A Mother's Day thank-you

One day, I started borrowing ideas from great moms I knew, and I've never stopped.

Mahesh Kumar/AP
Motherhood: A woman in India played with her child on the eve of Mother's Day last year.

I am by nature a borrower. I grew up with six sisters, four brothers, and a loose notion of private property. There was very little that couldn't be borrowed if the request was made properly: a pair of skates, a pen that worked, a blouse, a dollar, a bike, a calculator, and, as I got older, card tables, a glue gun, a blow-up mattress, or a sleeping bag.

But then I moved out of state. Cut off from my siblings' clothes and table linens, I felt as if I had been sent into the wilderness with a fanny pack of cashew nuts and no flashlight.

I compensated by borrowing sugar or soy sauce probably more often than I should have, subconsciously trying to create sisters out of neighbors.

But as I look back on my 16 years of motherhood, I realize that I have borrowed more than can fit in a measuring cup. Some of these things are small, and some are so big and wonderful that they've changed my life. And not one of them can I return.

Before you think I have stockpiles of spices and pantyhose in my basement, let me say that what I have borrowed is ideas from other mothers.

Many years ago we had a gathering of mothers in our neighborhood to exchange ideas for easy dinners. The evening was a feast of free advice, mother to mother, and while there was much camaraderie, there was also a little competition: who was serving the healthiest snacks, who had the best ideas for birthday parties, and who had the best plan for chores and allowances.

That evening I realized I was severely deficient in my organizational abilities and mildly so in my mothering skills. But, as I'd learned as a girl, if your sister has a great pair of shoes, why try to buy a nicer pair? It's better to borrow hers. That's when I started borrowing ideas from great mothers I knew – and I've never stopped.

So here's a Mother's Day thank-you to all the moms who have loaned me their ideas: Some have made my household run smoother, some have made me a better mother, and some I have never implemented but hold out hope that one day I will – like a sister's jeans that don't fit yet.

These tips may be obvious to you, and you'll read them and think, "She didn't know that? Gee, what a nitwit!" I hereby acknowledge my incompetence and bless those who have taught me.

Thanks to the mother whose children are allowed downstairs for breakfast only when they are dressed for school.

Thanks to the mother who told me she does all the laundry on Mondays.

Thanks to the mother who knows her children love to be gently scratched on the arms and back, especially the boys.

Thanks to the mother who takes her teens out to eat to get them talking.

Thanks to the mother who throws grated carrots into smoothies and spaghetti sauce.

Thanks to the mother who told me (and this was a revelation), "Oh, you have to make your bed every day!"

Thanks to the mother who set the rule that her kids don't drive with anyone who hasn't been driving at least six months.

Thanks to the mother who keeps drop-offs (casserole dishes, letters, forms, left-behind socks) in her car rather than on her kitchen counter.

Thanks to the mother who makes sandwiches on Sunday night and freezes them for a week of school lunches.

Thanks to the mother (my own) who sang my two favorite songs in the world, "Nighty-Nite" and "Lula Bye Bye," to babies at bedtime and whose low, soothing voice I heard in my head when I sang them myself.

Thanks to the mother who spread a tablecloth every day after school, set out a snack of apples and good cheese, and sat down to talk with her children.

Thanks to the mothers who exclaimed over the beauty of my babies and the sweetness of my children, particularly on days when they irritated me. I've come to understand this as much more than a mere pleasantry; it is a sacred obligation of all mothers to other mothers.

Finally, thanks to all the wise mothers who gave me the best advice of all, advice that used to annoy me because it sounds clichéd, but that I now hold dear and tell others: "Enjoy every second. It's all gone in a flash."

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