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Work Hard, Be Grateful

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My mother flew 2000 miles to be with her aunt when she passed away. Although Aunt Faye had plenty of relatives in Houston, she had no children of her own. And so it was my mother who was with her as she took her last breath. When I asked my mother about it, about flying all the way here, she said that she knew it was not something everyone had the strength to do, but that she knew she could handle it. This was what my mother did and what she always expected of me: work hard, look for the most important work you can do, and then... be grateful for all of it.

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When my brother and I were young, summer days were carefree and full of fun...after we finished our chores. We woke up to a list on the kitchen table, sorted into the imperative and the optional. After completing the required chores, we chose paying jobs from the optional ones. We might earn a quarter, fifty cents, or even an entire dollar for a particularly time consuming or odious chore. Hard work was expected, but fairness was too.

And then there was the laundry, always the laundry. A friend came to live with us for her freshman year in high school when I was maybe 12 or 13. This friend made the honest mistake of telling my mother that her t-shirts could not go into the dryer. Rather than accommodate, my mother chose to instruct us on how to do our own laundry. This was something we could do for ourselves, and there was no reason for her to do it for us. This is not to say that my mother shirked responsibility as a parent, rather it was the polar opposite. She was teaching us important skills, and how to operate on our own.

Through it all, my mother taught us to be grateful. Yes, we were expected to do our own laundry, get ourselves to school when we lived in areas where that was possible, keep our rooms clean, and help in the kitchen after dinner. And perhaps hard work is a natural precursor to gratefulness. But whether it was a lovingly packed brown paper sack full of snacks and treats or a small box of Valentine hearts at our breakfast plates, my mother found ways to show her appreciation, each small or large gesture a way to show she cared.

I never have quite figured out how to get my kids to clean their rooms. Much to my disappointment and my house’s demise, my children have always chosen to forgo the optional paid chores. But they began doing their own laundry the moment we had access to our own washer and dryer. And although friends could not understand when I expressed horror at the idea of making a high schooler’s lunch, I hope that in this way my mother’s lessons will be passed down: that my children will seek their own strengths before asking for help, and to be grateful upon receiving the help that they need.

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