Today my mother told me I needed to ‘keep a close eye’ on my teenage son. ‘He’s going astray, he’s getting up to no good…’ How does she know this? Because at church he was walking with a slight slouch, a ‘I don’t have a crooked back Im really doing a cool as cool walk.’ And because when she said hello to him, he was somewhat nonchalant in his reply. ‘Hi nana.’ ( as opposed to an exuberant over-the-top OHMIGOSH HELLO WONDERFUL GRANDMOTHER IM SO FILLED WITH JOY TO SEE YOU)
According to my mother ( who knows everything) those two things add up to a teenage boy who is plotting to be up to no good. Who is going to fall off the straight and narrow path any minute…you know, drugs, sex and rocknroll. According to my mother ( who knows everything) my son is tiptoeing into outer darkness and me his mother, is oblivious. aaaaaargh! I love my mother. But sometimes she can drive me up the wall. ( And since im a mother myself, I do admit that driving our children up the wall is part of the handbook of essential characteristics of motherhood.) Now, let us be clear – my mother is the cleverest woman I know. The most creative. And the winner of Best Dressed mother every time. But there are some things about her parenting that have me scraping my fingernails on a chalkboard.
Her mantra, her philosophy on her children has always been – Expect the worst, that way if it doesn’t happen, you will be pleasantly surprised. This means we, her children have alternately been accused of: being drug addicts, alcoholics, promiscuous, cocktail waitresses who dance on tables – oh, and my all time favourite – prostitutes. I exaggerate you not. My sister away at Uni called wanting money? My mother’s conclusion, she must be on drugs! She’s always broke. My sister away at Uni seemed to have lots of money and always gallivanting about on extra-curricular trips? My mother’s horror filled conclusion, ohmigosh, what if she’s…you know…selling herself! Thats why she has so much money! My sister has a messy house? My mother’s conclusion, I think she’s headed for a nervous breakdown, too much stress. She needs medication. My brother hasnt called home in a while? My mother’s conclusion, I bet you he’s in jail. I just know it. He’s been locked up and he’s too embarassed to tell us.
My mother’s approach to discipline when we were little, wasn’t much different. If someone ate a cookie they weren’t supposed to or broke an ornament that dated back to the Ming dynasty – she would line us up and demand the culprit confess. When nobody did, she would whack everybody with the wooden spoon. Why? Because that way, she was sure the right person got punished. And the innocents? Well, if you hadn’t done the bad deed, you were surely capable of it and you got a whack by pure association. ( it was also a great method for ensuring the true culprit got majorly beat up by the rest of us siblings when mum was done, to pay them back for our unjust wooden spoon whack.)
My mother didnt believe in such foolish notions as ‘positive afffirmation’. She thought compliments would make us conceited brats. So she would go to great lengths to make sure we knew what was standing in the way of our winning Miss Universe. Things like – You should never cut your hair short because you have big ears that stick out. Thats why you’ll never be as pretty as your cousin. and No one could call you beautiful. Maybe ‘unique’. Interesting. (Isnt that what they said about the Hobbit?!) My mother didnt want us to be ‘fiapoto’. So she berated us for coming ONLY second in class. Or for excelling in two subjects and not the other three as well. When I won my first writing competition, she told me they must not have had many entries that year. And when i was invited to speak at a Writers Conference, she asked why? Werent there any REAL writers available? Aaaaaargh!
Now I have made it to adulthood. I am a 37 yr old mother of five children. I wear my hair any way i want to. I am happy to be ‘unique and interesting’ ( like all the other Hobbits). I can laugh and joke with my mother about the time she thought i was a ‘woman of loose morals’. And I can roll my eyes at her when she goes through her list of dark predictions about me and my siblings. And my children.
I repeat – my mother is the cleverest, most talented woman i know. She has taught me many things that help me to be a good mother. What i should do. And what i shouldnt. Because of her, I make sure that I compliment my children everyday. They are literally smothered in positive affirmations. If all goes according to plan, they will be conceited brats, drowning in confidence. And at all times, I try to remember – to hope the best of them, expect the best for them, and look for the best in them.
(But if anybody sees my son running wild on drugs, sex and rocknroll – can you call me immediately? So i can get the wooden spoon and hunt him down?!)