Tough love

May 06, 1994|By Gregory P. Kane

ARE YOU getting me a Mother's Day present?" my daughter asked from the other end of the phone line.

"I hadn't planned on it," I quickly responded. "I may call you and wish you a happy Mother's Day and give you my kindest regards."

I had to nip this thing in the bud. This Mother's Day thing is getting totally out of hand. Just how many gifts, and for how many mothers, am I supposed to buy, anyway?

I already buy a gift for my mom, and were my grandmothers alive I suppose I'd buy something for them too. I have some aunts who are also deserving. Now, daughters with children want to horn in on the loot.

Some men, besides having to buy their mothers gifts, buy some for their wives, on the flimsy excuse that they are the mothers of their children. My wife is not in this group. She chooses not to celebrate the day at all. She smells a rat somewhere, and I suspect she's right.

My first misgivings about Mother's Day came when I learned that it was enacted by Congress in 1914. Women didn't even get to vote until 1919. So here we had a group of men in a brutal, ruthlessly patriarchal society whooping up motherhood. Their own mothers couldn't vote, mind you, but they were willing to honor them with a day. Sounds like the old fogies were sending a subtle message to women that men preferred them barefoot and pregnant.

But when the Day of Groveling rolls around I do find myself honoring my mother -- but not because Congress suggested it way back in 1914. I honor my mother on that day because of the sheer toughness of the woman.

Tough moms are a dying breed these days, I believe. Mine kept me from getting into trouble on the treacherous streets of West Baltimore. There were times when some fool tried to tempt me into doing something illegal or stupid, at which point I would ask myself, "Who would I rather have angry at me? My mom or this fool?" I decided that I would rather not displease my mom, who was tougher than any fool, and would not have hesitated to prove it, if necessary.

She was able to raise six children without spending a day on the welfare rolls. She'd thought about going on welfare when times got rough, but didn't like the conditions stipulated by social services. She listened to welfare workers who told her the rules and regulations she would have to put up with, decided her dignity wasn't worth the price and left their office without ever looking back. The welfare folks didn't know they were dealing with a woman who had been taking care of herself since she was 14 years old.

She showed her passion for independence and toughness again when I was in University Hospital. I was about three or four years old, had eaten a bad batch of crabs that (which is why I'm not a crab eater to this day) which had caused my leg to swell up to an ugly size. I had an IV tube connected to me, and Mom was convinced that it was not connected properly. The nurse patronizingly insisted it was. Mom's solution was simple and direct: She disconnected me from the IV, gathered me up into her arms and started walking out of the hospital.

"Where are you going?" the shocked nursing staff asked.

"I'm taking my child out of here," Mom told them. They convinced her to bring me back, and then they hooked up the IV to her satisfaction.

Mom had help raising her six children, most of which came from another graduate of the Tough Mom School -- my Aunt Margaret. It was she who watched us while Mom worked, never hesitating to correct us with an iron hand whenever we got out of line. Aunt Margaret could be tough with men, too.

My oldest sister, Barbara, remembers an incident when a boyfriend of Mom's made the bad career move of hitting my mother which was bad enough. But this guy chose to hit my mom in front of my Aunt Margaret.

Aunt Margaret hit the guy with a right cross and then tossed him down one flight of stairs. Then she hit him with another right cross and tossed him down another flight of stairs and out of the house. The guy behaved himself after that.

Mothers Day, for me, is to honor those mothers who graduated from the Tough Mom School. Happy Mothers Day, Mom and Aunt Margaret.

Gregory P. Kane is a reporter for The Evening Sun.

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