(In honor of Mother’s Day this Sunday, WVFC asked our writers for thoughts and experiences related to mothers, parenting or home. Many thanks to Judy Orlando for telling our first story of the week. — Ed.)

My children both attended a one-room schoolhouse in the Berkshires, a wonderful public school experiment where 20 third- and fourth-grade public schoolers spent two years together in blanket-tented bliss. It was called the Ashley Falls School, and its founder and teacher was a remarkable woman named Eileen Brennan. Eileen taught her students many things, but what I want to tell you about is the Listener.

Eileen maintained a rotating set of her students as problem-solvers. There were three of them, and their job was to help their classmates work through whatever was bothering them. Anyone with a problem could choose which helper they wanted to go to, and each student took a turn at being each of the three helpers.

There was the Ombudsman, who would advocate for you with Eileen or with other students, and whose job was to help (it didn’t always work). There was the Arbitrator, who would hear both sides of a story and decide who was right, and whose job was to judge (her word was law). And there was the Listener, whose job was not to help or judge or give advice, but to listen (only). As I remember it, all three got business.

Last week, I was chiding—all right, howling in frustration at—my lovely 35-year-old son when he refused to tell me everything, in copious detail, that was happening in his life (imagine!). It struck me, when I had recovered my compusure the following day, that maybe I could resurrect the Listener.

I called John and offered myself up—no advice, no advocacy, no judgment (and no howling!) John immediately reacted with the first big, beautiful, spontaneous laugh in this entire exercise. But there’s more: He doesn’t even remember the Listener. Neither of my children do!

Maybe there was no perceived honor in it: You didn’t have to be smart or savvy to be successful. Anyone could do it.

Hoho! We all know better now: Almost no one can do it. But oh, I do think we can aspire to it.

And that’s what I wanted to say about motherhood.

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