A short clip from a House Mother’s Advice Column: I wrote this when I was attending Ohio University on January 25, 1990 and working as a Fraternity House Mother.
Did you, dear House Mom, awaken at 6:30 a.m. this morning, to open the kitchen for breakfast, only to discover that all the doorknobs were covered with Crisco Shortening, and most of the furniture in the Television Room was turned upside down? Did you walk, slipper clad, on crunchy floors and carpets that were covered with wood chips, emptied from a pathetic-looking potted plant that had previously decorated the foyer of the Fraternity House? Did you happen to discover there were no Coffee cups or glasses in the kitchen as you groped your way to the Orange Juice and Coffee dispensers, and that a small pig was wandering around the second floor bathroom. Did your phone ring just as you returned to your apartment to fetch a coffee cup, and the cook inform you he was ill and would not be able to work for several weeks just as Rush was beginning?
Welcome to the world of the College Fraternity House Mother. As I’m sure most of you already know, a House Mother’s days are spent rushing from crises to crises. Some of them consist of small, everyday pranks, such as water balloon fights, during which there is the ever-present possibility that the House Mother will become an inviting target. Others can be more serious and include life-threatening accidents, appliance failures, plumbing disasters, budget problems, and emotional exhaustion, probably the “House Manager’s,” and yours, of course. The House Manager is an elective position held by one of the students. He can be a House Mother’s right arm when you’re compatible or your worst enemy if you’re not.
What should now be clear is that a keen sense of humor, extreme tolerance, a strong stomach, and an even temperament are prime necessities if you plan to be the perfect House Mother. Since very few of us can claim anything near perfection, we strive to develop at least two or three of these traits. I have a weak stomach and have been known to lose my temper and raise my voice occasionally, but that’s okay. Males seem to understand hot tempered women and prefer that to tears. If you possess none of the good traits, consider another job, perhaps as a Sorority House Mother since the sororities appear to be more civilized, albeit quite dull at times.
Good health is vital for a House Mother, but since most of us are older women, it is unlikely that any of us possess the health of a 21-year-old college student. There is probably no better way to ruin your health and your attitude than losing sleep. College students are able to stay awake nearly all night and sleep at odd hours. It is likely they will awaken you from time to time. Insist that the Fraternity house corporation provide you with the quietest quarters possible since you will be required to live in the House full time when the students are present. When applying for a job, ask to see the House Mother’s apartment and check the construction and location. An apartment with its own kitchen is a bonus. My apartment at the O.U. FIJI House was located next to the TV room so I had an extra heavy door installed on my apartment and it did cushion the sound. There is no need to worry that you will not be awakened in an emergency. Your charges are able to wake the dead when they want to.
Students do have a tendency to be inconsiderate at night, and are less likely to awaken you for a peanut butter sandwich if you take some precautions. Although the students are not likely to awaken you for frivolous reasons, a peanut butter sandwich or any kind of food is not in that category. Fraternity boys have been known to scale roofs and walls, pick locks, and commit almost any other kind of mayhem to get food from a locked kitchen at 2:00 a.m. Each time a kitchen break-in occurs, I call a locksmith (preferably the most costly one in town) and have all the locks changed. Then I send the bill to the Chapter. Since this can get quite expensive, break-ins usually stop when the bills reach several hundred dollars.
With the kitchen secure you can now work on ways to deal with the young men who will knock on your door begging for food in the middle of the night, a sight no decent “Mom” can ignore. Firstly, take the precaution of leaving your apartment door open from the moment you are dressed in the morning until you retire at night. That way, a closed door signifies that you are either sleeping or gone. If students grow accustomed to knocking on your closed door throughout the day, they will consider it normal to do so at night, even at 4 a.m. College students often lose track of time. (They also consider someone who retires at 10:00 p.m. a bit odd.)
A second form of insurance is a small auxiliary kitchen which most sororities, but few fraternities have. If no such facility is available, consider setting one up in a small, underused portion of the dining room or other underused space. My Chapter and I cooperated in seeing that a coffee pot, soda dispenser, ice machine, small refrigerator, microwave oven and cabinets to hold paper cups and plates, or inexpensive crockery were available. We also asked a vending firm to place snack and soft drink machines in the basement. We kept a small refrigerator filled with leftovers from our regular menu, along with bread, milk, peanut butter, and a few snack foods. The cupboards can hold coffee and milk packets as well as sugar and jelly. (In 2015 coffee, hot chocolate and apple cider pods and Keurig-style cups will be a good idea if you can afford to use a Keurig type machine.) During finals study time, my cook stocked the kitchenette with whatever snack foods his budget allowed, and the students were so grateful that they seldom trashed the food area. After taking all these small steps and precautions, I was assured a good night’s sleep on most nights.
Here’s wishing all of you a wonderful Summer break. I’m sure you’ve earned it.