It is a parent’s job to embarrass their kids. And it’s a kid’s job to be embarrassed by their parents.
My sister had this down to a science. When she was little, if Mom had to drive my sister to school, my mother was instructed to drop her off several houses before the school building so that ‘no one would know that my sister had a mother’. God forbid that she should be the same as every other kid in the school. Kissing or hugging my sister in public was strictly forbidden and steadfastly enforced.
I never cared much whether or not my friends discovered I had a mother. On my first day of school, it was understood that my mother was to walk me all the way to the front door. If she had been permitted to walk me to my desk and stay with me for the rest of that terrifying first day, I would have wholeheartedly agreed. As the years progressed, it never bothered me if Mom drove me somewhere and set me on my way with a hug and a kiss. When I was in university and my mother came for a visit, I took her out dancing with me. Everyone thought my Mom was ‘so cool’ to love my music – and dancing -as much as I did.
There is only one exception where my sister and I absolutely agreed that Mom had stepped over a line. We lived in a small town and like every kid growing up in the sixties and early seventies, we were allowed free range of the neighbourhood. The only rule was to be back home for meals and before dark.
Because kids have a tendency to get distracted by what they are doing, and because our mother was a stickler for rules, if we were late, our mother developed a foolproof method for getting us to come home when we were tardy. She owned a small collection of antique metal cowbells which she always kept by the front door. They were heavy, solid iron and ranged from the size of an older child’s fist to the size of a man’s fist. Their original purpose would have been to hang them around the neck of a cow so that should it drift away from the rest of the herd, even in the dark, a farmer would hear the cow before he saw it, to more quickly locate the wayward animal and bring it back home.
At some point in our childhood, Mom got the brilliant idea that an object meant to bring home a wayward cow would work just as well for a wayward daughter or two. If we were even one minute late, she would walk out the front door and forcefully ring that bell for all she was worth. For those of you who have not had the great distinction of hearing a cowbell being shaken with great vigor and vim, believe me when I tell you, it could be heard for at least two kilometers. Up close, it hurt the ears.
There was absolutely no reasoning with our mother. She had found a method that worked and her two daughters being scarred for life was not a valid argument. Our only goal was to have her stop ringing that bell as quickly as possible. When I was around 10 years old, I mastered the piercing whistle reserved for acknowledging great songs at a rock concert. “Mom,” I begged, “When you hear me whistle, please stop ringing the bell. That means I heard you and I’m on my way.” Always believing that in such an embarrassing situation, honesty is the only policy, all of my friends knew what the cowbell – and the ensuing whistle – meant. I had been summoned and was expected to bolt for home.
My sister, to her great chagrin, never mastered the piercing whistle. Coupled with her steadfast premise that in public she had no mother, she faced a major conundrum: how to handle this and maintain her unsurpassed image of motherless child? The first time she was in the midst of a group of friends and they all heard Mom’s cowbell peeling merrily throughout the entire neighbourhood, one of the kids looked up in bewilderment and asked, “What is THAT?!”
My sister’s response was less than inspired. “I don’t know,” said my sister, skinny legs and knobby knees already in motion, “But I gotta go home.”
Mom recently moved out of the house and into a seniors’ residence. It was our responsibility to find a home for all of Mom’s stuff. Our eyes met as we both stood over Mom’s collection of cowbells; a sad/happy, affectionate look on our faces.
In the end, we gave all but one of the cowbells away. My sister kept the smallest one…
Patti Moore Wilson © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com