Both Lindy and I are very independent women and I think some of our friends wonder how we became so self-sufficient when we lived in such a Far From Normal world. The answer is both simple and complicated. Every day with our
mother we were able to practice our problem-solving skills and gain knowledge of how to take care of ourselves, and every day we were frustrated by our mother’s lack of problem-solving skills and by her unwillingness to help us.
It began in early childhood. When I entered kindergarten, I walked to school every day alone on the South Side of Chicago. I can just hear my mother saying:
You did not walk alone. You walked with the other children in the area.
Okay, I walked with some children some days; however, I was only in kindergarten for half the day and I had to walk home alone through the University of Chicago campus.
Before I started first grade, my mother managed to alienate all the other parents of first graders in our area. The year I began first grade, there was over-crowding in the Chicago schools and some classes were meeting in churches. When it was time to register, the other mothers invited my mother to join them in registering their first graders at the church.
My mother said:
Oh no! The school told me that there would be one first grade class held at the school, and my daughter is in it.
She went on to elaborate on the gifted nature of the class meeting at the school. The parents were glaring at her, but Mother went right on blagging. Needless to say, I had no one to walk to school with for first grade.
In second grade, we moved to Taylorville and my sister Lindy and I spent time stomping on bees while our mother was doing whatever. Once we moved to the apartment and Mother was spending her days in the bar, my sister and I had to be very independent. I now walked both to and from school alone. Lindy spent several hours of every day walking around the town and shopping whenever she could, but basically taking care of herself. When I got home from school, we might look for Mother at the bar or we might decide finding her was too much trouble.
In fourth grade, we had moved to Decatur and I walked to and from school twice a day. I began going downtown on some Saturdays, and my friend and I rode the bus. By this point, I felt that I was in charge of my own life. Lindy and I spent lots of Saturdays in Taylorville going to movies, buying burger baskets, and walking around the square. No one checked on us or asked us for any accounting of our time. While in grade school, I realized that if I wanted to be in any activities I was responsible for figuring out my rides and obtaining the cost of the activity on my own.
In junior high school, I continued with my independent behavior. Once my mother, my aunt, my cousin and I went to a fair in Chicago. My cousin (age 14) and I (age 12) disappeared and rode the El all over Chicago. While my aunt thought the police should be called, my mother remained calm and said
They’ll turn up.
as though she were talking about some remote acquaintances. About ten o’clock that night we showed up, and my mother acted like it was the most normal thing in the world.
In high school, I asked for and expected nothing from my mother. She was merely someone who occupied the same house I did. Lindy and I got ourselves up and out of the house for school. We both figured out lunch and often dinner. In the summer, our dad made sure we had jobs that required us to be away from home all of our waking hours.
Consequently, when I started college and some of the other students were homesick, I couldn’t figure out what they were feeling. I missed my dad and I missed my sister, but everything else was something I was delighted to escape.
Later on, I knew how lucky I was. I was independent and it wasn’t something I had to try to achieve, it was something I already was and had been for a long time. Here’s to my mother: the woman knew how to teach independence even better than Benjamin Franklin!