And when her biographer says of an Italian woman poet, “during some years her Muse was intermitted,” we do not wonder at the fact when he casually mentions her ten children.
Anna Garlin Spencer
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY
especially to all you mean mothers out there…
Adorning a wall in my former home was the following calligraphy print I bought at a local craft fair in the early 1990’s.
It appealed to me with its logic, simplicity and just plain common sense…
In 1993 I was inspired to write a story about a day in my life as a mean mother. I dusted it off for this blog post (who knew?…).
CONFESSIONS OF A MEAN MOTHER 1993
There are two kinds of mothers in this world: Nice Mothers (all the other mothers in town) and Mean Mothers (me). At least that’s what I’m told by my 11 year old daughter; my first born, my pride and joy, my reason for campaigning against Ronald Reagan.
She is right. I am a Mean Mother – married to an equally Mean Father. I have explained that we owe our success to Mean School. Where else would we learn how to set up “chore charts” directing her to strip and make beds (for starters) and our 5 year old son to set the table and fold socks? Where else would we learn about bedtimes earlier than all the other kids in town? And how to set an allowance that is less than the mortgage payment?
I often hear about Nice Mothers.
All the Nice Mothers let their kids stay up late and wait on them 24 hours a day. Children lucky enough to have Nice Mothers can also eat candy and chips all day long. My daughter has many friends who have no chores and watch whatever they want on TV.
“Their mothers let them,” she declares (fathers aren’t usually given credit for this). This surprises me because I think I’ve seen a few of these mothers at Mean School.
My daughter demands proof about Mean School. My son usually accepts these things at face value; but she, being older and wiser, is suspicious.
The subject came up again one recent evening.
Daughter: “Mom, can I watch TV?”
Me: “Have you finished your homework?”
Dtr: “I’ll finish it after ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ is over”
Me: “Now is better.” “Remember Mean School Rule #66: ‘Children must finish all homework before viewing TV.'”
Dtr: “Mom, would you just stop with this stuff about Mean School?” It’s SO ridiculous!”
Me: “Well…don’t you think I am mean? Aren’t I doing a good job?”
“Mommmmm.” She rolls her eyes. A practically perfect eye roll.
She hates to lose an argument. “There Is No Such Thing As Mean School.” She pauses for effect. “Like, where is it?”
“Only learning-to-be-mean parents know,” I admit.
Hands on hips…”I still don’t believe you!”
I turn to my husband who is sitting on the couch with our son reading The Cat in the Hat. “Don’t you think it should be obvious that we’re going to Mean School? We insist they write Thank You notes for goodness sake! And what about the no-candy-for-snacks rule? Now that’sreal proof.”
He looks up at me, right eyebrow raised. “Well, I don’t understand why she doesn’t believe us. Maybe we should take extra classes.”
“That’s IT!” “We’re not mean enough!”
She stamps her foot. “You guys are just fooling me. I don’t care what you say. There’s no such thing and I know it!”
Our son, eager to end the discussion, defends our position.
“You’re just a butt-head,” he comments to his sister.
Ignoring him, she crosses her arms and tries again: “And anyway you aren’t that mean…..”
My husband and I look at each other in astonishment.
“All that work! All those rules! All those lists!”
“And especially all those classes…for nothing?”
“We’ll just have to try harder, that’s all,” he admits.
I nod my head in agreement as our daughter flops down in a chair with a loud sigh and another eye roll.
“Well, kids,” I promise, “Dad and I are going to do the best we can to use what we learn in Mean School no matter what other parents let their kids do. After all, we have our position in the community to think of. Remember the family motto: if your friend jumps off a bridge, will you do it too?”
Our son laughs. “Yeah, right.”
Our daughter moans. “Oh forget it.”
We, as mean as ever, continue… “Please go pick up your rooms – we can’t see the floor anymore.”
[I am happy to report we were able to boost enrollment at Mean School by recommending it to several friends. Whose children also grew up to be fine upstanding citizens with great senses of humor]
If you stop to be kind you must swerve often from your path.
I have stopped watching the nightly news. Which is totally unlike me. Usually wanting to know…What Is Going On. The importance of being informed and up-to-date was always at the top of my list. Part of being a responsible citizen.
It seems to me there used to be more balance. The good and the evil. The positive and the negative. Now all I do is wince. Our leaders fighting. Shouting. Accusing. Deaf to the voices of reason…or fairness…or empathy. Especially empathy. Unwilling to even pause and consider a different path.
Nightly Breaking News punches story after story. Announcements line up in 10 second sound bites. Assault…Abuse…Cheating…Lying…. Young child missing…young child found in a shallow grave. Inconsolable parent. Another shooting. Blurry security camera video. One more senseless loss of a sister, a brother.
The news anchor drones on, his face barely changing expression. Night after night.
Rarely would I see kindness…until the final 2 minutes of the broadcast. Showcasing an act of generosity. Compassion. Selflessness.
Good to know there are people still out there…
On a different path.
Part of teaching is helping students learn how to tolerate ambiguity, consider possibilities, and ask questions that are unanswerable.
And what would they be…the unanswerable questions…
We ask them all the time. Naively. Believing answers are forthcoming. Nice, neat, tidy answer boxes we can check off…putting our minds at ease.
Humans need explanations. Logical reasons for behaviors…and difficult situations. Doubt disturbs the equilibrium we crave.
Children’s why questions…usually answerable…
Why do I need to wash my hands? Why can’t I touch the stove…run into the street?
Until they’re not…
Why are those kids so mean? How come grandpa had to die?
As time passes, the answers thin out. They don’t cut it.
We see through them. The holes. The exceptions. The weaknesses. The path to newer questions. Black and white fading to gray.
In the end…sometimes no answers. Not really. We’ve lived too long to settle. We know better. But still…not why.
Why is she sick with cancer and I’m not? Why can’t the doctors figure out what is wrong with me?
Shifting realities pose more questions than answers.
Humans don’t fit neatly into a category of reasons why.
Too much mystery. Too many unknowns. Intangibles.
Questions expand. And filter down to the universal…
What is life? Why am I here? What happens when I’m not?
I took a class in college – my one and only Philosophy course – entitled “Explanation” – and was immediately lost in a sea of questions. The professor with his PhD paced back and forth in front of rows of earnest young students like myself. Trying to absorb his explanations of deep philosophical questions and answers. The existential questions of…life? To me…it might as well have been another language all together. I had no answers for him that I understood, but I offered them anyway on exams….and assigned papers. Fortunately the answers were good enough. To earn a B in the class.
I wonder how it would go if I were taking that class now….
This post inspired by V.J.’s Weekly Challenge #39: Unanswerable
Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.
Vote YES for the middle school expansion!
Today is voting day in my small town. Or…as it was formerly known…Town Meeting Day. Or, more specifically, Town Meetin’ Day.
Many years ago, it was actually an open meeting for all town residents. Who assembled on folding chairs set up in the town hall. Votes were cast on various budget items and for the election of town officials. Attendees were given an opportunity to stand and voice support or opposition to the matters at hand. Sometimes a paper ballot. Sometimes just a voice vote.
Now, as the town has changed – and the population has increased – we vote in voting booths. In the former high school’s gymnasium. Exactly the same way we vote in the general elections.
Some may say these local elections are not all that important.
We are choosing the individuals who will sit on the School Board. We are voting for the members of the Board of Selectman, which governs our town. Making crucial decisions. Rules affecting how we live, where we live, where we park. Public safety. Fire trucks. Street signs. Police activity. Water quality. Local businesses also absorbing the direct and indirect ramifications.
Today there are over 20 individual budget items to consider, including the annual operating budget. One item on the ballot – for the 3rd year in a row – is all about education.
The middle school desperately needs to be expanded and renovated. Each yearly proposal has slashed more of its requests to reduce the cost. Letters to the Editor in the local paper shout out We Need This! or A Waste of Money! Often implying that the senior citizens…or those without school age children…are the reason this hasn’t been approved.
The financial burden of property taxes (which is how our schools are financed) is real. I get that. But I also know that the dollar increase due to this ballot item is not extraordinary. It averages out to a few monthly meals at the local bar and grill over the course of a year. Maybe. Or a weekly latte at the coffee shop.
So I ask myself…why don’t people understand the significance of educating our children to the best of our ability? Why do they want to keep class sizes large and cram kids into a too-small cafeteria? No music room? Art on a cart? Educating the whole child…what happened to that, I wonder….and its ramifications if not done with care. And, yes, with some sacrifice.
As cliché as it sounds, it remains a fact: (Everyone’s) Children are the Future.
My children were raised in a different town than where I currently live. I will always be grateful to the citizens who voted in favor of school improvements and supported the teachers with the salaries they needed and deserved. Despite the sacrifice. I know many of those voters were senior citizens. Who had the foresight – and wisdom – to understand the need. And the significance.
Our children and their education is important.
Voting is crucial.
Let’s not take either for granted.
Mother Goose Rhymes, Grandma Moses’ poems, Little Golden Books, Nancy Drew’s many adventures, the Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden, Pippi Longstocking….
All stories I craved as a child. Gobbling them up one after the other.
Curiosity. Escape. Imagination.
Or maybe because I loved to read.
Storybooks drew me in as nothing else could.
My public elementary school was part of the Scholastic Books program. Students could order paperback books for 25¢ or 35¢ each. Sized just right for a 10 year old with titles such as Encyclopedia Brown…Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine…Just Plain Maggie. To name just a few. Piled high on tables in the gym on delivery day. I couldn’t wait.
The school library drew me to its stories as well. Shelves of biographies…”Childhoods of Famous Americans”…were a magnet. Hardcover books mostly about boys (Nathan Hale & Abe Lincoln come to mind), but I did find some about girls. Clara Barton. Helen Keller. Dolly Madison. I didn’t discriminate at the age of 10 or 11 or 12. I read them all. Fascinated by their life stories.
Only famous people had their stories told…at least that’s what I may have assumed. But perhaps it sparked my own urge for story telling. At least in the privacy of my diaries. And letters. Later, the journals kept in college and beyond. Recording my story such as it was. Often painful. And hard to believe. Even upon reading years later. The telling…written for my eyes only…crucial. Therapeutic. I see that now. Important…even though I certainly wasn’t famous.
Years later I filled notebooks with anecdotes, observations…and stories yet again. But this time about my own children. And our family, as it grew and changed…and then grew and changed some more. A natural continuation of my childhood storytelling. About what happened.
This time, though, joyful. Still striving to capture the essence in a quick pair of sentences…or a paragraph. One page. Maybe two. The setting. The conversation. The humor. The love. The challenges. The delight.
Catching the stories on the page before one day wove into the next. Leaving me breathless to get it on paper. Their imaginations. Their curiosity. And uniqueness. From foot stomping “do by self” episodes to impromptu conversations about “where do babies come from?” To shopping for clothes. Playing with imaginary basketball teams in the driveway. Getting ready for school. Accidentally shaving off half an eyebrow. Navigating the minefield that is adolescence. How a seven year old plans the future. In her own imaginative way.
Endless stories every day. I wrote when I could. So glad I did.
We are, after all, our stories.
This post inspired by V.J.’s Weekly Challenge #37: Story
How hard it is to escape from places! However carefully one goes, they hold you — you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences, little rags and shreds of your very life.
And so it goes.
The places that define you.
House you. Comfort you.
Where you play. Where you learn.
Where you work. Where you love.
Climb. Fall. Get up. Explore.
Ones that remain
Ones you enjoy
All add up.
To the next.
One year ago today I published my first post on this blog.
I had recently moved to a new home. For the first time, I had a small room of my own. Complete with windows to let the sun shine in.
A new place to write. Reflect. Remember. Read. Share. Plan. Challenge.
And the best part?
…meeting other writers across the world in blogging land.