Thank you, Mom, for my Montessori life

So yesterday was the three-year anniversary of my mother’s passing. I found myself thinking about how I’ve just completed a three-year cycle, just like we have in Montessori education. In a way, I almost found some comfort in that thought, on what is usually a really difficult day.

Back in June, it was my father’s 10-year anniversary and I reflected on his contribution to my Montessori life. I knew I wanted to do the same for Mom. So with that three-year cycle and peace on my mind, here we go.

My mother was the one who found out about Montessori for me, though Dad is the one who first visited the school. When it came time to make a decision about me staying put for kindergarten or going public, Mom got a job as the part-time bookkeeper at the school to offset my tuition and to allow my sister to start in the toddler program. She remained in that position well after we both graduated sixth grade, finally leaving when I started college and my parents moved to a new town.

Mom working at the school served me well. Not only did I get to finish out the school (which at that time went through sixth grade), but I also learned so much more.

I had to learn flexibility in my schedule. We knew that some days, someone may be running late to pick us up because of a customer at the store or a delivery. Other days, we had to stay late because Mom would have some work to do in the school office. I do remember helping out a lot, learning about billing and invoices and how to use office equipment. I also distinctly remember learning the proper way to fold letters and stuff envelopes, something which is often overlooked these days.

Talk about preparation for life. Mom also made us learn other practical office skills. All of this came in handy during my brief stint in Montessori administration. And now I currently run two offices part-time.

Mom fostered my love of cooking and baking by teaching me the basics and letting me experiment. It also came in handy on those evenings when our parents got stuck in the store with customers. Being the Montessori children we were, my sister and I could take over the dinner duties.

Mom grew up on a farm. She kept that piece of herself by putting in a good-sized garden in our back yard. I remember working alongside her weeding and harvesting. Sometimes I even got to help with the canning of the beans and homemade applesauce and jellies and fresh peaches from the local orchard. How many of you rediscovered those skills during the pandemic?

I learned a lot about nurturing from my mom. She taught me a lot about child development and care, handling difficult situations, and how to have immense patience. One of my first regular babysitting jobs was for a newborn. Because I was so young and he was so young, the parents would bring him to our house. So Mom was always right there to help me if I needed it. And she was a “baby whisperer” in her own right. I learned so much from observing her in action.

When Mom was a teenager, she had one particular family for whom she regularly babysat. The youngest had Down syndrome. The family also attended our church. We learned at a young age how to be kind and respectful to differently abled individuals. She also encouraged my friendship with a blind boy who attended our summer camp and the deaf girl whose parents belonged to the Harley Davidson club next door. All of that empathy had a profound impact in my teaching and in life.

I’m sure I could come up with many more examples from my childhood. Mom just naturally modeled so much for us. But now let’s fast-forward to my college years.

I was already going to school to become a teacher. One evening during the fall of my freshman year, Mom came across a listing for a part-time job at the local Montessori school doing after school care. She thought it would be perfect for me to get some money coming in because I had left my babysitting gigs behind when we moved. Little did we know that this would set my Montessori career in motion.

The director of the school decided to take a chance on 18-year-old me. There were definitely some rocky times, of course. But I stayed there for five yeras, doing lunch/nap, after school care, subbing in every classroom and the office, and finally doing my internship for my early childhood certification for ages 3-6. I have lifelong relationships with some of my coworkers and several of the children and families from that school.

Mom also used her network to help me get my next job with my own classroom. A few years later, she stoically set aside her feelings to help me move on to the next chapter 400 miles away. And then when I started writing about Montessori, she enthusiastically read along until the Alzheimer’s stole that from her.

Because of her, I am also a huge advocate of using the philosophy in assisted living and memory care programs. She did benefit from those techniques in her care.

I try to imagine my life without Montessori in it and I can’t. I have no idea what else I would have done in my life. I am forever grateful to my mother for all of the natural Montessori modeling and little nudges along the way.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading my rambling.

I miss you, Mom.

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