As the mother of eight children, my mother was the Queen of Social Distancing, or maybe the Queen of Setting Boundaries. Mama was the youngest nurse in her division in the army during World War II and mama knew how to delegate.
“The best nurse isn’t the nurse who works the most; the best nurse is the one who knows how to delegate.”
We had a summer farmhouse up in Maine and each vacation we would have a project. The first summer we took down the three brick chimneys. One child high on a ladder prying the crumbling bricks off the chimney, one catching the brick, cat-like on the ladder and scurrying across the creaking second floor to the child at the top of the staircase. That child was met by another who grabbed the bricks and darted down the uneven steps to the child at the back door who passed it off to the child who ran back and forth to the brick pile behind the apple trees….
Mama set the tone.
“Would you rather remember that you lived in a clean house, or would you rather remember all the fun you had growing up?”
Our house was clean enough to be sanitary but it was a jumble of books, magazines, academic papers, scattered socks, and more books.
Mama was in the thick of our lives. Teaching us how to spit in puddles by age two, how to throw jack-knives by kindergarten, and how to drive before turning thirteen.
Most important, mama taught us that she needed time to herself.
In Maine, she took to the woods, tin bucket in one hand, shovel and hatchet in the other. Sometimes she found buried bottles from the last century. Sometimes she came out of the woods with little pine trees nestled in the bucket.
“These will look perfect near the driveway!”
At home in the suburbs, her escape was more private.
One of us children would open a closet to put our clean clothes away and there would be mama, perched on a stool with a bag of Fritos. She would look up at the space between us and freeze, deer-like, with one arthritic hand half-in the bag.
We knew to shut the door and place the clothes on the bed, knowing that mama would emerge from the closet ready to play.