My Mother: An Unconventional Woman

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I sometimes get asked how I found the courage to leave my American life behind, to live unconventionally, to get back up after being knocked down when we tried and failed last year. Who taught me it was OK to break the rules, to do something different than everyone else? My answer is that I was never actually taught that I had to do anything the “normal” way, or that the majority is usually right. Everything about my whole life has been a bit unconventional from the beginning, and when I think about why this might be, I think of my mom. …Where do I begin?

Well, for starters, she decided to have seven kids. The last four were born at home, and the final baby was delivered by my dad. Then, she realized that she wanted to home school some of us, when one of my brothers was struggling in school and not getting the help he needed. In the early 80’s home schooling was practically illegal, so she had to do a whole lot of legwork, and work with a lawyer, to make sure what she was doing was legit. Many other families were inspired by her vision and wanted to home school, as well. So she started her own school, which over 100 other families joined. She took this seriously, and held teachers meetings, graded standardized tests for everyone, organized school field trips (complete with chartered buses) and had professional school pictures taken at our house. By the way, she only attended one year of college. And she wrote a very successful book on homeschooling.

Here we all are! Family pictures are very rare for us. This one was taken 19 years ago.

She became interested in midwifery, and she asked her midwife friends if she could come along on some of their births. Then, she asked them to train her, and she began delivering babies herself. She also taught child birth classes at our house– I have vivid memories of the anatomical posters of pregnant women and babies in-utero. I was familiar with the term “ring of fire” long before I heard Johnny Cash sing about it, and that song always brings me back to hearing her tell anxious couples about breathing through the pain of child birth. But the really awesome part is that while she was learning midwifery skills, she picked up a lot of useful medical know-how. So, in the middle of the day, a friend would call her, telling her about an accident that just happened, and she would clear off the dining room table or kitchen counter. Fifteen minutes later, a mom and a bleeding child would arrive, and my mom would have the injured kid lay down on the table while she administered…. STITCHES. That’s right. She stitched up her own kids plenty of times, and her friends kids too! What a handy friend (and mom) to have, right? We hardly ever went to the doctor, since my mom usually figured out what was wrong and how to treat us first. Friends called for that sort of advice, too.

[The picture I really wish I could find to insert here is one of her as I remember her most as a kid– wearing a traditional Mexican embroidered dress, her hair in a high bun (the hairstyle she wore every day for 30 years) a monkey on her lap, and a parrot balanced on her shoulder. I had this photo on my fridge for years, but now it’s packed up in a box labeled “nostalgia.”  Family members– if you have one like this, send it to me, and I’ll put it in!]

This one my dad sent me will do! Here’s my mom with some Filipino friends wearing her Mexican dresses for a feast of Mexican food she worked all day to prepare for them!

She has always had so many useful hobbies, and one that stands out to me is her interest in herbalism. She loved buying herbs and making her own tinctures. Some days we would have “rolling schoolhouse” and she would load us with some text books into our big van and take us into East L.A. to buy herbs from Mexican shops– as she drove and explained over her shoulder what a barrio was, or told us what to watch for. Sometimes we went into Chinatown looking for certain plants she needed, and I remember also buying chickens there. It was always an educational opportunity– there was so much to see, so much to learn! (And her garlic cough syrup was the perfect treatment for a fake illness we tried to conjure up to get out of doing chores!)

Along those lines, my mom also wanted to keep animals, even though it wasn’t technically  legal where we lived, in Los Angeles. We had a big back yard, and she and my dad built a big chicken coop, where we had tons of hens that supplied us with all the eggs we needed. They also got into raising rabbits, and at one point we had a seriously insane number of rabbits in hutches out back. My mom started selling them to pet stores. Then, there were just too many, and she started paying us a quarter for each one we took into the hills and let go (sorry, ecological balance!)  Yes, we did eat them, as well, and tanning the skins was all part of the education.

Here’s  my mom in her kitchen in the Philippines, trying something new– cooking ox tongue!

When we moved to the Philippines, my dad came with us at first, but had to go back to the States to take care of unfinished business there. His stay extended to six months, in which my mom was all by herself in a new country, with seven kids. She was in language school full time, learning how to manage house helpers, and supervising someone else to tutor us for school. Two of her sons were in boarding school in Manila, in the midst of a string of violent coup attempts. There were no telephones, and this was obviously before internet. It was an extremely challenging situation. But I never heard my mom complain. Sure, she got lonely for my dad, frustrated with cultural dynamics, worried about my brothers. But I never got the impression that she felt sorry for herself. Or that she thought she was particularly heroic. She trusted that she was exactly where God wanted her, and that she would be given the means to deal gracefully with whatever challenges she met. I didn’t even realize how ridiculously hard that first six months of life overseas must have been for her until I was an adult!

Here are my parents on a recent vacation in Thailand– they had a blast touring the area on a scooter!

Did people ever think she was a little nuts? Yeah, I think so. But she didn’t let that keep her from exploring life’s options and following through with things that really interested her– she is fearless. She has never been afraid to be a little different. My mom models a firm belief in the old adage, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way!”  I never got the message from her that some things were just impossible. She told me repeatedly that I could pretty much do anything that I decided to do– she believed in my ability to overcome and problem-solve, or just to power through for the sake of what I thought was worthwhile. She has always practiced the discipline of contentment and thankfulness for her life and current situation, and that was a powerful example to me. I hope that I can also model to my own daughter a basic gratefulness for all that life brings me, an interest in the world around me, and the belief that I can participate how I choose to, not to be a passive observer (or follower) in life. Thank you, Mom!
And, Happy Mothers Day, all you Mamas!

What powerful beliefs about life did your mother model for you? Please share!

(This post was shared at Mothering Monday, Thank Goodness it’s Monday.)

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25 Responses to My Mother: An Unconventional Woman

  1. Kristin May 12, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    I love this! Your mom is an inspiration.

  2. Ed May 12, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    Very sweet, Ariana, You gave a good picture of your truly remarkable mother! I’m thankful for her every day…

  3. Grandma Seelye May 12, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    Ariana, thanks for this sweet tribute to your mom!! I am so thankful and proud of her too!!!

  4. Nathan May 12, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    Bingo! You nailed it. She is really awesome! Thanks for putting it into words.

  5. annie May 12, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    I got to experience your unconventional Mom ( and family, for that matter) and I am so thankful I did. Lovely tribute to her. I too, am thankful for the childhood I was given and what I have taken from it.

  6. Jenny May 12, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    What a lovely tribute to an obviously extraordinary mother. Happy Mother’s day to you too, Ariana! I hope you have a wonderful day with your family.

  7. Robin May 12, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    So nice! Well done, Ariana. I’m not quite as adventuresome as my sister, but I probably have some of the same traits underneath. Love it.

  8. jessica May 13, 2012 at 2:15 am #

    I love her and all of the neat things she does. We really do not have to fit into a mold, and she played a part in confirming that for me as well.

  9. Great Aunt Gretchen May 13, 2012 at 4:26 am #

    Good job Ariana! She truly is amazing. I’m so glad I have two completely different sisters, In fact, we’re each different from the other–unique. Thanks for sharing. 😉

  10. katie May 13, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    wow. your mom sounds amazing. thank you for sharing about her.

  11. MommaMina May 14, 2012 at 1:29 am #

    Thank you Ariana for sharing your mom with so many. She is one incredibly fun woman!

  12. Heidi May 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    Amen! This is a great summary…so true. I’m so glad I got to spend three months with her when I visited the Philippines!

  13. Amelia May 15, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    I think your mom and my mom would have been great friends! She also taught childbirth classes and I too grew up with those anatomical models! I grew up watching childbirth films and never thought anything of it. I am grateful, as you are for a mother who taught me to think independently and not be afraid to make decisions that are not always conventional. We are truly blessed!

  14. Ariana May 16, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    Thanks, everyone, for chiming in about my cool mom! I often wonder where I’d be now if I hadn’t heard my mom frequently ask people who were facing a challenge, “Where’s your sense of adventure?!” Glad to say mine is still intact!

  15. Hausfrau May 18, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    Okay, just–wow. How incredible is your mom?! Oh, and I read her book a few years ago!

    • Ariana May 21, 2012 at 6:38 am #

      I love that you read her book, Diane!! Now you know a lot about our family (at least where we were at 25-30 years ago!)

  16. Marge May 18, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    Wow, what an inspiration your Mom is!

    Visiting from SITS, ,make it a great day!

    • Ariana May 21, 2012 at 6:38 am #

      Thanks for the visit, Marge!

  17. Elie May 21, 2012 at 2:34 am #

    What a fabulous post! You could (and should!) write a book with many chapters about your family’s quirks! Loved reading it. Want more.

    • Ariana May 21, 2012 at 6:40 am #

      Thanks, Elie. I have thought about this. I may start writing more stories about my unconventional childhood. I realized when I started telling Amelia stories each day when I was walking her to school that no one had heard them before. She would come home and tell Jeff and he was really amazed– it was weird to realize how few people actually know what my childhood was like. Thanks for your encouragement– we’ll see!

  18. Coombe Mill March 11, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    I love your Mum! Wow she has clearly had a huge impact on you and what an amazing woman. I’m sure you are bringing many of her special qualities forward into your family.

  19. The Brick Castle March 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    Wow. Your Mum was actually supermum! You are a very lucky woman and I’m sure you have inherited a lot from her 🙂

  20. Barbara Seelye May 20, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

    When the girls were growing up, Luanne was the one we found hanging from walnut tree limb by one leg. Grampa Seelye

  21. Dana May 8, 2016 at 9:15 am #


  22. Barbara Harrington May 8, 2016 at 1:30 pm #

    She gives me courage and delight!

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