When I was much younger, probably early teens, I was struggling with my wild emotional swings, surges of hormones, and going through the generally moody teenage years - complete with muttering under my breath at my parents and dipping my toes into the (gasp!) cursing pool. On one of those particularly charged afternoons, my mom was (to my mind) haranguing me about something and I was completely fed up, and said something entirely rude, disrespectful, and downright mean under my breath. Aimed at my mother.
She heard me.
The guilt and emotional upheaval of her actually hearing my careless muttering didn't have a chance to seed until much later, after the drama of the situation unfolded and the dust had settled. But my mom HEARD me say what I said, what I had thought was under my breath.
Let me tell you, for those of you who don't know my mom, she is not a woman of no action. The phrase "Just you wait until your father gets home..." was certainly said in our house, with appropriate fear and apprehension on our part following close behind, but that doesn't mean my mom wasn't capable of doling out the discipline herself. If I could explain to you the dread that filled my stomach when she turned in the kitchen of our old house and looked at me with narrowed eyes, and asked (although it was entirely clear she had no need to clarify), "WHAT did you say?"
I have spent the last approximately 20 years knowing what soap tastes like. I can still taste it vividly, every time I recall this story. My mom grabbed my arm, marched me into the bathroom, picked up a bar of plain white soap, and literally cleaned my mouth with it, me sobbing and snotting all over the place, creating foamy bubbles mixed from my teary exhalations and the thick soap lather now coating my teeth, my tongue, even my braces.
I wish I could say I learned the full extent of that lesson straight away. I didn't. I DID immediately learn that my mom follows through on threats - she had told us in the past that she would wash our mouths out with soap, usually whenever we verged on bad language territory. I had just never actually crossed over that border before. I also learned that parents don't enjoy disciplining their children. She didn't take any pleasure from what she was doing. Much later, after stewing for days and nursing hurt feelings, I finally understood. And I understand much more now, through the lens of maturity and my own motherhood. As tough as my parents were on us, on me, they were doing it with purpose. My mom didn't enjoy punishing me that day; they didn't take joy in telling their children 'no' or giving such an early curfew that we called them lame and stomped up the stairs in disgust. My parents raised us in the manner they did because they were trying to mold us into good human beings. They wanted to instill in us good values, ethics, behavior. They were preparing for the day when we would leave the proverbial nest and go out into the world. They knew the world better than we did and my mom knew that calling people names, saying rude things, being mean to others - all comes with a consequence. As a child, that consequence is causing your mother to be disappointed in you and you learning the painful lesson of what a bar of soap tastes like. As an adult, the consequence would be harsher, because you truly ought to know better. You could lose friends, alienate people, be someone that nobody wants to be around.
My mom loves me. Loves all three of us. She and my dad no doubt stayed up at night, wondering how to make sure they raised three good people. I know this now because I sit up and wonder at times, how on earth M and I are going to make sure that our two girls become good people. And they're just tiny things right now! I imagine it will only get harder and harder as they get older and start pushing real boundaries. Luckily, I have the best examples I could hope for, leading the way. Thanks to my parents, I have a starting place on parenting. Thanks to my mom, I know the kind of mother I want to be. I know that as much as it hurts to discipline your child, by not disciplining them, I'd be doing a disservice. I know that being strict will not damage our adult relationship. I know that one day they will understand why we raised them the way we did. And if they are anything like me, they will be grateful for having had the discipline, the strict upbringing, the teaching of real lessons. I would have made far more mistakes in my life had I not been held accountable to every single decision I made growing up.
I am forever grateful to my mom for caring enough to teach me these life lessons. I'm grateful for the depth of her love and the boundlessness of her tolerance. I am so glad to have my mom as the example, teaching me how to be a good mom, leading the way. Thank you, Mom! I love you to the moon and back, and always will.