As Mother’s Day 2015 approaches, Ascend salutes mothers across the country and says ‘thank you’ for all they do for their families. In honor of our own mothers, we recount below some of our earliest memories of school, values, and family.
These are our stories. Please share one of yours!
I am the youngest of 11 children of a single mom. My mom was a no-nonsense mother when it came to following her rules and paying attention in school. I can remember my first day of school with clarity. I was excited to ride the school bus and make new friends. Before my mother left for work I had to get “the speech.” As she did with my siblings before me, she told me not to tarry, to get on the bus, to listen to the teachers, and to pay attention in school. She showed me her hands – turning them over. My mother’s hands weren’t soft and manicured. Her palms were callused, her veins were raised, and her knuckles were swollen. She explained how she had to work hard to make ends meet. If I didn’t want my hands to look like her hands, I had to pay attention in school. I didn’t realize it as a child, but her calluses were proof of determination, her raised veins were filled with love, and her swollen knuckles gave texture to her hugs. To all of the hard-working mothers who want better for their children, I applaud you.
My early care and education is a complex tapestry woven of family, friends, and nursery schools. When I was born, my parents each left stable corporate jobs to start their own business – a dream they thought would allow them to spend more time as a family and alleviate the need for formal childcare. I spent the first few years of my life underfoot in my parent’s growing business, primarily looked after by “Grandma Sue,” my grandfather’s secretary of more than 30 years who had retired to run my mother’s office while keeping me occupied and plied with cinnamon gummy bears. By the time my sister was born three years later, business was thriving, and it no longer made sense – practically or physically – to have an infant and a toddler around, so we both made the transition to a daycare center. There, I remember story time and art projects and a huge playground full of friends. I am so grateful today that I have access to the same type of nurturing, education-centered program for my own child and that I can go to work every day knowing that my child is safe, well-fed, and loved. It is my Mother’s Day wish that all Americans, regardless of location or income, have high-quality, affordable options for childcare. No mother should have to choose between her child’s well-being and her ability to work or get an education.
Sarah Sims had seven children within nine years and was a stay-at-home mom until my youngest sibling went to kindergarten. Once all of her kids were in school full-time, my mom took the opportunity to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse and went to school along with the rest of us. There were economic reasons for her decision too. My mom always says that she wanted a large family when she was growing up, but in hindsight, should have waited until after earning her degree. My early years are filled with memories of mom simply caring for us – cooking, cleaning, teaching and scolding. She loves being around and teaching young children, so much so that she opened an in-home daycare business – Sarah’s Wee Ones – and operated it for close to 30 years. It is her pride and joy that in addition to her own grandchildren and great-grandchildren, my mom is known as ‘Grandma Sarah’ to hundreds of other families in her community.
My favorite photo of my mom is of her lying on a forest bed with a friend. They're probably in their late teens, and their backs face the camera, feet in the air. A doe stands in the foreground and looks as though she is approaching the two young women. No features of my mom's face are visible, but I can tell, instantaneously, that it is her.
Decades have passed, but my mom still has not lost that spirit reflected in the photo; one with curiosity and compassion, coupled with elements of risk and excitement. It resonates in all that she does— caring, writing, managing, athletics, singing, traveling, cooking, the list could go on— and inspires those around her to embody this nature. Happy Mother’s Day— a day to celebrate the “je ne sais quoi” in Mom that only you truly understand.
I half believe my mother discovered cloning long before I ever heard of Dolly, the cloned sheep. With eight kids and a part-time catering business, she still seemed to be at every school performance, field trip, special classroom activity, and school fundraiser. Homework was my responsibility, but she always helped with the big projects (anyone else remember painting Styrofoam solar systems when Pluto was still considered a planet?). I know my memory has to be flawed. Her logistical and organizational skills would have been the envy of FedEx, but one person cannot be eight places at once. Regardless, that seemingly constant support for all things learning taught me, in ways words could not have, that education REALLY matters. While I will never be as amazing as my mother, those values fuel my work at Ascend and my efforts to teach my own children the importance of education and hard work.
Thirty years later, I can recall details of my nursery school in suburban Connecticut with surprising specificity: the wooden cubbies for tiny jackets; the seemingly vast tubs of sand for castle-making; the bright yellow tables covered in apple juice boxes. What I’ve only recently begun to remember and appreciate, however, is the logistical dance my mother performed to provide me with such a rich early learning environment. My mother is a teacher; as I progressed first through nursery school and then to half-day kindergarten, my mother tutored students in our home, cared for my younger brother, did pickups and drop-offs for me, and took on myriad “extra” classroom items. This picture is from one of our frequent errands on my mother’s bike, her go-to transportation for that daily juggle.
My mother felt strongly that I should have both time with her at home and time in a high-quality early learning center, a privilege in the 1980s and even more of one today. As I grew up, my mother’s commitment to educating young people facing challenges—as a teacher in a county jail and a high school for pregnant and parenting young women—helped shape my own career goals and have served as a reminder of how lucky I’ve been for my own education, starting with the Whitneyville Nursery School, and for her.
Yep, that’s me – the only one not looking at the camera in the class picture. I’m not sure what I was looking at instead of the photographer, but I still had a smile on my face that reflected the fun that I had that year with Ms. Brooks, my teacher, and Ms. Salley, the teacher’s aide. According to my mom, pre-kindergarten was a great opportunity for me to socialize with other kids, learn through play, and practice following directions – except on picture day! One of my favorite memories from Pre-K was my 5th birthday party. That year my mom began a yearly tradition and surprised me by coming to school with a big birthday cake and my new little brother, who was only 3 months old at the time.
My mother is the one who taught me the crucial importance of early childhood education and parent engagement, by way of example. From the very beginning, she tapped all of the resources at her disposal and dedicated her time and energy to supporting my development. A single mother after I turned three, my mother was tireless in her efforts to ensure that nothing stood in the way of my dreams, especially when it came to education. Throughout my childhood, she always chose to shape her life around spending time with and teaching me. She so intimately understood that way that she interacted with me would shape my life as well. My first instructor, she read me countless library books and memorized and sang unending nursery rhymes with me, before heading off to wait tables or work the night shift. She found creative community programs as well, such as a nursery school where parents attend with their children to learn, teach, and grow as parents alongside preschool teachers. Her engagement and strong support of my educational advancement continued through the day she, with tears in her eyes, finally saw me walk the stage at my college in Massachusetts, after sending me off from California four years before. I am forever grateful for her costly investment and loving example.
Please share a story about your mom