My mother would have been 96 years old on October 14th, 2020. I think of her almost every day, even though she passed away over 17 years ago. It’s those little moments when I think, “Mum would have laughed at that” or “That’s the way Mum used to do it” or frequently, “Mum always said…”
She was a good mother. Not perfect, but none of us are. Anyway, with her birthday, and having just listened to the 50th episode of the DIY Photo Organising podcast, where they got a little nostalgic, I started to think of some of the organising and life lessons I learned from my mother, Erika Modow.
A Fierce Advocate
Although she was softly spoken and preferred to work quietly behind the scenes, if someone she loved needed support, she became a fierce advocate, battling neighbourhood bullies or overbearing teachers to restore justice, or making difficult financial decisions to provide me a good education. I learned to stand up for what is right from her.
A Hard-Working Woman
From the time she left school, around 1940, until retirement in 1984, and except for the first three years of my life, she was a full-time employee. That’s 41 years of stellar service from factory floor to fruit and veg shop, from reception desk to payroll office. She was also a good housekeeper, keeping us well fed, dressed in clean clothes, and the house clean and tidy. Back in the 1970s, she used to say that while women’s liberation was good, it just meant that women had the right to do two jobs – one outside and the other inside the home. She could see it would be a long time before women enjoyed equality in the housework stakes. In the meantime, she quietly introduced my father to the weekly shopping and cooking once a week. I learned the value of hard work, whatever the work, from my mother.
A house doesn’t clean itself. Monday to Friday was all about work and school in our household. Sunday was reserved for family and fun with friends. Saturday was our housekeeping day. I was called into action as well and had my list of weekly tasks, from dusting and vacuuming to handwashing and cleaning the skirting boards all through the house, even the ones under beds. My least favourite job, and one I often skipped. Saturday housework became a regular routine, no matter what. When I started playing softball on Saturday mornings, the housework would be waiting for me, no matter how tired and muddy I was. When my boyfriend arrived to collect me for a date on a Saturday, I couldn’t go until I’d done my chores. No use complaining. If we wanted to leave earlier, he would simply have to help out and get the job done quicker. That boyfriend is now my husband of 39 years, and he still knows how to polish silver. I learned the value of routines from my mother.
A Fun-Loving Woman
My mother was not just about doing the right thing, hard work and routines. She also loved to inject fun into every day. Those Saturday housekeeping workouts were made fun with a record on the turntable. We’d sing along to The Seekers and the time flew by. My mother had many hobbies. She was a talented, creative woman. She’d set up her easel in the kitchen and paint landscapes. Pale blue paint spatters on the fridge were a sign she’d been using big strokes to bring a sky to life again. She never missed an opportunity to be young again and taught my children to do backward somersaults on the bed. I learned to enjoy moments that matter from my mother. I learned to inject fun into every day from my mother. And I learned to cherish “me time” from my mother.
As she edged past 70 years, she developed dementia. She taught me lots of new lessons then. It was my turn to become a fierce advocate for her, finding the right treatment for her, finding the right place for her to live, finding ways to communicate with her, and educate others in how to do that. I learned to be patient from my mother. I learned to live in the moment from my mother. I learned about capacity and expectations from my mother.
She died in 2003, 2 years before I became a professional organiser. I feel it’s no accident that as I let go of the responsibility of being her advocate, I was ready to take a step in a new direction, with the lessons she taught me to back me up. I’ve taken all those lessons with me through life and into my organising career.