by Sara Spock
It takes a village, right? Kids need to learn from parents, friends, and random strangers on street corners so they become something more than parental clones. I’ve been thinking about my village, who shaped and molded me better than Spanx ever could. My supporting cast was made up of no less than 4 women, probably more: My mother, my best friend’s mother, Mama Sonia, and my big sister. As women, mothers, cooks, and role models, each of them taught me values and lessons ranging from helpful, “wear a belt, it’s slimming!” to the comical, “don’t drink too much water, it’ll make you fat,” to silly, “ice cold drinks will give you a sore throat!” to epic, “if you don’t marry him, I’ll kill you!!!” Mostly, the important stuff came from observing these 4 strong women, not from things they told me.
My Mom, the biological one, taught me about work. Find a job you love, be the best, treat people with kindness, be they clients or co-workers. Work hard: as a child, sometimes I didn’t get it. Mom worked on weekends, evenings, it felt like I never saw her. But as an adult, I understand. She loves her job. Sure, she gets stressed when she has psycho clients who need to see 7200 houses before they buy the first one they looked at; when a sale falls through because the sellers didn’t remove the rotting corpses before final walk through; or when she has to perform like a circus poodle in front of a gaggle of lawyers to get the deal done. But, still. She. Loves. Her. Job. And that’s vital.
My best friend’s mother, my Shumai… yes, it means little shrimp dumpling. Don’t judge me! Shumai is a straight forward woman who taught me what food should taste like and how to speak my mind. Listen, I’m a typical middle child. If you have an ear to bend, you can’t shut me up, but mindless chatter is just that. While Shumai wasn’t talkative, she did let you know what she thought. She would serve up a savory, spicy dish of bulgogi while asking if you really knew what you were doing with *that* boy. Her sharp kimchi was a perfect precursor to, “you got WHAT on your SATs? You’re taking them again, right?” Of course, she was right. How could you disagree with a woman who could cook like that? Lesson learned. Cook well, convince well.
When I lived in Peru, I stayed with a family who became my family. Mama Sonia scooped me under her wing as an impressionable teen. When I left her, I was equipped to run a home, albeit one where guinea pigs ran free and washing machines didn’t. Peru was my first experience as an adult, though I use that term loosely. With Mama, I discovered my knack for cooking, mostly because she trusted me, no, expected me to prepare meals. Fresh spaghetti sauce like my dads? Yes! Lentils with root vegetables over Peruvian potatoes? Please! Calabaza soup with the color and consistency of baby poop? Um… like I said, I discovered my knack for cooking, not plating. It tasted great! Sonia explained the art of hand-washing laundry and haggling with street vendors for the cheapest (and most amazing) mangoes. She conserved energy by unplugging the refrigerator at night, and why not? The power only worked intermittently and we only bought enough food for a couple days at a time. She taught me generosity, the entire family did. They had a beautiful and modest 3 bedroom home and when they invited us to live with them and their two daughters, Mama and Papa moved to the attic. That was only accessible through the courtyard. Via a ladder. With a door that was too small for garden gnomes. Without heat. Generosity x ∞.
My sister, she taught me everything else… no really. She did and when you read her blog, you’ll understand just what I mean. Seeing the girl who color-codedly hurled crayons at you as a child, who kneed your brother in the crotch for his swift kick to her braces, become an excellent mom makes you think that maybe, just maybe, you can, too. But then memories filter forward like trudging through the snow to ice skate on a river a mile or two from home, staying warm with a thermos full of mint tea my sister made for us. Taking my friend Brittney and I to the City for my first real trip when she was 18 and I was 10, and bratty! Making it home in one piece and in total awe of my really cool big sister. Cooking dinner for us 3 kids when the only things in the house were a bag of banana chips and a couple t-bone steaks. Making brownies, braiding my hair, and organizing play dates with kids I didn’t know because all my friends were on summer vacation. That’s when I realized it. She had the tools to be a great mom all along. And so do I. And you. And that lady over there with the frizzy hair. As long as we have our village.
Read more from Sara over at The Hero Complex where she tries to save the world, one. blog. post. at. a. time.