My Grandfather was a farmer in South Florida when I was growing up. Yes, there was quite a lot of farmland only eight miles from the beach west of Pompano Beach, and now the farm has been swallowed by condominiums and Publix Shopping Centers. Lest you think of the farm being a quaint throwback to the family farm with an assortment of farm animals and a few hundred acres of land, my Grandfather and his brothers moved from South Georgia to South Florida to farm thousands of acres. Nonetheless, my experience growing up afforded me the opportunity to learn how to drive at the tender age of 11 and have my first (yes, my first, but not only) brush with death at the age of 8.
As I have navigated the minefields of raising my own two daughters, I now have the perspective about my Mother that is not focused on the conflicts of my adolescence, and the minor missteps as we traversed the challenges of two strong willed women circling each other as we make our own choices in life, but with fondness about the uniqueness of our relationship and the times that should be highlighted showing that with all of our missteps, my Mother proved to be an great example for me on raising my own daughters.
First let me start with the brush with death. In 1969, there were limited regulations on burning trash in “rural” South Florida, so my Mother and I would go to the farm a few times a month to burn some of our household trash, which explains why I love our new fire pit. During one of our trash burning outings, I ventured out to an area in which my uncle had a few hogs. As any curious child would do, I was drawn to the pen in the middle of the field where a sow and her tiny offspring were housed. As I looked at the adorable pig family, I failed to notice the giant boar huffing in the background. As he lunged toward me I had no choice but to climb to the top of the pen with my feet only inches away from his mouth as he was trying to drag me down and most likely stomp me to death. I screamed to the top of my lungs for my Mother, and she came running with a large two by four and repeatedly beat the huge animal on the head until he retreated. I’ll never forget the image of my petite mother beating the boar while screaming expletives. I don’t know if he retreated due to the beating or the strong language. I learned the lesson that it’s okay to venture out, but always take note of your surroundings and rest assured that if my Mother is around, those that mess with her daughter should take note of her strength and her devotion to keeping her daughter safe.
I was a compliant child who did well in school, followed the rules, and was courteous to adults….overall a pretty good kid. At the age of 11, I did something that broke the norm. Being from a “farming family”, it’s traditional that you start teaching your children to drive at the age of 13. My Mother was teaching my older brother to drive the 1967 Pontiac, and occasionally she’d let me practice going up and down our driveway. Keep in mind that the driveway was all of 20 feet long. One day as she was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, I said, “I’m going to take the car for a spin”. Of course, she thought I’m going to do my nightly 20 feet driving expedition, but I was more adventurous that evening. I pushed the seat up as far as I could, which gave me the ability to barely see over the dashboard. As I put the car in gear and hit the gas pedal and started driving around our rural neighborhood, I knew that I could get in big trouble. My plan was to drive around the three block area just a few times, then park and get back into the house without anyone noticing. I didn’t count on the fact that my older brother could see my from his bedroom window and immediately alerted my mother.
As I rounded the second lap of my Indy like driving expedition, I noticed my mother in the middle of the road and she was waving her hands to get me to stop. I was left with two choices, either stop and get in big trouble or gun it and keep going. Since had not reached the age in which one makes good choices (I’ve heard that the age is 26 before all of the judgment areas of the brain are formed, but I think it’s more like 46), I chose the latter. As my mother is frantically waving her arms, I gunned the gas as she jumped out of the way to avoid me running her over. I continued knowing that my only option was to keep circling the same three blocks or stop and face the consequences, and as I rounded the corner a second time, I didn’t see my mother anywhere. We were one of two houses in the area at that time, so the chance of me hurting anyone was extremely remote. The fact that she didn’t try to stop me actually increased my anxiety about my punishment, so I continued to circle the block until dark, and then I finally parked and quietly entered the house expecting the worst punishment I could imagine. But to my surprise, my mother was in bed, so I put the car keys on the hall table and went to my room.
The next day I waited for my punishment, but my mother never said a word about the incident. The lack of punishment actually had a huge impact on me, and I learned that sometimes the fear of punishment is actually worse than the punishment. Of course, I never took the car out for a spin again, and it was the only time that I used avoidance to get out of trouble. Years later when I brought it up, I asked her why she didn’t punish me. She said that she already knew that I was terrified and that I would make better choices in the future and she was secretly proud of me for taking a chance. Many of you may disagree with her parenting style, but this experience was formative in educating me about impulsive behavior and how I need to nurture self-control internally. So when you think about lecturing your children about making good choices, just remember that there are times when it’s best to be quiet and let them work through it themselves.
So what do I give my mother who has everything she needs — let’s face it, she has a vanity full of perfume I’ve given her over the years, so I decided that perhaps this story will help her see how much she truly means to me. Happy Mother’s Day Mother — I love you, your daughter.