Dear Rapt Readers: Thank you for letting me know how moved you were (even to tears) by the column I wrote last Mother’s Day on the one who gave birth to me. You know who you are and I will never forget your phone calls.
My mom, Freda, was a hard working God-fearing devoted farm wife for more than 60 years. She was a great cook, a raiser of baby chicks, geese and turkeys, a gardener, a butcher (beef and chickens) and a baker who won blue ribbons for her homemade bread at the North Dakota State Fair.
She was not a journalist, but she taught me many other things I know how to do like – keep house, can peaches, freeze corn, make jam. I watched her, learned, and I keep on keeping on. I stand foursquare with Abraham Lincoln who declared, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”
My Mom loved a good time and a good joke, but when heartache happened, she had tremendous empathy for the hurting. She had her own tragedy – the loss of her first born, a son, to diphtheria at age 9.
Mom’s been gone for 14 years, but nearly every day something happens that turns my thoughts toward her. This time, its the beginning of a new school year.
You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “Tough Love.” It’s an expression used when someone treats another rather harshly or sternly with the intent to help them in the long run. The phrase was coined by Bill Milliken who wrote the book, “Tough Love,” in 1968.
Well, I’m here to tell you, my mother knew how to do tough love and practiced it long before the 1960s. It had to do with me, her baby, on my first day of first grade. We didn’t yet have kindergarten where I lived..
Pictured here is Russell School in the little town of Russell, N.D., near the farm where I grew up. What I’m about to tell you happened in front of this school.
Good grief! I didn’t want to go to school. I liked being the only kid at home after the one next to me in age had started two years previous.
I wanted to stay home, to keep on rearranging the living room furniture to make a blanket fort in which to hide while mom ironed nearby. I wanted to keep going to Bottineau, N.D., with my dad, LeRoy, to his Farmers Union meetings. Dad taught me how to spell C H E V R O L E T on one trip. He and Mom could teach me everything I needed to know. Could they not?
So, here dawns the first day of school for me and I am distraught. Mom lovingly reassured me that school was a ton of fun. I would learn so much and love my new friends and at the end of each day I would come home and we’d be together again. And with that, she drove us to school.
My older siblings got out of the car. I did too, but I soon wanted back in. Mom, however, with her eagle eye, was ready for my shenanigans. She must have anticipated I would attempt to re-enter the car and was quick as a bunny.
Just before I reached the handle, she locked the door. I’m thinking now that it must have nearly devastated her to do this. But, she knew it was for my own good and so she did it.
My loving sister, Lori, took my hand and marched me into the school house and that was that. I recall one more time those first few days that my teacher had to call my sister down from her upstairs classroom to comfort me in my homesickness. When it was all said and done, I dare say there’s never been anyone who loved school more than me.
Now a new school year is upon us and I must tell you about Elizabeth and Anna.
I first met Elizabeth when she was toddler and had come to visit her grandparents, Paul and Dorie Orr, who are our neighbors. I returned home the other evening to find Elizabeth climbing the fence between our yards. Even though the wind was whipping her beautiful long brown hair across her face, I knew it was her for she is unforgettable.
I went to the fence where she promptly wrapped her arms around my neck.
Her grandma said, “Tell Naomi what you are going to do pretty soon.” Elizabeth, in her outside voice declared “KINDERGARTEN.” I said, “oh no, you’re not 5 already.” Her head bobbed up and down as she kept climbing up the fence then down then up again.
Her grandma said, “Your mommy is going to miss you so much,” to which Elizabeth declared, “oh, but my mommy is proud of me.”
Elizabeth is ready for her school adventures and not in need of tough love.
Then there’s Anna who lives in my neighborhood. Sometimes we are side-by-side on our bikes and we chat.
I asked Anna, a second grader, what she likes best about school. “Math,” she answered with little hesitation. “Because,” she continued, “if I get stuck I have to think, and thinking makes me more-better.”
Already Anna is profoundly wise.
Thinking is such a good thing. Tough love isn’t a bad thing and it sure is sweet when we make our mommas proud. I hope every student everywhere, from kindergarten to college, is “rapt,” about the new school year ahead of them.