So recently my darling Hil (unable to do links at the mo’) was talking about her adventures in home repairs and being handy. I was startled when she spoke of her growing up years and how few DIY skills she’d learned as a youngin. Shocking because having met Hil’s folks and visited their home it was love at first sight for me. And to think there would be anything deficient about growing up in the ivy-covered brick fairytale house of my dreams owned by the parents I’d assumed I’d been stolen from because they were EXACTLY what I always wished mine were- brilliant, erudite, liberal, socially engaged, artistic…well, it was odd.
Odder still was realizing that I HAD been taught the skill set that Hil said she hadn’t gotten.
Oddest of all? The one who’d taught me was my mother.
Yes, THAT mother. The heretofore bane, enemy, and windmill I’d forever set my lance against- my horrible mother.
Over the past decade or so I’d made my peace with my mother’s memory. In that I stopped feeling so terribly ripped off and abused. I’d let go of my hurt and resentment and had actually gotten around to feeling a little bad for her over the stunted life she’d chosen to lead. But grateful to her? Not a fucking chance.
It seems though I do owe her. As a moral compass and protector of my physical and emotional self, um, no. But as a combo of Suze Orman, Heloise, and Bob Vila? She did a damn fine job teaching me a myriad of life skills and it’s about time I acknowledged that.
My mother was a veritable fount of practical knowledge. She taught me how to fix, tend, clean, mend, set up, break down, move, balance, shop, save, cook (a little), all manner of hacks on how to maintain a home, how to manage my finances, and how to groom myself and curate a wardrobe…gads, I see now she never stopped teaching me. The same thing I do with my own kids. Who knew?
At the time and for all these years afterward I scorned my dippy addict shallow callow mother’s teachings as the product of a control freak who was all about how things LOOKED but who had nothing to say or give about how things felt or what they meant.
All true, but this does not mean that everything she taught me is without merit. In this I was dead wrong and say sorry.
My mother taught me a lot. More than that, what she taught me was transferable. Expandable. I’ve applied what she taught me in a myriad of ways in areas she’d never even known existed, but that doesn’t make my debt of gratitude any less. Magellan circumnavigated the globe and his contribution to science and geography doesn’t change just because we now have satellites.
I know for certain she kept hoping a man would show up and relieve her of having to do most of this stuff. Her whole existence was bent around catching and holding a man. (She was terrible at this, btw. My mother was a shmuck and a doormat and encouraged me and my sisters to be the same. She never stopped hoping Prince Charming would drop by and stay forever.) In the meantime (and even during, the men she ‘caught’ were users, lazy man-babies, and two of them were pedophiles) my mother persevered. Also for certain she taught me most of this because she didn’t want to do it any more and was grooming me to be the ‘wife’. In this my mom was successful. By 9 years old I did the laundry, the food shopping, most of the cooking, I cleaned house, balanced her checkbook, wrote checks and mailed the bills, made doctors’ appointments, bought stamps and mailed packages, dropped off and picked up prescriptions and her dry cleaning, minded my younger sister, stayed home from school to wait for the super/phone guy/carpet cleaner, and 6-10 times a month went to my own job as a child model.
By 12 I could change her car’s oil, negotiate with a landlord, file taxes, register myself and Gidget for school, use a rented steam cleaner, change a flat, and use that same tire iron to protect my sister from pedophile #2.
This is not a list saying, “Oh poor me!” I’m saying that by the time I left home I had a practical skills set that has served me well. And I have my mother to thank. Because of her I know how to save a sweater from a nasty pulled thread. (Snag the pull with a bobby pin and pull the protruding thread back inside the sweater). I know how to fold a fitted sheet. (Tuck each elastic pocket corner neatly inside each other. Smooth lopsided rectangle into tidy rectangle. Fold in thirds.) Long before the grocery stores put it on the shelf tags my mother taught me how to figure out the unit price of things. The equation to figure out the cost per ounce isn’t difficult. Ditto the equation of cost per use. Don’t know that one? Let me explain. A sparkly sassy party dress was originally $120 and is marked down to $50. A classic camel’s hair coat is $500 at full retail. You’d think you’re getting the bargain with the party dress, right? Pay attention! You wear the party dress twice. Even at clearance price that dress is $25 per use! Now the coat. A good camel’s hair coat in a classic cut will last 20 years. $500 / 20= $25. Let’s say you wear that coat 40 times a year. That’s .62 per wearing. 62 cents vs $25. The coat is the far better bargain despite the initial outlay.
M y mom taught me that.
She taught me how to find a wall stud by knocking the walls and using a magnet. She taught me to use a molly and wall anchors when hanging pictures and heavy stuff. And what of the walls? My mom always negotiated our rent for our apartments by offering our place as the model apartment. We had gorgeous furniture and kept our place spotless. In exchange for letting prospective tenants into our place we were allowed to paint the walls and ceilings much more flattering colors than ‘apartment’ white. Thus our places had cocoa beige ceilings and wall colors appropriate to our décor. I always scoffed at this bullshit when we moved (which was often) but ultimately I leaned how to tape and use a cardboard edger, and understand the importance of flattering lighting.
I could go on for pages. My point today is that there is no perfect. Parents? I truly believe most do their best. They pass on what they know and make an effort to pass along what they WISHED they’d been taught and instead learned by hard experience. Parents teach their children what they thought they’d been gypped out of and what they hope their own kids get to have.
Alex will never acknowledge the base level lessons he learned about economics, car maintenance, cooking, banking, grooming, or real estate, God, why would he? He hates and rejects me far harder than I ever did my own mother who left me to fend myself against actual pedophiles who raped and sodomized me. But whatever. Alex has his arguments and issues. Perhaps when I am dead and safely gone he might forgive me as I have my own mother. Besides, I DO have a kid who loves and appreciates me and I am slobberingly grateful for him. My life isn’t a complete waste of experience and knowledge. Sebastian has his shit, absolutely. But when he looks at me he sees a mom who tried. Sebastian is on Team Mick. And Team Mom.
In any case this post’s point is about gratitude. My unexpected gratitude for the practical knowledge my mother passed on to me. How to polish floors. How to set a table. How to scuff the soles so you don’t slip in a new pair of shoes. Why an evening bag is smaller than a daytime bag. How to mine a clearance rack. The proper wording in a thank you note and a resume. How to iron a shirt and register a car. How to use a hammer, a drill, and carbon paper. How to lay tile and how to switch collars on your coat for any/every occasion. My silly mother taught me to stand up straight and how to make pretty good coffee.
No lie, my mother’s priorities and morals sucked. To use a cliché, she knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing. But what I failed to value was all the gut level skills she taught me. Even though I choose not to, thanks to her I know how to make hospital corners.
Sometimes a little can be enough. Much love, ~LA