This article was originally published in The Dallas Morning News on Mother's Day 2002, and it has been republished in numerous publications. Although I've posted it here before, the message is timeless, and I'm posting it again in honor of my mean mother on Mother's Day. I am blessed to still have her in my life.
We couldn’t sass.
We couldn’t say “yep.”
We couldn’t say “nope.”
We couldn't say "golly."
We couldn't say "gee."
We couldn’t ask for something without saying please.
Indeed, life with Mother consisted of rules, rules and more rules—and they weren’t limited to 529 Hill Street. The Queen of Mean had rules for everywhere.
No smacking gum in the car. No undressing mannequins in stores. No belching in restaurants.
Even in church, Mother was mean.
Personally, I never understood how Mother could stare at three kids simultaneously without moving her eyes either direction, but she did. No blinking. No wrong chords. Just steady staring and steady playing—lips puckered, one eyebrow cocked, shoulders rigid.
Sometimes it took us a while to realize that Mother was in the Look-of-Death mode, but once we figured it out, it didn’t take us very long to get spiritual. After all, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth were no foreign concepts to Mother’s kids. When we sang, “Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry,” we meant: “Right now, God! Mother is looking!” The terror of the Lord was one thing, but the terror of the pianist was something else.
Mother was a very gifted woman, capable of doing just about anything. But nothing was more important to Mother than raising her children. At times, I wished it had been otherwise. Mother would have made an excellent Commanding General in the United States Marine Corps: giving orders was what she did best.
Recently, I overheard a mother counting to three after telling her offspring to do something, and I couldn’t help but chuckle. Mother never counted to three after telling us to do anything. She didn’t even count to one! She ordered. We obeyed. No countdown.
As my sisters and I edged toward adulthood, Mother’s rules didn’t disappear, but she did fine-tune them a bit to fit the seasons. Occasionally, she even made rules on the fly as she winged her way through the unfamiliar terrain of raising teenage girls.
I remember one such time very well.
It was one of my first real dates. Curfew time was nearing, and me and Mr. Wrong were sitting out front in the car with the engine off.
As we smiled into each other’s eyes, the porch light came on. Then it went off again. Then on. Then off. On. Off. On. Off.
Yes, Mother—still executing orders from afar. “Time to say good-night and come inside,” her switch-twitch was saying. And, of course, I wasted no time in exiting the vehicle and high-tailing it to the front door.
It seems that mean mothers aren’t as prevalent as they were when I was growing up. I don’t know what happened to them. Instead of mean mothers, we have a bunch of mean kids—fighting, cursing, killing their classmates, their teachers, and their own flesh and blood.
I miss mean mothers.
Children miss them, too. ♦