When I was growing up, at times it seemed like my mom was a broken record. She was always repeating herself.
“Danny, clean your room,” she’d say, or “How’s your homework coming, Danny?” Then there was my least favorite “Are you lying to me?” and the always-classic “Run up the street and help Mrs. Simms.” Mom’s Big Four phrases involved cleaning, homework, lying, helping—a.k.a. The Top Four Things Kids Can’t Stand Talking About.
The cleaning thing wasn’t too bad, really. I’ve always been a fairly neat person, and our house was so small that there was barely enough room to have things out of place. Plus, you could see into my bedroom from the living room—if my stuff was a disaster, everybody had to look at it. So every night after dinner came a gentle reminder: “Danny, clean your room.”
The homework thing was another story. I was never one to get a thrill out of school assignments, especially when it involved a lot of reading. I’m sure it came as no surprise to my mom that when she asked about the day’s work, my most common reply was a hesitant “Uhmmm…”
Trust me, it wasn’t always pretty. Still, my mom regularly paused what she was doing long enough to sit beside me and my books for a while. She’d peer over my shoulder and offer help periodically. She’d even quiz me on my reading assignments until she was convinced I understood the stories.
Of course, I still hated doing my homework, but somehow even reading seemed better when my mom cared what I was up to.
I can’t say that was the case with the lying.
Over the course of my childhood, my mom caught me in enough dishonesty to know that it was always better to check than to assume my innocence. Like the time my friend Robert and I smoked Rabbit Tobacco behind the shed, or the time we disobeyed, went swimming in the pond, and got chased by a snake.
My lying tactics must have been really obvious, because Mom always knew when I wasn’t telling the truth. Her common response was to lay a huge guilt trip on me. “Son,” she’d say, “when you lie, you’re hurting your Momma, because it tells me I must not have done a good job raising you.”
You’d think that I would have started telling the truth, but that took a while. My mom had to preach Phrase #3 a lot.
Then there was the last of the Phrases, the helping. Mrs. Simms was an older woman who, because of a tracheotomy, had a hole in her throat that whistled when she talked. She lived a quarter of a mile away from our house, she wasn’t strong enough to lift many things, and she had a big dog that always needed exercise. So my mom often nominated me to be neighborhood errand boy.
I unloaded groceries, walked Billy the Doberman, and did odd jobs all around Mrs. Simms’s place. And although I liked her and didn’t mind helping, it seemed like my mom always told me to help at the most inopportune times. Undoubtedly, when I was in the middle of a basketball game, the score had just been tied, and my jump shot was right on the money, along came Phrase #4.
Swish. “Danny, run up the street…”
Man, it bugged me.
Still, as much as I hate to admit it, Mom’s phrases made me better. They taught me that responsibility is important, that it’s OK to need homework help but it’s not OK to fib, and that even basketball isn’t as significant as Mrs. Simms and her grocery bags. Where would I be if I didn’t know those things?
So this Mother’s Day and every other day, the feeling doesn’t change: Mom, I love you. Thanks for the Big Four, and this one’s for you.