There’s a feature this a.m. in the Life & Arts section about “bad mother moments” where moms wrote in to confess their failures. For the most part, these true confessions were all very far behind the front line of battle between “tough love” and “I left my toddler in the house over the weekend with an open box of cereal and the TV on at the Cartoon Channel. I needed some ‘me’ time.” Overall it was pretty wimpy stuff, although I admire the woman who stuffed her kid’s toy recorder with foam, telling her that it would “filter” the sound. Some of it didn’t even register as “bad,” just the kind of stuff unimaginative types think qualifies as a major lapse of nurturing: mother of 4 month old FORGETS TO PACK EXTRA CHANGE OF CLOTHES IN DIAPER BAG. When the kid needs changing, he doesn’t have a replacement pair of pants (diaper leak- oops.) So he has to endure the humiliation of only wearing his shirt, clean diapers, and his mom’s jacket at a dinner with family. At the Salt Lick, mind you, not the Four Seasons. I remember never dressing my daughter in anything more than a “onesie” until she was old enough to complain. And now, three years later, she’s graduating from high school. Time flies!
I kept reading to see if anyone could top me. It wasn’t even a close call. When my son was about 2, he was out at the play ground with my husband, his FATHER, and walked up to perfect strangers at the park, telling them “My mommy hit me in the head with a vacuum cleaner,” while referring to his father as “Mike.” My personal favorite story of abuse is the time I was cutting his hair with clippers and nicked him TWICE. Tears were streaming down his face but he sat perfectly still, afraid to move, and I said, “Stop bleeding. You’re clogging the clippers.” (on the upside, that incident cured his phobia of barbers. We never looked back.) Or this conversation with my daughter. Daughter: “I was completely miserable at St. Gabriel’s [middle school.]” Me: “You seemed so well adjusted there. Why didn’t you say anything?” “You never asked.” “Consider it my contribution to your acting career.”
Of course, I’m a piker compared to my mother. My brother and I both remember an incident when we were little, but he thinks it happened to him, I think it happened to me (when you’re talking about the memories of little kids, though, it could have been either but the fact that we both remember identical details confirms that it happened): All of us kids in the back seat of the station wagon, Mom rounds a curve, door flies open and centrifugal force sends me out the door. Older brother grabs me, hauls me back in, and reaches over to shut the door (for real this time.) Mom never notices, accelerates out of the curve completely unaware that she almost lost 20% of her brood. We have documented between us at least 3 incidents of children almost or actually falling out of moving cars with my mother at the wheel, including one time my brother fell COMPLETELY OUT while my mother was backing out of the driveway. My grandmother was in the car and fortunately screamed “Beverley, YOU’RE RUNNING OVER TOMMY!” That was the only time Mom stopped for any of us, for any reason.
And then there was Mom’s approach to health care cost control. There were only two things Mom would take us to the doctor for: cuts that required stitches (that is, you could see bone or the amount of blood was inconvenient) and tetanus shots. Oh, and if my sister got a bee sting (she’s allergic.) If the dog needed stitches, however, Mom did it herself. My older brother nearly got his tongue severed at the beach when a little kid armed with a metal sand shovel (this is circa 1950) took action when my brother stuck his tongue out at him. My mother’s remedy: rinse the mouth out to get the sand out and give the kid a towel to suck on. I’m not sure she even cut the beach visit short. Fortunately for my older brothers, when they broke limbs, they were usually with other people who would take it upon themselves to seek medical attention on their behalf.
Well, we all survived as it happens. Or maybe the weak ones were weeded out early…
Happy Mother’s Day!