Sunday, February 23, 2014

Jean Martinet

Strict is such an old-fashioned word.  You hardly ever hear it anymore.

When I was growing up, there were three types of mothers.  Those that were strict, whack jobs and the ones who just didn't give a shit.  Mine was strict.  And she gave a shit so intensely, her vehement nature made up for all the flakes and goldbrickers within a fifty mile radius.  Good, bad or indifferent.

Big Mare ruled with an iron fist.  She required absolute control when managing her offspring.  We girls were given very little freedom of choice or input regarding decisions.  I almost hated when kids would invite me over after school.  "I can't," I'd reply without even asking.  "My mother's strict," I told them.  "I'm only allowed to leave my veal crate for educational purposes and on-going religious instruction."  In other words, save your strength and find someone else to hang out with.

Mom viewed raising children as the kind of job that carried a tremendous amount of risk and required rigid safety procedures.  Variations from the program could potentially lead to accidents.  She had her hands full with my father, so she really tightened her grip with us kids.  My sister and I were entry-level workers.  We had few technical skills and were willing to work for no wages.  An afternoon spent eating Cheez Doodles and watching TV at somebody else's house could be detrimental to the disciplinary underpinning of her organization.

Interestingly enough, the same rudimentary parenting styles described above still exist today.  They just have nicer names.  Instead of being labeled as strict, this kind of mother is now known as authoritative.  The whack jobs are permissive, and the shit stains are considered uninvolved.  Everything sounds very smart and polite.  That is, if you care.  Personally, I do not.

I'm determined to bring strict back into fashion.  As far as I'm concerned, it should never have left.  My boys are very aware that this is their reality. Sometimes when they look a little too relaxed, I remind them of the rich familial conventions that precede them.  I try to temper the rigid inflexibility that is embedded in my genetic code with a gentler, more practical approach.  Grooming these two blockheads to become upstanding citizens is a challenging enterprise, and I take it very seriously.

This morning, I asked Brother if he cleaned the bathroom vanity after he brushed his teeth.  It's a relatively easy assignment, as long as you're not spitting all over the sink and mirror while you're practicing good oral hygiene.  My request was met with malignant huffiness, which did not go over well considering I was carrying a full load of clean, folded laundry belonging exclusively to Rory Malcolm, male supermodel.

"Mom, I cleaned the vanity to the best of my ability."  That was his answer.  I'm not making this up.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?  You're not disabled.  Get back in there and wipe down the goddamn sink.  And make sure the edge of the commode is clean while you're at it."

I put away the clothes and listened while he moaned and groaned his way through the task at hand.  When he was done with all the noisemaking, I checked the countertop.  Not bad.  Then, I looked over at the toilet and saw the puddle of pee, glistening in the reflection of the ceramic tank.
"You took care of this?" I asked my young victim.
"Yes," Bro foolishly asserted.  Wrong answer.
"Okay.  Come over here and lick the rim."
"No!" he cried.
"Why not?  You said it was clean."
"I lied."  He stared at his shoes.
"Well then, shame on you.  Thirty minutes off your bedtime.  Now, clean the friggin' toilet."
"Yes, ma'am."

I love when my parenting is cool and collected.  It doesn't always work out that way.  These boys have freedom and privileges I did not know existed in the real world when I was a kid.  I only ever saw it demonstrated on TV.  Mike and Carol Brady were big on executing lessons with regard to accountability and consequence.  Even the Ingalls' girls had more leeway than I did, and they were prairie prudes.  From the 19th century, no less.  I'm sure the Partridge clan faced similar predicaments, but it never even dawned on me that they were a family.  I suppose I considered them mellifluous gypsies that lived together and tried to concentrate on the music, despite David Cassidy's arresting good looks.

I want the Killian Brothers to understand the importance of personal responsibility.  Sometimes, it gets ugly here, and it stays that way for quite a while - until there's a breakthrough.  There are nights that David and I are staring at each other at 8:15 because they've both been sent to bed.  Yes, I can be strict but I am also fair.  I believe in rewarding good behavior.  I encourage their relationships with pals.  It's good for them to see how other young people live.

Every once in awhile, I can tell that my efforts are appreciated.
"Mom, I'm glad I have you and Dad," Desmond told me recently.  "The microwave at Jordan's house is filthy.  Plus, some of his fingernails are really long, and I don't think he owns a belt."
"Look, honey.  As long as he's decent to you, none of that matters," I reminded my sweet son.
"Yeah, I know.  I'm just saying."

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