My mother was not an old lady living in a shoe.
Unlike that old lady, who had so many children she didn’t know what to do, my mother only had three. And she knew just what to do with them – put them to work.
For the longest time, I thought my mother had me and my brothers for two reasons: she wanted children and she needed a workforce.
The day I began walking my mother, the taskmaster, told me to, “Put that bottle down and get to work.”
For the next few years, I thought the English language only consisted of the three-word sentences that my mother used. Go do that. Come do this. Hand me that. Pick that up. Put that down.
The tasks were never ending.
By the time my two brothers, Ken and Tony, came along a year and then two years later, I was ready to put in for my Social Security. Unfortunately, in those days, three-year-olds did not qualify for retirement.
I warned my brothers about the potential consequences of learning to walk, but they chose to ignore my warnings and walked their way into my mother’s workforce.
Two labor principles guided my mother’s workforce. The first principle was, if we could do it, she didn’t have to. The second principle was, do it right.
If we could cook, that meant she didn’t have to. So, although my grandmother constantly argued at my mother for not paying attention when she was trying to teach her to cook, my mother made sure my brothers and I knew how to cook.
If we could sweep and mop, then she didn’t have to. So she made sure we knew how to do both. Every Saturday morning, after cartoons went off, she sat and watched as we swept and mopped the living room, hallway, bathroom, kitchen, our bedroom, hers, and the front porch.
If we could wash our own clothes and then hang them outside on the clothesline, she didn’t have to. So, after we were done sweeping and mopping, we began sorting, washing, and then hanging up clothes. When the clothes were dry, we took them in, folded them, and then put them away.
My mother didn’t like ironing, so she taught us how to stand in a chair and iron.
She didn’t like doing the dishes, so we pulled that same chair up to the kitchen sink and washed dishes.
And she didn’t like looking at messy children’s bedrooms, so we made sure she didn’t see any messy children’s bedrooms.
Our mother wasn’t a perfect taskmaster. Her Achilles heel as a taskmaster was she didn’t like having to go behind us to straighten out a task we didn’t do right. So, because I was the oldest child and therefore labor supervisor, I always went behind my brothers to make sure our mother didn’t have to go behind us.
I was 11 when I discovered that there was no room for advancement in my mother’s workforce and that my mother had an Achilles heel. That’s when I stopped checking behind my brothers and I stopped trying to be her best unpaid employee. “We’re not doing all this work for free,” I informed my mother when she learned of the mutiny I was orchestrating.
“You don’t work for free,” she said. “You work because you live here. And you work because I buy you food and clothes.”
That ended the mutiny.
Like I said, my mother was not the old lady who lived in a shoe.