Ap­pre­ci­at­ing mom decades later

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - OPINION - Emer­i­tus English pro­fes­sor, Col­lege of DuPage, David Mc­Grath is au­thor of re­cently com­pleted SOUTH SIDERS, a col­lec­tion of col­umns on life in the Mid­west. mc­grathd@dupage.edu David Mc­Grath

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.

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