I was raised by June Cleaver with fangs. Growing up, my mother had it in her head that I was going to grow up to be a by God genius, or she would die trying. She had my trying to imitate songs on a toy xylophone before I could barely sit up. She had my stuffed animals to pretend to play them, and then I had to try to repeat them. She worked with me incessantly with alphabet blocks; I was not yet walking when I could spell out simple words like “cat” and “dog” on my blocks. I actually frightened a babysitter with my preternatural abilities – she thought I was somehow possessed to be able to read and spell these words at such a young age. She had me work on writing numbers and letters when I was two or three. I remember going through some childhood things and finding a clipping she had made out of the LA Times describing “How to Raise a Supergenius”. I looked at mother. “What is this?” “Oh, she said airily, “I’m not sure what THAT’S doing in there.” She had been a French teacher and was teaching me words in French at the same time I was learning English.
When I got older, she started with other stuff. She started to teach me to cook when I was four or five or so. We baked cookies, made homemade bread and cooked dinner casseroles. When I was in the fourth grade she enrolled me in 4-H, an institution that most people don’t even remember anymore. I had to do baking projects with posters for them, and heaven forbid if my muffins had tunnels in them. I had to do speeches – I still remember one on savvy grocery shopping that began, “Tuna casserole again? This must be the end of the month!” I lost my fear of public speaking (if I ever had one) at a young age. I did projects in childcare, and most memorably, one on entomology where I caught and pinned bugs and labeled them with name and where they were caught. My daughter is still horrified that I actually deliberately killed insects. Mom also had me do meat judging, where we spent a large amount of time in freezing meat lockers identifying and judging cuts of meat.
At school, Mom insisted that I run for student office and had me making posters with stick on letters and writing campaign speeches. She coached me for hours for the school spelling bee. I was a very good speller. I still am – I almost never use a dictionary or spell check. I suppose I should.
She had me skip the third grade because she thought I was bored. They had already started a gifted and talented program, but that wasn’t enough. I spent the entire summer after second grade learning everything they taught in third grade and then some. My cursive was microscopically inspected. I took typing lessons and was rewarded with a Pixie Stix from a jar if I did well. She had me doing French lessons on a tape recorder while doing the dishes. I also had to do all my own laundry and mow the yard from the time I was tall enough to reach the respective machines.
I used to hide from my mom as best I could. I had hiding places scattered throughout the house (including pretending to be on the toilet), and would hole up with a book and read as long as I could before she caught me and gave me something to do. When I got older, my best friend from our neighborhood would hear my mom coming and whisper, “Hide!” And we would.
Mom also taught me how to sew. I was in elementary school when I was first introduced to a sewing machine. I made my own shorts, including zippers, and a really schnazzy sundress with pleats. She also taught me to embroider and I won a contest with an embroidered puppet that contained a sampler of stitches.
Despite the misery that Mom caused me in my childhood, I now look back and am grateful. I wish I remembered how to use the sewing machine. I would like to sew some stuff with my daughter. I am still a great cook, although I don’t cook as much as I might because I am kept at work until almost six PM every night. I can still embroider, and of course, it came in very handy to know how to do my own laundry. I am astonished at the number of our babysitters who can’t cook and have never been taught to use a washing machine. They go off to college not knowing how, and still bring their laundry home every weekend for their mom to do. My mom would never put up with THAT. I am so glad Mom taught me how to type. With the advent of the computer age, I am at a distinct advantage when time is an issue. And the public speaking was a great preparation for adult life. I do not fear speaking in public at all. I do not have even a little twinge of fear when I get up in front of a room full of people because I know I will soon have them eating out of my hand. I haven’t really thanked Mom for all her coaching, I think because I am still ambivalent about the amount of my childhood that was spent inside working on things that I didn’t really want to do. I do, however, drop little tidbits about how much I appreciate her support and some of the things that she has taught me. By my request, she plans to bring her sewing machine to my house and do a little sewing project with me and my daughter. So she still has things to teach me, and I am finally ready to learn.