Happy Mother's Day To the Woman Who Keeps Me Scared Straight I Remember Mama's Sayings By: Kevin Cowherd

May 08, 1994

Sometime today, I'll call my mother to wish her a happ Mother's Day and after a few seconds she'll say: "Are you still using Sweet 'N Low?"

Then she'll go on and on about saccharin, how they even admit it's a carcinogen on the back of the little pink packets and how scientists feed this stuff to white mice in these research laboratories and the mice literally keel over on their treadmills, convulsing in the most agonizing death throes before winding up flat on their backs with their tiny feet sticking straight up in the air, stone cold dead.

By the time my mother is through on the subject, you would sooner sprinkle Drano in your coffee than Sweet n' Low.

"You really should stop using that stuff," she'll say, and when there is a pause on my end of the line, she'll add: "Apparently you don't watch CNN. They did a health segment on it, I think."

This is what mothers do best, of course. They scare the daylights out of you. Their love for their children is complete, boundless and unequivocal, and so their children must constantly be protected -- certainly from a low-cal sugar substitute that strikes mothers as a nutritional Three Mile Island.

I am 42 year old. My mother still scares the daylights out of me on a regular basis. When she delivers a frothing lecture on the evils of, say, whole milk (too much fat, apparently), it makes me wonder if this is what they drank at Jonestown when the loudspeakers clicked on and the cult members began lining up at the wooden vats.

My earliest memories of childhood, somewhat dim now, involve sitting on a rug watching cartoons and hearing my mother say: "Don't sit so close to the TV, you'll go blind!"

You'll go blind! I don't know how old I was back then, 4 maybe. All I could envision were my eyes suddenly rolling back in my head and then total darkness, a small boy groping through the inky blackness of a three-bedroom rancher and his mother whispering to a neighbor: "I don't know . . . one minute he's watching Bugs Bunny, the next minute he can't see! Lord knows, I told him this would happen."

I remember another time, too, a perfect summer day a year or two later when two boys found a couple of old curtain rods in a garbage can and proceeded to engage in a furious mock sword fight.

Back and forth they went, thrust and parry, thrust and parry, the click, click, click of the aluminum rods echoing across the stillness of a suburban back yard.

Then suddenly an upstairs window flew open and I heard that voice again, a mother's voice, God on Mount Sinai, and it cried: "Put those things down! You'll poke somebody's eye out!"

You'll poke somebody's eye out! This time I envisioned an eyeball flying out of its socket in a horrible spray of blood and aqueous humor, suspended in mid-air for one frightening millisecond before beginning its descent and squishing against the patio cement like a grape.

The wounded boy would be rushed into the operating room, where a team of grim-faced ophthalmologists would labor for hours to reattach the eye. But it would be no use, of course.

The boy would be fitted with an artificial eye, something hideous that looked like a porcelain egg jutting out of one socket. Or he'd be forced to wear a large black eye patch, summoning images of an edgy villain in a James Bond movie or Blackbeard wading ashore at Tortuga.

From there it would get worse. The other kids would make his life a living hell. The boy would be forced to endure vicious taunts of One-Eye and Squint and . . . well, we put down the curtain rods, pronto. It just wasn't worth it.

All my life, I've heard my mother's voice, guiding me, teaching me.

When I was a boy, she told me to drink my milk (maybe it was a different kind of milk back then), eat my vegetables, don't run with scissors.

She told me to get down from the tool shed or I would fall and break my neck. And she began so many admonitions by saying: "If Jimmy jumped off the Empire State Building. . . ." That one led me to wonder what kind of whacked-out, suicidal friends I had.

Now that I'm a man, she combs the pages of USA Today and watches Tom Brokaw and cable-television health shows and calls consumer hot lines, keeping me and my brother and sister informed on the dangers of yo-yo dieting, caffeine, cars without passenger-side air bags and any other evidence she can dig up that proves we are all inching toward Armageddon.

Each year when Mother's Day rolls around, then, the question becomes: What can a miserable wretch like me do to show his appreciation for all his mother has done for him?

What do you give the woman who bore you and nursed you, who stayed up with you all night when you were sick, who taught you right from wrong, who forgave you when you screwed up, who sat patiently at the kitchen table at 2 in the morning to listen as you, teary-eyed, poured out your problems about girlfriends, who saved so you could go to college, who comforted you and encouraged you and motivated you more than any other person in your life?

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