach us at home?
Suddenly I was doing a double-take at my memory of Mom teaching us the three R’s in our living-room-turned-schoolroom and it’s like I had suddenly realized she’s wearing brass knuckles and a leather jacket. Because taking on homeschooling when hardly anyone you know does it, when your family isn’t supportive, when there’s no blogs and no Pinterest and hardly even curriculum fairs because there’s only, like, three different ones to choose from anyway is NOT FOR WIMPY PEOPLE.
I would use a word right now, but because my Mama raised me better I’ll just say “bad-backside” instead. It’s pretty BAD-BACKSIDE.
Once my perspective shifted, I couldn’t stop it. When you grow up in a particular environment, you can’t help but take it for granted because it’s all you’ve known. But I could see now that things I considered normal or even commonplace were hardly that. Oh, I’ve known for a long time that Mom was different. Don’t get me wrong. But now I get it—I really get it. I get what she did.
When my sister and I were babies, she memorized a poem a week to recite to us. (Even today, when I read “The Willow Cats” to Elder Muse, it’s her voice I hear.) She went back to school to finish her degree so she could quit her job to stay home and teach us. She also ran the farm during the day while Dad was working full-time. She taught us the classics and exposed us to Music, real Music, the kind you can sink your teeth into and set your clock by, not “Devil Music” (that one is for you, you know who you are.) She taught us to swing dance in the living room with the green carpet and showed me how to make fried chicken. She drove me to ballet when I wanted to become a Prima Ballerina; later she drove me all over God’s green Earth to find a college with the major I wanted. Also, she once broke up a fight outside a mall when no one else would intervene. I’m telling you.
All this time my mom was a ROCKSTAR for crying out loud, and I didn’t even realize it because it was my “normal.”
Someone asked me recently what I had gleaned from my homeschooling experience and I didn’t answer because the answer was “EVERYTHING.” And that sounds like a cop-out answer, but it’s true. For me, there is no line between what schooling was and what it wasn’t our home life was our school life was our work life and Mom made it her priority and without it I wouldn’t be the person I am.
And right there in my kitchen, I had to laugh, because all of a sudden I remembered Maggie and I realized I knew her all along, that cheery, wild woman who overcame devastating hardships for the education and betterment of those around her. She’s my mother. And I love her.