"Don't ever leave the house with a run in your pantyhose."
Last month, I offered up this statement as an example of something my mother had taught me. It was a lie. My mother probably never said this to me.
But she never had to say it because as a rule, she refuses to leave the house with even a small run in her pantyhose. One Sunday I made myself late getting her for church after I discovered a ladder traveling up the back of my leg in the expensive ‘no run’ pair I was wearing. Thus, when asked to contribute to a group discussion about lessons learned at mother’s knee, this was the first thing that came to my mind.
Of course, I can think of plenty of things my mother did not teach me, like cooking. She rarely let me into the kitchen when she cooked, so everything I’ve learned has been through trial and error, very good cookbook recipes, and a few panicked phone calls to my late Grandma Wheeler, whose spirit I invoke whenever I fry chicken or wash pounds of greens in preparation for family holiday gatherings. My mother did not teach me how to do laundry, a fact that became clear when I attempted to wash my very first load in college and wasted at least two dollars in quarters despite successfully loading the washer with carefully sorted clothes but NO DETERGENT. My other late Grandma Hawkins taught me how to iron…bed sheets. My Mom might have tried to teach me how to keep a clean house, but clearly that is not a lesson I took to heart.
Wait, I think she taught me how to wash dishes, but if memory serves, it was my fastidious father who insisted that there was a proper way to stack them in the drying rack…so that probably qualifies as a lesson rendered by both parents.
Yet the essence of what I shared is true—that to my mother, leaving the house with some sort of correctable flaw, such as a run in one’s pantyhose would be a disgrace. Not merely a minor personal embarrassment, but a reflection of one’s [my] total disregard for one’s [my] appearance. An affront to common decency, laziness, slovenliness (hmm, I just remembered another lesson—use big words to make your point).
While the other group participants shared stories of mothers who endured hardships, made selfless personal sacrifices, and taught them the virtues of good citizenship and humanity, all I could think of was the aforementioned anecdote. (Allow me to explain the context of the exercise: My mother and I participate in a program for people with memory issues and their caregivers twice a month. The assignment was to offer some reflections about lessons learned from our mothers, which was meant as a memory exercise. As I was the only person present with my mother seated right next to me, I panicked under the pressure.)Seriously, I did want to provide a more sentimental answer but the truth is my mother has never been the ‘come sit by me and learn’ type of woman; she has always been the ‘look at me and try to keep up’ type of woman. The gushy moments in our relationship are few and far between.
And most gushy moments are best left to greeting card commercials. As I explained to the group, the lesson of the pantyhose is far more significant than to always present a polished look to the world. For example, every woman knows that pantyhose are eventually going to run, so the smart woman keeps extra pairs on hand just in case. Thus, my mother taught me to always be prepared. Cheap pantyhose will run after one wear, so the value-conscious woman will pay more in the short term for the better brands. The lesson: make wise investments in things you want to keep around for a while. Even the better brands of pantyhose can be delicate, so the cautious woman knows how to handle her hosiery with care. Hence, my mother taught me to pay attention to how I handle things so that they are not unduly harmed.Yes, this is just a sample of what I learned from watching my Mom. Or as she might explain it in her own words, she taught me to be systematic, methodical, economically shrewd, meticulous, and conscientious.
Another lesson I am learning now as I watch my mother’s struggles with dementia—to make the most of the life that we have. The past few months since her diagnosis have been challenging to say the least. There are good and bad days, and unfortunately, it is much easier to lament the bad days than it is to express gratitude for the good ones. This is not something either of us would have chosen, yet obviously we were chosen in order to fulfill some greater purpose. What that purpose might be is not for us to know at this point, but we are taking each day as it comes…with no runs in our pantyhose.