The silent builders

. January 24, 2013.

I came across an article recently about the great cathedrals. While reading about these amazing fortresses, the job title my Dad officially gave my Mom years ago of “Domestic Engineer” came to mind. Many of the cathedral builders died before their work was finished. Like them, my Mom showed up for work every day as a stay-at-home mom, with the realization that she may not always see the results of her labors. God knows her daughter is still a work in progress.

Mom gave us a solid foundation that holds us firm and enables us to reach great heights. OK, maybe heights of mediocrity at times, but we always aim high with the knowledge she supports us with immense strength equal to any flying buttress beam. Thanks to her I was able to walk into motherhood knowing what I must possess to get the job done.

Adventurous obstacles

Determination is vital even if faced with obstacles. I am certain that a stoic example of strife and resilience should follow here but the one that comes to mind is wallpapering the kitchen in our Canadian cabin. Mom and I came up with the brilliant idea of putting appliqués of bears, moose and trees in a perfect line around the perimeter of the kitchen to add a bit of charm to our wilderness retreat. The obstacle before us (actually taken out from the top cabinet) was a beverage called Frangelico. The brown bottle looked like a friar complete with hanging tassel around his “middle.” We sipped Frangelico while we began our perfectionist quest of a bear, moose, tree, bear and moose tree pattern. Being “one and done” lightweight drinkers (part of the inherited DNA) that we are, soon we were calling Frangelico “Mr. Monk” and the new order of papering became bear, bear, bear, moose, tree, moose, “Oh, that will look fine if you just tilt your head to the side a bit.” The next morning my Dad, who was last in line when patience was being handed out, asked, “What the heck happened?!” when he saw our decorating disaster. My Mom looked at him with great conviction and stated, “we were Monked.”

Essential resources

Resourcefulness is also essential in mothering. My youngest, who could be the poster girl for ADD, is highly focused except when she is in need of something or someone. We were dining in a resort in northern Ontario. Please note a “resort” in our neck of the woods means they have an oversized checkerboard to amuse the kids, a few cabins that include indoor plumbing and a 90 percent chance that someone will be wearing shoes back in the kitchen. We were waiting for our dinner on the outdoor deck surrounded by unsuspecting guests who were under the misconception they were seated next to a “normal” family. It is then that Maria began complaining about her bug bites. Like a heat-seeking missile she would not veer off course until finding her target goal of anti-itch lotion. My Mom, aka Noni, was the first to cave and she began rummaging through the abyss known as a purse and emerged with a tube of cream and demanded “here put this on your bites!” Maria happily took her conquest from Noni and began slathering her arms. Her sister then grabbed the tube from her and declared in a booming horrified voice, “NONI! This is “VI GEYE NILE” cream. My middle child, always the perfectionist, quickly corrected her saying, “Lauren, it’s called “VAGINAL.” I’m certain the now glaring guests did not need clarification.

Mothering is not for the faint hearted. You have to be tough. When she found her teenage son cornered on the roof by a raccoon after he had tried to sneak out to see his girlfriend, she acted with calm and decorum. My Mom also demonstrated nerves of steel when doing the laundry one afternoon. She opened the dryer door and the seventh grade head of my brother’s classmate, Paul Scheer, peeked out and said, “SHHHHHH! They’ll never find me in here!” It’s amazing my Mom isn’t in a home by now hoping it’s fruit cup day.

All you need is love

The Beatles said it best with “All You Need is Love.” Of course mothers may question this after the hours that soon turn into years of the thankless tasks that come with the job description. I think my Mom at times forgets she was once the college graduate who put my Dad through his last year of schooling. She was the elementary teacher and tutor
who dished out heaping helpings of patience and inspiration. Sometimes you lose sight of yourself as you focus on the important task of building a family’s foundation. My Mom constructed walls of warmth and rooms full of laughter using love and faith to seal them together. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom and to the mothers who hold down the fort through the storms of life. Keep the faith, share the love and use duct tape if necessary. You are the silent builders.

Mary Helen can be reached c/o