Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

They say it rules the world. That is, they say “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”. I certainly feel that saying has a good deal of merit. Of course, like so many things in life, it's a matter of the fine print. Who's hand is it? Who's in the cradle? Etc. I think it's fine as a general rule, but you can't expect it to always be true. My Mother, for example, had no thoughts of ruling the world. When I was a child she was doing her best to hang on to her sanity with both hands. Now that we're grown you can see that Mom did a good job. Almost all of her sanity is still left. Well, a good deal is. To be fair let's call it half.

Still, I think she did a wonderful job considering who her two sons are. It's not easy to keep your grip on reality when everyday you have to face a young Jeremy and Josh. We were always getting into something. I argued like a lawyer and Josh was as cunning as an international jewel thief. Between the two of us we could have frazzled anybody.

Mom could bear up under it most of the time. To the outside observer it would seem as if she rarely lost her cool. However, you can't just go from the outside. You can't feel that a person must be alright just because when you ask them how they feel they say “alright...” You have to learn to look below the surface. You have to see past the proud front people put up. The old saying “Actions speak louder than words.” is right on the money. If you want to know how a person is feeling you can't trust what they say, you have to watch what they do.

This is important to understand as I unfold this tale. My mother may have always seemed like she was keeping things together. It may have seemed that she was never at the end of her rope. You just can't trust appearances. As you read you must open your mind and consider the question “What would make a person do that?” Then you will have some insight into what my brother and I did to our mother's mind.

We were heading to Allendale one beautiful spring morning. Papa (my mom's dad, as it were) was preaching there at the time. Strictly speaking he was retired, but he loved to preach and people loved to hear him, so it was for the happiness of all concerned that he became a preacher in Allendale. This trip had been made once a week for months if not years. Every aspect of the road was completely familiar to our entire family. This is important to note because the more familiar one becomes with a road the less likely they are to pay attention as they drive down it.

Now, Dad drove everywhere we ever went at any time for any reason. Like most rules though it had it's exceptions. If Dad were sick or something like that Mom would have to drive. She didn't like doing it, but she would if she had to. Some of you may think that Mom didn't like to drive out of some natural timidity. Allow me to set that point strait at the onset. Mom drove where ever she needed to when Dad wasn't around. It was only when Dad was in the car that she didn't want to drive. Again, some of you may get the wrong idea. The mind naturally leaps to the possibility that he criticized her driving. Well, he didn't.

So, why didn't she like to drive with him in the car? Well, you would look like a crazy person if you sat there saying things like: “You're about to miss the turn!” “That light's red!” “Watch that squirrel!” while you were the one driving. Yes, Mom loves side seat driving. It seems to me that she enjoys it much more than driving herself. She is of a nervous disposition and, once you've known her for a while, you have to wonder if she doesn't like it that way. She would get out of the car shaking all over with her knuckles white from holding on to the edge of her seat after trips up town with Dad when they were just going to get milk.

For those of you who have never ridden with my Dad I have to tell you that he is an excellent driver. I don't think he has ever been in an accident with another vehicle from the time I was born. He could lull wild tigers to sleep with his calm, cool driving on most occasions. That is to say when Mom isn't in the car. When she is there barking orders and adding in “Oh my goodness!” every thirty seconds things begin to break down for Dad. He can only take so much before the car begins to bob and weave like a champion fighter. I have been there for some close shaves that you wouldn't believe.

All this is really beside the point, however, because on the day in question Mom was at the wheel. Dad did not do to Mom what Mom did to Dad. She didn't drive as well as him, but if she was driving he minded his business. Of course, as a passenger one has a duty to point out anything that the driver may have missed that could endanger all concerned.

So, when Dad looked up and saw a cow standing in the middle of the road he thought it best to mention it.

“Do you see that cow?”


“Ok. I only asked because you weren't slowing down.”


At this point one would have thought she would have slowed down, but no. This concerned Dad a little. He was all for letting her drive her way, but he didn't want to hit a cow. So, overcoming his repugnance for side seat driving he spoke again.

“Babara, do you see the cow?”


“Well, why aren't you slowing down.”

“Do I need to?”

Keep in mind that during this exchange we were all in a car moving at roughly fifty-five miles an hour aimed straight at a cow. I am certain that Mom's last response threw dad off a bit. He paused for a second. It was probably running through his mind that his wife was trying to see how close she could get to the cow before slamming on the brakes. It was an odd game of chicken for a forty year old woman to be playing. After just a few moments Dad decided that he disapproved.

“Barbara stop!”


At this point we were almost up to brake squealing distance from the cow. Dad realized he was going to have to change strategies if we were going to be saved. Even Joshua and I realized something was wrong. Each of us took up his own section of the chorus. Dad came in with the simple bass line:

“Cow! Cow! Cow!”

I added my own at a slightly higher pitch:

“Mom there's a cow! Mom there's a cow! Mom there's a cow!”

Josh took up the high notes:

“Cow in the road! Cow in the road! Cow in the road!”

It was something right along those lines anyway. After what seemed like an eternity the switch in her brain finally flipped. She stomped on the brake peddle as if she were trying to kick it through the bottom of the car. The vehicle came to a screeching halt and smoke billowed around us. The cow looked slowly up at us and then finished crossing the road. After a chest clutching pause Dad decided to ask Mom why she had gone about things the way she had.

“Why did you wait that long to hit the brakes?”

“I didn't see the cow!”

“Ah... Then why did you say that you did see the cow?”

“I thought you meant one of those cows in that field!”

“Ah... Why would I have warned you about the cows in the field? They are in the field, not in the road.”

“Well, I would have warned you about them!”


That was really all anyone could have said in reply. She was being perfectly honest. Mom didn't realize that Dad was warning her about a cow in the road because she would have warned him about the cows in the field. Since she was looking at the cows in the field she didn't see the one standing in the road. Now, all that makes sense from a certain point of view. That point of view is, of course, insane, but I suppose it's still a point of view...

Now, no one can tell me that a woman who is driving down the road at fifty-five miles an hour heading strait for a cow while watching other cows frolic in a field has complete control of her faculties. Whatever her mind had wandered away to it was not on the road with the cow in it. However, in her defense, I can see how living with Dad, Joshua and myself would do that to a person. Still, the fact remains that Mom didn't always have all of her marbles. So those of you who thought differently now know better.

I have also decided to include a story to instruct certain members of the public who generally misunderstand my Mother's disposition. Many people that I have met seem to believe my Mother is “Saint Barbara, patron of putting up with other people's abuse with quiet dignity and grace”. Now, I am here to tell you that my Mother, although an excellent woman, is no saint. (At least from the Catholic definition.)

There are times when my Mother could make the buddha say “I finally have a desire! I want you to shut up!” Gandhi himself might very well have drawn his hand back to strike her before his better qualities stopped him. Mom sometimes reminds me of that verse from the Bible about a nagging woman being like a constant dripping. Again, my Mom is one of the best women I've ever met, but nobody's perfect!

I was on the cusp between sixteen and seventeen. Mom had been following me around the house nagging me about a long list of things that I can't remember. I was getting ready for school and was quickly getting annoyed. I began to mock her more and more as my level of annoyance increased. Finally I said something that really offended her. She drew back and swung at me as hard as she could. She meant to slap my teeth out!

Now, Mom is four foot ten or so. She claims she is one inch too tall to be a midget. My wife says that Mom lies and that she is, in fact, legally a midget. Either way, the point is that “as hard as she could” wasn't really all that hard. Plus, of course, I was much bigger than her (not big by any means, but bigger than her) and was used to sparring with guys my age who were much bigger than me.

She swung at me with everything she had. I caught her hand before she was within a foot of my face. I held her right wrist in my left hand and she couldn't begin to tear away from my grip.

“Look Mom, if you want to spank me that's fine, but you' can't slap me in the face.”

She stared at me with daggers in her eyes. As soon as I let her right hand go she swung at me with her left. Again, I caught it with ease. I stood there looking at her with her left wrist in my right hand this time. I actually laughed at her.

“Come on Mom. You're too old and I'm too fast. If you want to spank me I'll stand there and take it, but you aren't going to slap me in the face.”

Now, it was wrong to speak to my mother that way, I see that now. However, I am actually a patient person. Many of you would have already slapped her by this time. I know you don't believe me, but you weren't there!

During the end of this exchange I had actually been brushing my teeth. So after I had scolded her I turned my back on her in order to spit into the sink. She saw her opportunity. She jumped up behind me like some ninja dwarf and slapped me in the face from behind. In point of fact, she busted my nose. I was shocked! Up to this point I hadn't been angry, but that suddenly changed. I turned around bleeding to look her in the face. She was staring up at me beaming with the glow of success. I began my monolog:

“Well, I guess you can be proud of yourself! You did manage to hit me! Of course, you did it from behind, but we won't worry about that. Now, I offered to let you spank me, but that wasn't good enough for you, you wanted to slap me. Well, now you've busted my nose and I'm leaving!”

She threw her little body between me and the door.

“You're not going anywhere!”

“Now see, that's where you're wrong. I am your son and I love you, but I am much bigger than you and much much stronger. Now, you will get out of my way or I will pick you up and move you out of my way. Dad may beat me to death, but you're not going to stop me!”

Some of you may be thinking that at this point you would have put me in my place. Allow me to assure you that you wouldn't. I had been trained by both my parents not to take anything from anyone. I was as tough as nails and could have fought off several guys my size. Mom wasn't my size and didn't have half my strength. She could have gotten the shot gun and killed me, but I guess she felt that it would have been a bit extreme. She looked up at me considering the situation and then jumped to the side to give me a clear path to the door.

I stormed out into the yard and sat down on a stump while trying to stop the bleeding. Mom stood there looking at me through the door for a moment.

“Come inside.”

“No thanks!”

“You have to go to school.”

“No I don't!”

“Well, you need to.”

“I don't care! Even if you call Dad to come out here and beat me to death, I ain't moving! You hit me from behind and busted my nose. You go do whatever you want, I'm not doing anything but sitting on this stump and try to stop bleeding.”

This was too much for Mom. She really hadn't meant to bust my nose. It was simply a matter of her loosing her cool. When she ran into my absolute refusal to do what she told me she didn't know what to do. If she had called Dad he would have come home from work and beat my brains out, but at that point I was ready to let him and that's not really what she wanted. It upset her so much she started crying. Now, for those of you who don't know it, that's pretty much melts my resolve. Still, I kept up a bold face as best I could. She opened another dialog:

“Jeremy why don't you come inside?”

“I'm going to sit out here for a while.”

“Come in and you don't have to go to school.”

“Well, alright I guess. Just give me a few minutes.”

Josh had been watching this entire scene play out silently. At this point he broke his silence.

“Yes! No school!”

Mom replied:

“What do you mean?!? You go get ready! You're going to school!”

“Mom that's not fair!”

“I don't care! You get ready and get in the car before I cut your behind!”

Josh hung his head and walked away murmuring.

“Yea... The good kid, he goes to school! The bad kid, he get's to stay home playing! What a load!”

I have to admit that it wasn't fair. Mom had just had enough and wasn't going to take any flak from Josh. She took him to school and I got a “Stay Home Free” card because Mom had busted my nose. The point of the story is simple. My Mom is a great woman, but not a saint. If you try hard enough you can get her to give you a bloody nose!

Happy Mother's Day everyone!


  1. After the week I've had, I really needed this. It honestly made me laugh like crazy. Thanks, Jeremy, and I love you.

  2. I thought I had seen a few of Mom's more psycho moments. But she's way more psycho than I knew. And now I know why Fritz loves "Keeping Up Appearances!"