As I’m sure you can understand, my mother is frequently on my mind lately. Several times a day I think of something I want to tell her—but I can’t. So I’ll keep sharing some of my memories of her here.
Often, when my alarm goes off in the morning, I think of my mother. As you know, most of my education took place at various boarding schools starting in third grade, but during the times that I lived at home as a teenager and young adult, getting up was a real challenge, as it so often is for people that age.
My dad’s method of rousing me from slumber was very direct. Pummeling my bedroom door incessantly with his fists of thunder, he would accompany the horrendous pounding by heartily bellowing a wake-up song to the tune of “Reveille.” I had mere seconds to leap from my bed and appear at the door upright and with eyes open before he moved to Phase 2, which involved stomping into my room and ripping the covers off my cowering body. Dad only had to wake one of us up this way in the morning. If it was me, my brothers knew to jump out of their beds and appear at their doors before he started pounding. No one could sleep through that din.
My mother, however, was much less direct. Hers was a kindler, gentler method. In fact she rarely if ever actually told me to get up. During the year I lived at home and worked between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I obviously had to get up in time to make it to work every day. In order to get there on time, let’s say I had to leave the house by 6:45 (I had to be at work downtown by 7:30).
I would set my little watch alarm for 6:00, knowing I could push the five-minute snooze at least a couple of times. If I had not appeared in the public area of the house by 6:15, my mother would stand outside my door and I’d hear a polite little tap, followed by her quiet voice saying, “Linda, it’s 6:15.” She always spoke quietly so as not to wake any of my brothers who might still be sleeping.
“Okay,” I’d say, glancing at my watch to verify that it was indeed 6:15. Then I’d pass out again until the next time my watch alarm went off or until my mother felt the need to return. “Linda, it’s 6:22.” If I still failed to appear, the announcements would come closer together. “Linda, it’s 6:27.” “Linda, it’s 6:31.”
She never yelled, never told me I was a worthless lazy so-and-so, never ordered me to arise from my bed. She just continued in her self-appointed task as a talking clock, giving me the opportunity to make my own life choices. I knew I could go from lying in bed to walking out the door in under ten minutes. I don’t think I was ever late to work.
My mother also used this indirect method when it came to household chores. If the dishes weren’t washed in a timely manner, she’d say, “Did you remember that it’s your turn to wash the dishes?” Or, “I noticed that the living room hasn’t been vacuumed yet.” These seemingly innocuous observations were a warning. Failure to act on the implied instruction would result in escalation in the form of my dad’s involvement. As you have no doubt gathered, he wasn’t subtle at all. I learned to recognize my mother’s gentle comments for what they were—inflexible commands which if ignored would lead to consequences.
I think her goal in using this approach was to encourage us to become self-motivated, rather than to only do things out of fear of reprisal. As much as possible, she made it my responsibility to make the right choices, rather than forcing them upon me. I have always appreciated that.