A life lesson my mother taught me
Even though it took me decades to figure it out, I now know for certain I had a good mom. While she always questioned her abilities from the birth of her first child to her final breath, she did her best to impart wisdom to her children in order to integrate us into polite society. She made many sacrifices for us that only the arc of time would reveal to me.
There were also unintentional things she taught me; not through her words, but her actions.
In the summer of 2019, I went on a massive road trip in Utah, and when it came time to check out of each hotel, I would catch myself tidying up the room to make it easier for the cleaning staff to prepare it for the next guest. I’d make sure the garbage can was in a convenient spot; I’d pile all the towels in a single spot, and I’d just make sure the room was relatively easy to clean.
I want the staff to come in and go, “Oh, this will be quick!” In some small way, I want to make their day.
My mom used to do this. My siblings and I used to mock her. We’d say things like, “They’re going to clean it anyway! Who cares if it’s neat for them? Who cares what they think of us? They’ll never see us again!” And then we’d laugh. Mom would still do it anyway. It was important to her.
It wasn’t until years later that I would piece together the reasons why. My mother, twice in her life, was part of the cleaning staff at a hotel — they were called “chambermaids” back in those days. It was hard work and she hurt her back once while turning over a mattress. She did this because our family had run into financial straights a few times in our lives and she did her part to help make ends meet. She had five mouths to feed! Six if you count my father.
My mother lacked the confidence to do any other kind of work; she hated working with money because it involved counting and she was afraid to make mistakes; she hated selling because she would be too honest. She just felt that all she was good for was manual labour because she never felt smart enough to do anything else. Those are her words, not mine.
Let me be clear here: I am not impugning manual labour; it is honest work and probably the only work where, at the end of the day, you can rest your head easy on the pillow because you genuinely served others, and you did so in almost an anonymous way. If you think about it, it is the most sincere way to serve another.
My mother was the product of high school bullying. Most of us eventually let that stuff bounce off of us, but some of us absorb it and let it affect the rest of our lives. Her father one day told her that her days at school were done and she had a job at the local chicken farm because her family needed the money and being in school wasn’t paying the bills. My mother would gladly quit school to get away from the awful people who made fun of her almost every day.
It would be a decision that would haunt her for the rest of her life as it destroyed her confidence and made her feel inferior. She felt she wasn’t educated. She felt she wasn’t good enough.
I am an academically educated person because of my mother. But I am also educated in the realities of life because of my mother. She was much, much smarter than she ever gave herself credit. This person who felt she wasn’t educated enough was a great teacher to me in so many ways.
One of the most important things my mother ever taught me was to respect people in the service industry.
One time on my trip, as I checked out of a hotel, I saw a gathering of the cleaning staff as they folded towels in the laundry room. As I poked my head in the door, their light conversation came to a halt and they looked at me. I think they were expecting me to make a demand for them of some sort.
I said, “I just want you to know that I deeply appreciate and respect what you do. My mother did your job. I know it’s hard work and I just wanted to say that I appreciate everything you do to make my stay here great.”
I put my hand to my heart and said, “Thank you!”
The room filled with smiles and the ladies said, “Wow…well…well, thank you!” They didn’t know what else to say. They didn’t have to. I was the one who owed them the thanks for the clean sheets and towels.
There is no academic institution on earth that could have taught me that. The only one who was qualified was the one who thought she wasn’t educated enough; the one who always thought she wasn’t good enough — my mother.
As always, thank you, Mom!