You are Responsible For What You Have Tamed

by Joanne Gilbert of Drawn to Letters

Let’s face it. The joys of Motherhood are paved with responsibilities and unpredictable outcomes. So I invite you to respond to a quote, my new illustration and a personal story.

In the classic storybook The Little Prince, the Prince complains about his beautiful but demanding and moody rose requiring so much care and the wise fox tells him “You are responsible for what you have tamed.” This quote sticks in my head because it describes the plain truth of motherhood and the endlessly complex relationship that it is.

Mother’s Day, my mother’s birthday and Memorial Day in the USA all come in May. They are a triplet of strong memories for me now that my mother is gone. So I want to share a memory of my mother that raises practicality and responsibility over creativity and personal growth. I hope you will find the true ending inspiring and see why I painted this cheeky picture to illustrate the fox’s words and honor my mother’s mode of operation.

you are responsible for what you have tamed, joanne gilbert, reflections on motherhood

“You are responsible for what you have tamed.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Illustration by Joanne Gilbert © 2011

My mother was really really responsible although I seldom met her definition of tamed. She was not known for her patience or creativity or happy homemaking. She liked to be quick and be done. She cooked every day using every shortcut or mix she could find. She was neat and organized and always did what she said but not more than she could do. Mom did not tolerate messy or late or forgotten. She gave me art materials to keep me busy not to feed my imagination. She accomplished lists of tasks but never multi-tasked. She kept a routine and didn’t ask for or want our help.

I now realize Mother was ahead of her time in her support of local farm stands, Craft Fair Artisans and equal opportunities for women and minorities. She had high expectations for others and was quick to judge. She taught her oldest granddaughter a fancy basketball move. She loved new technology. She called and visited her parents weekly. She took care of a dog she didn’t like for 15 years. She even scheduled her daily escape preferring soap operas to comedy. Mom filled in FAFSA forms for colleges and worked an extra job for my wedding. She worried we were “taking on too much” when we were working mothers. She made iced coffee long before it was trendy. She finally avoided the Vermont winter in Florida for a few weeks during her last few years, returning just before Mother’s Day and her birthday, in time to dutifully visit the family gravesites with geraniums for Memorial Day. She was responsible for taming three daughters.

Each May we gave her a hanging fuschia plant for the porch season and sometimes a pot of tulips. After they finished blooming she dutifully replanted the bulbs near the front door shrubs, complaining she had never seen anything come up again. The year that my youngest sister became a Mom, my mother came back from Florida and to her surprise some tulip leaves had “finally decided to come up”. We laughed about it and also how she was interviewed for a newspaper article. They liked her custom of visiting the cemeteries each Memorial Day — a tradition which was being replaced nationally by party activities. She told them she hoped her daughters would continue it but she didn’t know if anyone would.

A week later she had a heart attack. When I entered her emergency room the first thing she said to me was “Who is taking care of the kids? Tell Ben I might not make it to his graduation but your father will go.” Responsible. She died an hour later. On the day of her funeral I drove up to the house and saw 3 pink tulips in full bloom by the front door for the first time ever. True story. It still makes me laugh and cry. Keep planting. You are responsible for what you have tamed.

My print of the little girl watering 3 tulips with her naughty dog is in my shop now at a special price. (use code OMHG1 for 50% off.) It is dedicated to mothering that outlasts a lifetime.


  1. lindsay quinn says:

    I didn’t know that lovely story about the tulips! (Perhaps I had overheard it in the past, but was never ready to process the beauty and symbolism.) I miss her so much. Thank you for reminding me what a special person I was lucky enough to have for a Grandmother. I am proud of you and all the life and humor you pour into your paint. (I love that the puppy stole her glove! Shades of Emmy?!)

    • Jessika says:

      First the post made me cry then your comment Lindsay! I love that you left your wonderful mama such a beautiful comment, it brings the story around full circle.
      Thank you Joanne for sharing so honestly of yourself and offering us this look into your relationship with your mother. It’s a beautiful story but it also contains so many lessons about accepting our mothers as people & seeing the heart of what they try to teach us. We might not always agree, and it might not always be what we wanted but it has it’s own value.

  2. Kelly says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, it brought tears to my eyes. The universe has a way of reminding you things at the most perfect of times.

  3. Erika says:

    What an incredible story! My mom can be a pistol but I know her strength is in me.

    As I watch my 4 year old daughter grow I completely understand the complexities of motherhood. I get tired of the multiple speech and physical therapies each week and then the dramatic need for Cinderella dresses and slippers. But I would not have it any other way!

  4. Isa says:

    What a beautiful post. I have tears in my eyes. Such a poignant story and I love the quote, ‘You are responsible for what you have tamed’. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Sarah says:

    What a lovely story. Thanks for sharing it.

    I often wonder how my children will think of me in years to come – whether it’s the fun things they remember of the times they needed to learn the tough lessons of life.

    I hope they have as rounded a view as you do of your mother as a person.

  6. Donna says:

    How did I not know this story? Probably because I was the youngest sister with the new baby, and all moms know how that blurs out everything else. Such a great story, and when I read the first paragraph all I could think was “wow, I AM my mother” 🙂

  7. Lisa says:

    I love what Donna said because I thought the same thing – “wow I am a mother!”. Your Mother was ahead of her time is right, all the things that she did she just did and there was a reason behind all of it…even the art materials that occupied your time were in fact for you to create and use your imagination, they were stepping stones now weren’t they! I do thing, and funny enough my 6 yr old son borderlines in expecting me to do those things, not really expects but that is just what I do for him. Same as your Mom she did those things and hey she was clever enought to put some relax soap opera time in too!

  8. your mom’s sense of duty + responsibilty are wonderful traits that are often replaced by entitlement + self indulgence, this was a woman who knew who she was, thank you for sharing her story, how her life made a difference + is still making a difference through you + your children. a reminder of the legacy we leave.

  9. Susan says:

    As the oldest of the three daughters, I KNOW I am my mother. Thanks sister for placing a positive spin on responsibility that I seldom acknowledge. No thanks to the tears it brings.

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