Several years ago I wrote a weekly column for a local newspaper. The editor gave me free reign to share with our readers just about anything I saw fit.
Sometimes I wrote about personal situations going on in my life or from my past; sometimes I wrote about social issues or conventional norms; and sometimes I just shared funny stories or special memories. There wasn’t really a formula for my column, other than my desire to make sure each one had a point or a message worth sharing.
I often joked that my weekly column was, in essence, my weekly therapy session. I would pour out my heart, put it on page four of the Community Living Section, send it off to print, and leave the office feeling a hundred times better. Because of the way the local paper is structured, they printed my section Thursday night and a few days later it ran in the Sunday paper. I mention this to help explain why I would often be caught a bit off guard when someone would stop me in a public place days after I had spilled my heart in writing to share a comment or thought they had regarding one of my columns. Honestly, I had usually forgotten about them by the time they were open for public consumption. Such was the case one Sunday afternoon in February when my family and I were eating lunch at the annual Altrusa Smorgasbord fundraiser. A very kind woman approached me, said she recognized me from my picture in the paper, and wanted to tell me how much she enjoyed reading my column each week. Her favorite, she said, was the one I had written the previous Mother’s Day. I already disclosed how much I would forget between Thursday to Sunday, so imagine how much I remembered from nine months prior! This kind lady, it turns out, remembered just about all of it though. “I thought it was so funny that you talked about your mom being mean with a capital “M,” she laughed. The title of that column was, in fact, “My Mom Was Mean with a Capital ‘M.’” We swapped mom stories and pondered the wellbeing of future generations without mean moms before parting ways. Moments like those were what reminded me of the “why” behind my columns.
A few months ago I was visiting my grandmother and she pulled out a three-ring binder. To my surprise the contents were none other than those very columns. I hadn’t saved a single one so it was a rather pleasant surprise. I flipped through the pages and when I came across the Mother’s Day clipping I referenced earlier I was immediately reminded of that story. Although I can’t share my exact words from the column due to copy right laws, I thought I’d divulge the essence of what it entailed.
I grew up in a fairly strict household where our television watching was monitored, our clothing was nothing if not conservative, and our manners were of utmost importance. We had chores and there were expectations of us. We were expected to help with dinner, set the table, and help clean up afterward. We were expected to make our beds every day and clean our rooms. We were expected to treat our parents with respect, and equally important was how we treated people outside our home. Teachers and coaches and even our friends all garnered our respect. We weren’t even allowed to answer the phone with a normal “Hello?” Nope, in our house it was “Elrod residence.” That’s my maiden name and that’s how we answered the landline (which was the only line). After answering you better believe our manners were on point, especially if our dad was getting called out to work or my grandma was calling from out of state. To this day I rarely address anyone without referring to them as ma’am or sir.
These rules might sound basic, and perhaps they are, but as a kid sometimes it felt too restrictive. I can recall conversations with my mom in which I was just certain she wanted my life to be miserable and she wanted me to feel left out of countless conversations by being the only kid at school that didn’t watch MTV. It was torture. As a kid who dreaded bedtime, the hour my mom insisted I get in bed seemed border line abusive! I had more playing to do!
By now you should be able to better understand why I insisted my mom was mean with a capital M! Only now, as a 40-year-old mom myself, I look back and thank my lucky stars she was mean. In fact, I’m so thankful that I pay tribute to her by proudly wearing the same badge! What I thought of as my mom being mean, it turns out, was actually an act of love. I’m reminded of a column Erma Bombeck once wrote titled “Someday I’ll Tell My Children.” She said that someday when her children are old enough to understand the logic that motivates a mother she will tell them she loved them enough to bug them about where they were going and with whom; to let them stumble, fall, and fail so they can learn to stand on their own; to say no when they hated her for it…” and so forth. It took me becoming a mother to fully understand the logic that motivated my mother to be so mean. I get it now.
Now I… insist my own children do chores and help out around the house. We have strict bedtimes, rules for what they can watch on TV and when, rules and limits for electronic devices, and so help me if I ever hear about either of my children talking disrespectfully to another adult they’ll really know what mean is. But being mean is really just my way of showing my children how deeply they are loved. It’s what motivates me as a mother.