My mom used to spring me out of kindergarten early each day. After our noon nap, I’d hear her whispering with my teacher. That was my cue to roll up my mat and head towards the door. We’d walk out to our station wagon, my mom chatting the whole way. “I just need to pick up a few things…” or “Did you know what I saw on the way over here?” She spoke to me like a peer, a close friend she could confide in, teaching me as much as possible without my ever realizing it.
I never knew where we’d be going. Sometimes we’d drive straight home, but just in case she wanted to stop at a clothing store, she kept a little stool in the back of the car light enough for me to carry. Once inside, I’d unfold it and take a seat while she shopped a rack, and for that precious hour or so, I was the only one she was speaking to and I loved it.
I am the youngest of five with an eight year spread between my oldest brother and me. When we were all together, my older siblings looked out for me but that year, on those school day afternoons, it was just my mom and me and I felt like her favorite. The thing is… she had a way of making each of us feel that way. She really, really loved her kids. When other moms complained about their children being home all summer, my mom would reply, “I love having them around” and we knew she really meant it.
Still, I don’t think she would have been a big fan of home schooling. Covid in general would have freaked her out, but having to follow a lesson plan or sit down to teach us a particular subject would have been a challenge. My mom was smart, super smart, but she always said she could never be a teacher. “It just takes too much patience,” but that doesn’t mean we never learned anything from her.
My mom was a walking, talking information spewing machine. She was always correcting our English or sharing a fact about something she read in the paper, learned from one of her books or saw on an educational television show. She knew something about everything, and she was constantly sharing all of it with us.
She told us things to protect us and, in some ways, it worked.
My mom was the person who taught me ecosystems must be respected and without the smallest of creatures, they would fall apart. We couldn’t drive past a lot being cleared for construction without her saying, “Every time I see this, all I can wonder is what happens to all the creatures in there? All the plants, insects and animals that are losing their homes! Where will they go? Doesn’t anyone realize those creatures have nowhere else to go?”
When she put it that way, it made us think. I mean, who cares about plants or trees in a field? Once she explained that those housed insects and animals we need to survive her concerns became real.
Isn’t that the best teaching method? Once we care about something, it makes us more curious and that helps us learn.
No, having us do a bunch of multiplication problems wasn’t her style but showing us that clearing hundreds of trees and plants from a field equals losing thousands of creatures from one lot, well that got us thinking.
She was a Registered Nurse and corrected us whenever we told our friends, she used to be one. “A nurse is always a nurse.”
Way before Melinda Gates showed us how to wash our hands my mom was teaching us all about the “sterile field” and the importance of keeping our hands clean.
We were constantly being told to cover our coughs, never touch our face and to always wash our hands because once dirty hands touched something else, well “That’s how germs spread.”
The fact that droplets carry viruses is nothing new to my siblings and me. Decades before Covid-19 made the news my mother told us all about the bugs people spread just by talking. My parents threw a lot of parties complete with plenty of booze and a lavish spread, but my mom would never, ever let us save the food that had been out on the table all night.
“People spray saliva all over when they talk. God knows what’s all over those crackers.” It killed her to throw it away, but she just couldn’t serve it to anyone later. Trust me, had composting been accessible then, it would have ended up there.
Even the most gorgeous buffets in the swankiest restaurants were germ pools to her. As soon as she told us the plexi-glass propped up over them was called a sneeze shield, well, none of us could eat from one again.
“Plus, you just don’t know who touched that cantaloupe without washing their hands.”
Long nails were bacteria traps and to her, getting a manicure was the equivalent of having a small surgical procedure. My sisters and I tried to talk her into getting one with us, but she could never go thru with it. She knew in most salons, the tools they used were rarely sterilized and she just couldn’t let them touch her.
Traveling stressed her out and she was compelled to wipe everything down wherever she went; public doorknobs, public desks, public railings and even the occasional sink in a public bathroom. This was decades before sanitizing wipes were highly coveted items, so she always carried a ball of tissue in her purse just in case something needed a swipe.
They came in handy for more than cleaning suspicious surfaces too. If one of us sneezed, the ball would come out and we’d give her a look like, “I’m good!” but she’d have none of it. She’d lift her hand toward us and say, “Wipe! And be sure to wash your hands as soon as you get home.” Once in the house she’d suds up like a surgeon and make sure we did too.
Back then, she may have sounded eccentric and even a little bit crazy but today, she could be running the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.
I’m pretty sure my mom would have found a way to teach us something from all we’re going through now.
First, she would tell us how we got here. “When you kill off so many species, the bugs they carry are bound to seek new homes.”
She’d be distraught about how our planet is coping these days and donating to every organization she could to save every animal on it.
As for wearing masks, social distancing and washing your hands, well, she’d be all over all of it. Seeing thousands of people close together on a beach or any politician not wearing a mask would have made her incredibly upset. “Stupid!”, she’d say and much more, I’m sure.
She knew information was power and the only way to solve problems was to be clear, honest, insightful, and informed. She’d be listening to the scientists and pleading with everyone to stop making Covid-19 yet another divisive, political issue.
After we moved out, and before cell phones, my mom did her best to connect with her kids. Her favorite form of communication was writing letters and in every single one, she’d include a newspaper clipping along with ten dollars. I can’t tell you how many times that ten bucks came in handy, but it was those articles she sent that made us realize her need to keep teaching us never stopped.
Once cell phones came around, I found myself speaking with my mom daily. I’d call her from my car after seeing a client just to hear her voice and catch up on the day. I always thought I was the only one she spoke so much with but after she died, we all talked about missing those daily chats.
Like those afternoons so long ago, when it was just she and me, those five minutes of one on one are what I miss the most. It’s funny but even as an adult, when life gets stressful I long to hear my mom. I know she’d be the one to calm me down and help me find the positive from all we’re going through today.
Most importantly, I know she would tell me, “It’s going to be OK” and she’d be right.
This too shall pass, and as long as we follow the science, we’re all going to be OK.
– Germaine Caprio, MAJAMAS EARTH Company Owner & Designer
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What words of wisdom has your mom passed down to you?
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