My favorite movie is “The Wizard of Oz.” Always has been and always will be. I love the colors and the music, the characters and the story. I really love Dorothy’s red shoes. I love the idea that she wants so badly to get back home to Kansas. I guess this is because she loved her home, so naturally she would want to go back to it and her family. When I was a kid, I always thought she was kind of weird to want to leave Oz and her fun new friends to return to the dreary dust bowl days of Kansas, in black and white. Why live in black and white when you can live your life in Technicolor? With a soundtrack. And Glinda the Good Witch to look out for you?
As my children continue down their paths to total independence from my husband and me, I hope they never feel about us the way I feel about my parents. Look, I understand that no parent is perfect, because I’m not. This post is not to condemn anyone. These are just my thoughts, about my life. It is my blog, you know. I am writing this with an open heart and a positive outlook. I own who I am and I don’t blame anyone for anything. But life could have been better for me if I had had what I think I desperately needed from them and didn’t get. It also would have been less painful if I had not had done to me the things that did happen.
Here are the very most important things I learned in the home I grew up in, in no particular order of importance.
1. I know how to sew. I was 10 when my mom started a 4-H club for me and my friends. We learned how to sew and bake and babysit. The best for me was learning how to sew. I won blue ribbons at the 4-H competitions. I still use, on a regular basis, the things I learned in that little club. I can hem my husband’s pants, or sew on a button that will never come off again. I can cut out a pattern and follow it. I know how to make adjustments for my height. I have made all of the window coverings and decorative pillows in our home. I made a lot of dresses for my daughter when she was young and plenty more for myself as the years have gone on. I enjoy sewing. It’s cathartic for me. I hate to unpick a seam, but I know that if I’m careful and precise, I won’t have to unpick the seam. Winning those blue ribbons for my hand stitching and machine sewing instilled confidence in me that I can sew and so I’m not afraid of it. Over the years I have taught myself how to do more difficult things. I even joined with other mothers in the neighborhood when our daughters were 10 and formed a 4-H club for them where we taught them to sew. My daughter has her own machine now. So, it continues on to her.
2. I know now that I like onions, fish, peppers, spicy food, ethnic food and runny eggs. I have learned this on my own because we didn’t eat these things at home. My mom geared our meals to her tastes and because she didn’t like fish, we never, ever ate it. Not once. Unless we were camping and someone else prepared it outside. It was never prepared in our home. I could have been a picky eater, but I’m not. I love food. There are only two things I won’t eat: mayo and butter/margarine. I also can’t do wet or soggy bread of any sort. I also don’t really enjoy milk. It’s funny because these are things my mom really seemed to like. Do I hate mayo because my mom put so much of it on a tuna sandwich that it seeped out of the bread? Probably. I also learned that I didn’t want my children to be limited by my tastes. I wanted them to like or dislike things for themselves. I put mayo on their sandwiches, and cringed if I even got it on my hands, but I didn’t make mayo unavailable to them. This has blessed my family because my children are the most non-picky eaters on the planet. They constantly surprise even their friends by exclaiming how much they love Indian food.
3.a. I learned, on my own, as an adult, that wearing tasteful eyeliner and eye shadow does not make me look like a hooker. And wearing lipstick does not actually bleach your lips. My mom always told me that if I started wearing lipstick I would always have to because it bleaches the natural color from your lips. Nope! Not true. I keep wearing lipstick because I can, because the pop of color makes me happy and my days more fun, and because, if I’m going to wear lip balm anyway, why not make it more colorful?
3.b. And, for that matter, jeans are a girl’s best friend, and the softer and more faded the better. The cherry on top is when they are flare-legged. Jeans are all I wear unless it’s church and then I wear a dress. I wear dressy pants when it’s appropriate, but my life calls for jeans. I have more pairs than I need, but I know why. Because it was frowned upon to wear them at my house. My Levi 501’s were taken away from me once because “they weren’t very ladylike.” I had an extra pair that nobody knew about that I kept in my backpack and changed into and out of at school. Now that I can wear jeans everyday and own as many pairs as I wish, is there any reason I would wear anything else?
4. I learned how to iron. I can iron the prettiest shirts you have ever seen. I can make those collars nice and crisp and make anything look like it is brand new. Thanks, mom. I do appreciate so much having to iron dad’s shirts because it taught me how to do it right. I hate ironing, but I can make the iron sing.
5. I learned how to play the piano. I know it was a huge sacrifice to pay for lessons and drive me to lessons. I know I should have practiced more and been more appreciative of it then, but I appreciate it now. I still don’t play as much as I would like to, but I can play. I enjoy few things as much as being alone in my house, playing the piano. I wish I could play by ear like my husband and write music like he does. I have to have music and I have to practice a lot. But the fact that I can do that, that I can go buy a piece of music and then sit down and learn it, is huge to me.
6. I know how to bottle fruit and vegetables. I sure hated September when I was growing up and it was time to can peaches and pears and freeze corn and beans. But I know how to do it and I have done it. I will admit that I only make salsa and grape juice, because that is what my family inhales. I can buy peaches and pears during the case lot sale cheaper than I can bottle them. Do they taste as good? No way! But it’s the way I have chosen to do things in my house. But, who knows. Maybe this year I will bottle peaches and pears. The point is that I hated it when I was young, but I appreciate it now.
7. I learned how to identify plants and flowers on hikes with my dad. It’s a simple thing, really, but I still get very excited whenever I see Indian Paintbrush and Penstemon. Last year, we drove up to Snow Basin for a wedding reception in May. The mountainside was completely drenched with blue Penstemon. It made me so happy. I have fond memories of my dad suddenly pulling the car over and jumping out, running down the road and hiking up the hill. He would pull out his pocket knife and dig the plants out by the root and put them in old Wonder Bread bags. Then the bags would go into his metal plant box that was strapped onto his back with a canvas strap. He was always spotting some plant or flower that he needed in his herbarium at the university where he still teaches Botany to this day. I loved that my dad was a botanist. Nobody else had a dad that was a botanist.
8. I learned how to take care of babies. I am the oldest of six kids that were pretty spread out. I was 16 when the youngest was born. I am very comfortable with diapering, feeding, changing, tending, and playing with little ones. I love it. Somehow it was a miracle that when we brought our son home from the hospital after the miracle of becoming first-time parents, I knew what to do. Granted, I had never breastfed before, and I’m not going to say I wasn’t terrified, but it all worked out and I seemed to naturally know what to do. Even though it was just me and my baby and my husband. My mother did not come to help me. No one did. But I figured it out by myself, with my husband’s help, and I’m grateful.
9. I learned how to be myself. I know my mother hated my individuality. I know she wished I wanted to be like the other kids in the way I dressed and that I had similar interests as other girls. But I had no desire to be a cheerleader or on the drill team. I wanted to debate and do public speaking and draw and paint and do science experiments. I wanted to read deep books and discuss them. I wanted to be the rebel in the sense that I wore things no one else was wearing. Not that my clothes were bizarre or anything. I just didn’t want the same exact stuff that everyone else had. And I didn’t. I’m glad that I didn’t let my mom talk me into being someone I wasn’t and that even though it caused tension between us, I stayed true to myself. You don’t have to graduate from an art program to be an artist, but I learned that I should have stayed in art school because it made me happy. My mom really did not know what was best for me. I promised myself that whatever my kids wanted to be when they grew up, I would support and nurture.
10. I learned how to trust myself. Something very deep inside me told me that the things I heard all the time at home were not true for me. I knew that I was worthy of respect and love and happiness, but that I would have to wait to make it for myself and live somewhere else before that could happen. It was hard to wait for that, to let it come to me, to have to make it for myself, but I felt deeply connected to God and knew he was really my ultimate father, my Heavenly Father, and I chose to trust Him instead. And I’m grateful.
11. I learned that just because there are 8 people in a family, it doesn’t mean you’re all the same. My siblings and parents share a lot of common tastes and traits. But we are not the same. Not by a long shot. And I don’t want to be the same and I’m sure they don’t either. I know that my children are different, even though they have a lot in common, they are different people with different personalities. That is to be celebrated and not condemned.
12. I learned that a marriage and family cannot last forever if you treat them with disrespect and don’t keep your promises. My parents separated when I was around 16 or 17. It was awful. Then they got back together and it was worse. They finally divorced when I was 21, after I was married. It was a very difficult time for me. They had been married 20+ years and now were throwing it away. But guess what? It was not a surprise. We all knew for years that it was coming. Because of the way they treated each other, and the way they treated us. From this I learned that if you want something to last forever, you had better treat it differently.
13. I learned that I was not important to my family or parents. Maybe technically I was, but they didn’t really care about me, I don’t think they ever did, and I’m pretty sure they still don’t. It’s alright though, because I vowed to myself that that would never happen in my family with my husband and children. And it hasn’t. From my parents I learned all the ways not to be a parent. I learned all the things not to do or say to a child. So I thank them, from the bottom of my heart. My desire to be a rebel against my family has blessed my own family in countless ways. I have never, ever, ever, uttered the heinous words, “I hate you,” to my children or husband. I have never beat them. I have never lied to them. So, mom and dad, thank you for your arms-length relationship with me because it gave me the best relationships with my own family and husband. It has made us even closer.
14. I learned that it’s okay to go to church alone because you don’t go to church for the people, or your family. You go to church for Jesus Christ. There sure were a lot of weeks that I went to church alone or with a few siblings. I didn’t like going alone, but I knew I wanted to be there and if I had to go independently, then that is what I did. I knew in the very depths of my soul, even at a young age, that I was going to worship and I could do that alone. I could do it alone because my salvation is an independent thing. It doesn’t matter what other people are doing, it only matters what I am doing. My personal relationship with God and my Savior, Jesus Christ. This has blessed me in so many ways throughout the years. When there have been rough patches in my life where I didn’t feel like I fit into a congregation, I always continued to go to church. There are no perfect people, anywhere. Not in any church, not any place. If you are looking for perfect people, you won’t find them. There is only one person who is perfect and that is Christ. We all get offended from time to time, or feel alone some days, or even have hardships that are private to us. None of these are reasons to stay away from worshipping God.
I think I understand why Dorothy was anxious to return home to Kansas, to the land of black and white. There are things we have to learn that we can only learn at home, where things are, or at least should be, black and white. Then we take those things and venture out on our own, into the land of Technicolor, and make our own choices. We can be limited by the things we learned at home, or we can be set free by them. I believe it is our choice. We can squeeze out the best there is from our experience and add our own sugar and water to make a wonderful punch. Or we can look at the few little drops and feel sorry for ourselves. If you are lucky enough to have an abundance of juice that comes from your childhood, then bottle it up and take care of it so you can pass it down to your family.
I am not like Dorothy. I love my red shoes, but I don’t want to go back to Kansas. For me, Kansas was hard and I’m glad it’s behind me. I much prefer my Technicolor world with my husband and my kids, with my own choices and my own decisions. I appreciate all that I learned in Kansas, I really do. It is what made me who I am and that’s a good thing. But the love that has come to me and the happiness that is mine now is much more bright and beautiful than anything I could have ever imagined, so why would I want to go back? I don’t. One foot in front of the other, every day, and everything will be alright. That is what I say to myself. And it works.