(WOMENSENEWS)–I became a grown-up in 1987. That’s when I started resembling my mom, rather than my little brother, in a swimsuit. Waiters began calling me ma’am as they handed Andy his crayons and his kid’s menu. He hated that.
Andy started pinning me to the floor and squeezing my wrists that year. He wanted to prove that while he lagged in the “adult-looks” category, he had me beat in arm muscles. He wanted to prove that his sister–his best buddy–had not become unreachable.
His proof hurt my wrists.
“Just kick him next time,” my mom said.
Mom had unorthodox ideas about keeping peace in our home. Most of them probably would have eliminated her from being a Hallmark poster mom, but they endeared her to me.
The feminist educator Sara Ruddick wrote this:
The ‘peacefulness’ with which mothers are credited is usually a sweet, appeasing gentleness that gives peace a bad name while alienating almost anyone who had a mother or is one. Maternal peacefulness is a way of fighting as well as of loving, as angry as it is gentle.
I did kick my brother, on my mom’s suggestion. I kicked him in the face. Mom modified her advice a little too late: “Not the teeth, Laura! I didn’t mean the teeth!”
In a world that often rewards sweet appeasement over active peacemaking, Ruddick believed that a mom’s creative strategies for making true peace at home had practical applications to making peace on a global level.
Mom waged her peacemaking campaign before I started walking. She began with a fresh interior-decorating scheme. Her home improvement philosophy was this: Furniture should create the need for as few “no’s” as possible.
Mom didn’t want to play the “no” game each time my lusty little 2-year-old hands reached into her bookcase. Instead, she kept her books on a higher shelf.
Small plants and wooden carvings had similar high perches. The house would have fared extremely well in an unexpected flood. Mom even kept our Christmas tree on a table.
Mom didn’t totally eliminate “no’s,” though. The toasty wood-burning stove in the middle of our living room was a definite “no,” and Mom asked that her 2-year-old please not molest one beloved houseplant that she kept near the floor. I guess she figured I could remember and respect two “no’s”–one for my safety and one for her enjoyment.
Mom’s peacemaking strategies didn’t stop at frugality with “no’s.” She also hunted regularly for spectacular “yes’s.”
One summer, I returned from camp with a 12-year-old’s vision of unrestrained boldness. The coolest girl–the brightest, most engaging free spirit at camp–had a tail. One brown lock of hair hung six inches lower than the rest.
As I raved to Mom about the admirable girl, her eyes got their hair-cutting glint. She loves to cut hair.
“You could do that,” she offered.
We did it. Mom located her hair-cutting scissors, and the minister’s daughter in a conservative Missouri town with a population of 8,000 got herself a tail. I felt like a daring little rascal.
My mom’s heaviest peacemaking campaign began when I hit adolescence–a life stage land-mined with threats to the peace.
I had just turned 13 when Mom pulled out her boldest strategy yet. I was eating a bowl of cereal at the kitchen table when Mom plopped down beside me, struck up a light conversation and casually announced her resignation from motherhood.
If she’d left any work undone, she figured it was too late now. I was formed.
Mom thought she’d done a pretty spectacular job, though, and she said she was looking forward to retirement–to sharing the next 70 or so years simply as friends.
No curfews. No privilege losses or groundings. I knew Mom’s handful of urgent “no’s” by heart. I could use them as I saw fit.
I loved the respect and real responsibility I acquired from Mom’s boldest peace strategy. I loved being in charge of my life.
Mom’s “yes” orientation, though, put me at odds with a less-permissive world.
How could a girl who was released from childhood at age 13 accept, at age 16, a life centered on roll call, hall passes and tardy bells? When I got the chance to leave my traditional high school for a much freer residential one on a college campus, my Mom said her hardest “yes” yet.
She and my dad hauled their baby’s belongings to a dorm room 30 miles away. Other girls my age were striking out on their own, too, but usually just by backing out of their driveways alone with new driver’s licenses.
After uttering her hardest, most spectacular “yes,” my mom slumped down in her closet, shut the door and muffled sobs of despair.
Mom’s peacemaking strategies regularly involved plunges into the threatening unknown. Whether administering risky haircuts or flat-out resigning from motherhood, she was constantly in the fearful position of pursuing dreams of peace that she had no proof could materialize.
But her heart was set on raising allies.
Gloria Steinem recognized the precious fruits of such maternal peacemaking while watching a mother and a daughter who were conversing harmoniously at a spa.
She wrote: “A woman’s body gave birth to a friend.”
Blessed are peacemakers.
Laura Marble is a feature writer at The Island Packet, where this article first appeared, on Hilton Head Island, S.C.
For more information:
National Women’s Studies Association:
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom: