Mine-sweeping, and Other Skills of Motherhood

Only a mother knows how to replace the toilet-paper roll when it runs out. At least, I assume this is so, since I'm the only person in our house who ever does it.

As a mother, I've developed all kinds of skills I never dreamed of possessing when I was a child. Things like turning out all the lights before I leave the house. And checking to make sure the stove is turned off before I go to bed. I used to think my mother was the only person who did stuff like that.

If my 8- or 11- or 16-year-old self could see me now, gathering up bits of food around the kitchen drain and throwing them in the trash (as opposed to shoving them down the drain and hoping it didn't clog in the next few moments, when it would obviously be my fault), well, she'd be amazed. Most amazing of all, I can find things.

Only a mother knows how to find things. When my teenage daughter comes to me in despair, saying she can't find her new sandals, I just go in her room with her, open the closet door, and point to the shoe rack. ("How was I supposed to know they were actually put away?" she complains.)

When my seven-year-old son asks me, "Have you seen my Micro Man's helmet?" I astound myself by answering, "It's in the bottom right-hand drawer in the front hall desk, inside my thimble." Motherhood has turned me into a mine-sweeper. I'm constantly patrolling our house and noting out-of-place objects, filing away their whereabouts for future reference.

My children know how to do many wonderful things. They both play the piano and sing in their school choirs. They are talented writers and good conversationalists. I just wish sometimes that they'd develop certain domestic skills. Things like putting the cap back on the toothpaste, putting the milk back in the refrigerator, and sending thank-you notes when their relatives send gifts at Christmas.

I try to be patient, as I know these things don't change overnight. I, for instance, had been a mother for several years before I was able to make gravy on my own. (I used to have to phone my mother and have her talk me through it.) I'm sure the time will come when my kids leave their muddy boots outside the front door on rainy days.

IT'S comforting to think that when she leaves for college, my daughter might actually pack her own suitcase without suddenly discovering that all her tights are in the laundry, and that by the time she graduates, she might know the difference between fabric softener and liquid bleach.

Only a mother whose children have left home knows how to listen to a piece of music without interruption. Or how to plant a flower bed in the full confidence that no one will drop a basketball on it. Or how to open the hall closet door without bracing for a rain of tennis rackets and other hastily stowed objects to pour out. I'm sure it will be satisfying to know how to do these things. I'm in no hurry for that time to come, though. For now, I'm happy to use the knowledge I have.

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