Appreciating mom decades later
Not until I became a parent myself did I fully appreciate what my mother did for her eight children.
In the 1960s, parent/ teacher conferences at St. Bernadette School in Evergreen Park were for adults only. So once a year on a weeknight in October, my father, irritated to have to head out again after working at the tile store all day, would zip up his jacket to cover his tank top and drive my mother to the school, while we kids waited in the living room watching TV.
Charlie, the oldest and in charge, turned off the lights to cut the glare on the fuzzy picture on our black-andwhite Admiral TV. Rosie sat on the couch with Kevin and toddler Nancy who were not yet in school, while my brothers and I retrieved pillows from our beds to lie on the carpet and watch “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.”
Dobie Gillis was a teenage sitcom in which Dobie (Dwayne Hickman) would often address the TV audience with monologues about his dating woes.
No doubt the show was funny, especially when the beatnik sidekick Maynard G. Krebbs (Bob Denver) would pop on screen and say, “You rang?” But I can still specifically recall Charlie looking at Jimmy, the second oldest, whose extra loud laughing betrayed his nervousness about what would happen when Mom and Dad got home.
Which they did, finally, around 9 p.m., the old man’s mood slightly improved, either because of good school reports or because he was finally able to open up a can of Hamms beer.
One by one, starting with the oldest, we were summoned to the kitchen. Down the hallway from Dobie’s TV voiceover, my parents’ muffled words were indecipherable while they spoke with Charlie about his progress in school.
“None of your bee’s wax,” said Charlie when he rejoined us and Kenneth asked him about it.
When it was my turn to take a seat at the kitchen table, Mom was still wearing her blue dress and silver earrings from the conferences, while Dad sat at the head of the table in his T-shirt, his pilsner glass of beer half full.
“There’s a check on your report card for self control,” he said. “Mrs. Kelly told us that you made that poor girl cry.”
It took me by surprise because I was just an accessory. All I did was pass along a tightly folded note that my classmate and best friend, one row over, had bounced off the side of my head. On its outside, he had printed with a fountain pen in tiny letters: “To Patricia M.”
When Patricia opened it, she started crying, causing a giant commotion and getting both me and my classmate in trouble. Mrs. Kelly was angrier than I had ever seen her, ordering us to stand in the back of the room facing the lockers to “reflect and pray” about our actions. I whispered to my pal, asking what was in the note. And though I don’t remember his exact words, he smiled sheepishly and whispered back that it was something he picked “fresh” from his nose that morning.
My father thought I should not hang out with my “goofball buddy” anymore.
But my mother interceded, reciting the grades on my report card, one by one, most of which were VG’s (very good) with a couple of E’s (excellent), as well. My record showed, she said, that I could be a good influence on my friend and that I ought to try to make sure neither of us got checks on the next report card.
The old man shrugged, then chugged from his beer.
As I joined the others watching Wyatt Earp (Hugh O’Brien) ride his horse out of town, while Kenneth and then Pat took their turns in the kitchen, I felt the uncomfortable weight of the new responsibility she gave me. The upcoming semester loomed long.
Today, I have three kids. They’re all grown, but readers my age know that parenting never really ends.
Today I marvel at how I used to assume my mother’s chief focus was on me and my day-to-day travails and triumphs, even though I was just one of 9, if you count the old man, to whom she dedicated the same amount of effort, same amount of love. Never-ending, her entire life.
What mothers do.