On Being Backed Up By Your Mom

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I get such a kick out of this picture; I don’t know why. I can’t recall my own mother backing me up like this when I even metaphorically stuck my tongue out at anyone. Parent-child solidarity was rare when I was a child. Most people my age go on about how they got punished twice for wrong-doing, once by the teacher who discovered them at it, and then again by their parents when they got home at night.

Come to think of it though, my mom wasn’t like those parents either, and actually may have BEEN more like the filly-mare team pictured here. For one thing, she was twice as old as all the other mothers in my Second Grade class. She’d seen some hard things in her life and at age 50 was not about to let anyone push her kid around. For another, as I gradually realized over time, she had a wee bit of a problem with authority and liked nothing better than to challenge it whenever she had a chance.

I say this because two months after my seventh birthday I got kicked out of the much-becalmed convent school my sister and I attended – for talking, of all things. And I don’t mean I got sent to the Sister Superior’s office. I mean I got hauled out of my little nailed-down desk-and chair combo by my scarlet-faced teacher, handed an empty cardboard box and told, “Pack your books! You don’t go here anymore!” Out of all patience, the good sister threw my coat at me and told me to go stand alone at the abandoned edge of that urban schoolyard under the darkling shadow of the elevated train while she had the main office call my mother to come fetch me.

I stood there and stood there. “What will I do now?” I remember fretting through my tears. “I think I’m too little to get a job!” And then I saw my mother bounding up the hill of the school grounds in our goofy old station wagon. She took me home all right, but the next day she brought me back and, on encountering the young nun there by the doorway, hopped from the car and strode right up to her.  “See HERE!” she began. “A child who talks in class is a child who is BORED!” and what could this green young nun say, especially since it did really kind of look as though my mother was actually sort of lifting her up by the snow-white bib of her habit?

Anyway, my mother saved me, even though I didn’t faintly deserve saving. Because the truth is, I did talk, endlessly, to the kids in the seats to the front, back and sides of me. I was guilty as charged. I have always suspected that Mom knew that as well as I did, a fact that remained unspoken between us for the rest of our time together on this earth.

The funny thing is, her doing that for me made me more, rather than less inclined, to stay on that straight and narrow ever since.

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