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Chapman: Thanks to all mothers

By Staff | May 16, 2014

I consider myself fortunate to have met so many strong mothers in our area.

Whether it’s inviting me over for supper or kindly welcoming me on my random visits to a farm here or there, I’ve found great comfort from a number of incredible women in Rugby and Pierce County.

It’s not easy moving to a community one knows little about, but I constantly see the warm generosity of my own mother reflected in the actions and words of new friends here.

When I called mom on Sunday to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day, I expected having to leave a message because she’d be on the line with one of my 13 siblings or busy entertaining one of her 24 grandchildren.

Yeah, the numbers are staggering. Sometimes I forget how amazing she (and dad) is to have raised all of us. As of last year, we all have college degrees and, though far from perfect, we’re closer than we realize to the example she set.

Surprisingly, mom picked up on the first ring and we spoke for 43 minutes and 7 seconds. We usually talk for about 20 minutes each week, but this was special. Despite the never-ending communication she has to keep up with, she was remarkably relaxed and it might have been the best conversation I’ve ever had with her.

Naturally, I decided to interview her. I’ve spent so much darn time trying to figure out what my path in life is that I never really asked much about her life.

Janet Ann (Murphy) Chapman was born on Oct. 23, 1948, in the Bronx. She grew up in Baldwin, Long Island, N.Y., with two older brothers. She went to St. Christopher School before Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Academy and then Baldwin High School for her final two years. Her mother, Helen, did clerical work and her father, David, was a machinist for Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation.

She met Ralph Edward Chapman in high school while working at a Baldwin grocery store. He worked in the deli and she was a cashier. They married in 1970 in Baldwin and soon moved to Northern Virginia – which she wasn’t to pleased about at the time. She worked clerical jobs and the area grew on her. At age 23 she had the first of her 14 kids, a daughter named Kimberly. Mom actually had 17 pregnancies, but three didn’t make it.

“I love babies,” she told me. “I love kids and when you were a little kid and people asked what you wanted to be, I said if I didn’t be a nun, I just wanted to have a big family. I do love little kids. That’s why I’ve watched the grandkids.”

She was pretty strict and though I hated some of the rules, I’m sure glad they were in place. Every Saturday evening we’d attend the vigil at St. Timothy’s Parish in Chantilly, Va., and only the long back pews could fit all of us – sometimes. There was little grey area when it came to right and wrong, and faith played a major role in how she expected us to conduct ourselves.

Mom worked tirelessly to keep us healthy. She did at least four loads of laundry a day and served dinner in a couple shifts – us younger ones ate early in the evening and made way for the older siblings still at track practice. The house was remarkably clean thanks to her. It was occasionally chilly in the winter as they tried to save a bit on the heating bills. (We complained then, but I laugh now after experiencing winter up here.)

We didn’t have the toys that friends did and we weren’t allowed to accept token trophies after most sports seasons, unless we played on a championship team. I pitched a fit about that, but she made it clear that you earn rewards and they aren’t simply handed to you.

We were expected to work through high school, be it babysitting, hot days at the local greenhouses or really hot days at the silkscreen and embroidery shop. We’d be fools to complain considering her work never ended.

Mom recalls looking forward to a little downtime when the household parenting wrapped up, but she’s always been one to remind us to count our blessings and appreciate the now. Her oldest grandson is pushing 17 and she’s pretty much had at least a couple of them for daycare since he was born.

The house is empty these days. Just mom and dad in a five-bedroom house that’s simply too big (I see them settling in just fine in a smaller, rural area).

“It’s horrible. I hate it,” she said. “You wish for a quiet house and time to do what you want to do and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

I wish I’d spent a little more time with her when I was home for summers in college. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but she doesn’t forget anything.

“It might have been annoying for you, but I liked having you here and taking you to the bus stop,” she said.

I think she deserves an honorary degree in some sort of families study. She worries about how to market herself for even part-time work because she’s not ready to take it easy at 65. I’m confident she’ll find something, and most likely it will be with kids. Her best friend is dying of cancer, four other close friends moved in the last year and she needs to keep sharp with work, reading and physical activity. The latter shouldn’t be a problem as she’s walked the neighborhood morning and night since I can remember.

Mother’s Day also gave me a great opportunity to catch up with five of my eight sisters. I asked them how mom’s impacted their own adventures into motherhood.

“I would say she fostered in me an openness and appreciation for life and love for small children,” said Kim, who has six boys and a girl. “She definitely liked that baby stage and (she impressed) just that the sacrifices you might have to make are worth it in the end for the closeness of the family.”

The other sisters echoed the sentiments of admiring mom’s selflessness and compassion.

I’m sure many readers can identify because our moms mean so much to us. It’s true that a mother’s work never ends, but it’s also true that for most of them it doesn’t feel like work. They do what they do because they love us and their ability to do so carries over to their relationships with grandchildren, great-grandchildren (and great-great, in Inez Thorstenson’s case!).

Mom said her favorite part of raising children was seeing their minds evolve.

“It’s always been a highlight to me when a kid learns how to talk. That’s always spectacular,” she said.

I could see her smile through the excitement in her voice when she told me of how she recently worked on spelling with my sister Meredith’s 7-year-old daughter, Alyssa. The little one missed just four out of 35 words, which weren’t all easy ones, according to mom.

Here’s to all moms and hoping they had a great Mother’s Day and many more to come. Hopefully, my mom can meet you and yours someday. I think you’d enjoy her.

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