Today would have been my mother’s 70th birthday had she survived her second bout with cancer. Every year around my parent’s birthdays their memory becomes stronger and this year is no different except this year I started out with some changes my mother would have supported.
My mother and I had a volatile relationship to say the least. She wanted a daughter who was into ribbons and bows, a girly girl, but what she ended up with was a stubborn, opinionated, tom-boy. *chuckles* I let her get away with the ribbon and bow shit until I was maybe 6 or 7 and then the sparks started to fly. My biggest problem with my mom was she wouldn’t let me just be me.
It wasn’t until years later I realized the true problem was not the girly girl thing or even the tom-boy thing. To be honest we were too damn much alike. Yeah, I was my mother’s daughter in more ways than either of us cared to admit.
You see my mom really didn’t talk about who she was or the things she loved. She was a strict disciplinarian who tried to control every aspect of her kids’ lives with manipulation and a do as I say attitude. The infamous line I love quoting to get people to understand my relationship with my mother follows:
Let’s get things straight here. You can do whatever you want; smoke, drink, drugs, and sex, but you can’t do it in my house.
Yes, my mother used corporal punishment which most folks consider abuse in today’s modern society, but it wasn’t the spankings that got to me. Oh, hell no! It was her ability to shame me for doing bad things, make me squirm like the proverbial worm on the hook. A good example of this is a story I laugh about now, but it was embarrassing as a child.
I was probably five at the time and my mom was doing the monthly grocery shopping. As my mother is unloading the groceries at the counter to pay for them I spotted a Hershey’s chocolate bar.
Tugging on her skirt I demanded said chocolate bar, but she refused stating she did not have the money and I did not need it. End of the story–right? Nope.
Fast forward 15 minutes. We’re half way home when my mom happens to glance in the rear view mirror. Now, what to her wandering eye did appear? Well, I can tell you it wasn’t a tiny reindeer. It was me sitting in the backseat with the aforementioned candy bar in my lap.
It was a well-known thing in my house you did not want to ever hear my mother’s quiet voice. The quiet voice was a surefire indicator your ass was in deep fucking shit. Said voice made an appearance that day and even though I’m almost 43 now I can still hear it to this day in my head.
She asked me where I got the candy. I blinked and said I took it. She turned without another word to my father and told him to turn the car around. Once we were back in town I understood I was in deep shit. My mother dragged me kicking and screaming from the car (yeah, I was a screamer) and marched my five-year old ass straight into the store and to the counter. She then told the cashier I had something I would like to tell her.
Standing there, face flushed bright red, streaked with tears and snot I handed the candy bar to the cashier informing her I was a thief and had stolen said candy bar. The cashier’s face softened and she leaned over taking the candy bar and said, “Oh, sweetie it’s…”
My mother did not give her a chance to finish the sentiment. She glared at the cashier and said, “Don’t you dare. She stole this and it’s not alright. Is it?” she aimed the glare at me.
The reply she got was a simple, “No, mommy.”
I was then frog marched out of the store to the car and we returned home. Upon getting home she sent me to my bedroom and I was told to set in the middle of my bed–no books, no toys–and think about what I had done. An hour later she came in asked me why my actions had been wrong and then spanked me after I gave her the correct answer.
Most folks reading this will probably be horrified, but I will say this. I have never stolen a single thing since. Her methods worked. She never left bruises, she never drew blood, and as an adult I realized the time-out wasn’t just for me, but for her as well. She never punished us in the moment. The spanking wasn’t what I remember though. It was standing in front of the entire store and being forced to admit I had taken something I had no business taking. The embarrassment still lingers in the back of my mind nearly forty years later.
My mother wasn’t perfect, but she did what she needed to insure her kids were decent human beings. There are three of us and none of us have a criminal record, we’re not alcoholics, drug users, murders, etc. She taught me the difference between right and wrong, acceptance of those who are different, and in the end gave me the strength to step into the adult world and survive despite all odds. She was far stronger than I think she even gave herself credit for. If I could have five minutes with her again I would tell her something I never did when she was on this earth–
Thank you, Mom, for being a mother and not a friend.
Kids do not need their parents to act as best friends. What they need are parents. Sure they may claim to hate you when they’re 15 and you tell them their curfew is 11:00 pm or when you refuse to buy them the latest techno-toy that all their friends have. But if you do it right they’ll get it when they become adults. They will appreciate you in ways they never did as kids.
Plus they’ll have a new respect for the flavor of Lemon Joy. Now that is a story for another day.
Happy Birthday, Mom, wherever you are now.