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Perfect homemaker or businessmom? There's room for all types of moms

Growing up, the household of Tammy Swift's bestie seemed like nirvana. It was a spotless rambler — the height of 1970s’ cool, in her book — with a mom who dressed fashionably and kept their freezer stocked at all times with at least five different homemade cookies. But as time passed, she learned all moms contribute in their own way.

Tammy Swift online column sig revised 3-16-21.jpg
Tammy Swift, Forum columnist.
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FARGO — The mother of my high school bestie died last week.

It wasn’t a huge surprise. The lady was 93 years old, so she had a good, long life.

Even so, the event filled me with nostalgia.

I was instantly transported back to high school and the many dinners I shared at their dining room table.

It certainly helped that I was in my hometown upon hearing the news, which made the memories even more vivid.

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Back then, I was filled with teen angst (unlike now, when I’m filled with middle-aged lady angst) and positive that everyone else’s life was better than mine was.

I grew up in a small farmhouse, crammed with sisters, while my friend’s parents had their kids spaced sensibly apart, with four years separating her from her next oldest sibling.

Our home was busy and imperfect, with a mom who juggled cooking for her family as well as hired men, maintaining a household and huge farmyard, raising five kids and teaching art classes on the side.

But my friend’s household seemed like nirvana to me. Their house was a spotless rambler — the height of 1970s’ cool, in my book — with a mom who dressed fashionably and kept their freezer stocked at all times with at least five different homemade cookies. My friend, “Velma,” had her own room and a mom who seemed to do everything for her — laundering and ironing her clothes to pristine condition and handling the kitchen and household so adeptly that Velma rarely had to help.

Furthermore, Velma never had to do any of the dirty jobs that farm kids were expected to do. She didn’t have to haul buckets of smelly vegetable scraps to the chicken coop to feed chickens or break nails and scrape knuckles while picking rocks. She didn’t have to water and weed a garden that seemed to occupy half of North Dakota, then help harvest the veggies when they were done. She drank milk from a store; not unhomogenized milk in old glass juice jars, which were hauled weekly in an ancient, metal cooler from a neighbor’s dairy farm.

Velma’s house had a bathroom that my 14-year-old mind envisioned as a sumptuous spa. It was brilliantly lit with flattering lighting and had a long, gleaming countertop to which her older sister would pull up a chair and use a lighted makeup mirror to painstakingly apply layers of mascara.

Their second bathroom was a regular basement bathroom. It wasn’t like what passed as a second bathroom in our farmhouse — a basement stool on its own pedestal and a shower with a concrete floor, which shared space with an ancient sink and an old gas stove used exclusively for canning and freezing days.

Of course, back then, I constantly compared every detail of our home to theirs — and usually decided we fell woefully short. They had a beige, push-button phone in the kitchen, not a clunky, black, rotary wall phone which was actually a party line. They didn’t have a creepy attic inhabited by bats. They drove a sensible sedan, not a humiliating station wagon with faux-wood paneling. They ate “cool” junk food like Tombstone pizza and Kraft mac and cheese.

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My mom made mac and cheese from scratch. Oh, the humiliation!

On top of all this, Velma’s parents did things that seemed awfully “big city” to me. On certain evenings, they would sit down and have a real cocktail hour.

They drove to the metropolis of Bismarck, 60 miles away, once a week just to shop. Velma’s mom played bridge and would have her neighbor lady over on some afternoons for coffee and sweets.

Through it all, Velma’s mother was always gracious and patient. She must have been frustrated by all the extra food she had to buy for the countless times I invited myself to dinner or the eggs we wasted on failed baking experiments.

More Tammy Swift columns
Columnist Tammy Swift isn't too proud to admit that when she makes a cake for Mother’s Day, it will be lovingly baked with the Pillsbury Doughboy nodding approvingly over her shoulder. She knows her mom, who always appreciates cooking hacks, will approve of this "shortcut" Tres Leches Cake, an ultra-moist, not-too-sweet cake soaked in three types of milk.

In hindsight, I’m a lot wiser and significantly less judgmental. Many years later, I realized that Velma's mom's No. 1 job was being a homemaker, so of course she had more time to devote to their household. My mom was taking care of kids, helping with the farm and running her own art business.

Neither of these moms was superior to the other. They just had chosen different lives. Both contributed in their own way and influenced us in the process.

For instance, Velma grew up to be an excellent homemaker — but also a highly successful businesswoman. I grew up to be a housework-hating human who found happiness in career and art — just like mom.

Each of our moms loved their families and did what they could to give them loving homes. They were products of a different generation — a generation of moms and wives who were told to stay home and run the perfect household.

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Both found their own ways to navigate that.

And, in my book, both succeeded in their quest.

Related Topics: FAMILYWOMEN AT WORK
Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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