If there’s one resource that my mother could have used, it would have been Dr. Dobson’s book Parenting Isn’t For Cowards. After all, as a child there were times when I was quite the handful. Case in point.
As a six year old, I tagged along with my mom whenever she went grocery shopping. You see, I always got to pick out a toy. If I didn’t get one, I’d throw a full-body tantrum – the kind of fit that turned the heads of other moms. One Saturday afternoon at Crawford’s Grocery Store in Alhambra, California, I got much more than my toy.
As we made our way to the produce section, Mom stopped by the fresh corn display. I knew she’d take her time carefully sorting through the husks in search of the best looking ears. I announced, “Mom, I’m going to go get my toy, okay?” Getting a toy, after all, was my inalienable right.
Without waiting for her consent, I added, “Are you going to be right here when I get back?” I had this fear of letting mom out of my view. And yet I was determined to get my toy. Mom nodded, although distracted. I had clearly lost my audience to the science of selecting yellow corn.
“Go ahead, Jimmy, I’ll be right here,” she said.
Yes. Run along. I’ll be here.”
The land of make-believe awaited just beyond the mountains of toilet paper and paper goods section. I hustled to find the G.I. Joe action figure camouflage outfit I had seen on a previous trip. Being a typical youngster in the late Sixties, I was captivated by all things G.I. Joe. I plucked it from the rack, gawked at the prize, and headed back to Mom. The whole trek to Toyland took maybe two minutes.
That’s when I saw Mom four or five aisles removed from the produce department – walking away from me. I blinked. There was no mistake. She was standing next to the cans of soup. I knew it was her because she was wearing her black slacks, black blouse with brown paisley swirls, and flat-heeled dress shoes. Her hair was tucked and pinned in the back.
What’s this? I thought. Mom said she’d be waiting for me – by the corn. Where’s she going without me? I panicked. The fear of abandonment sent me reeling. With the energy of a charging beast on opening day of the annual run with the bulls, I tucked my head down and ran directly toward the bull’s-eye on her back.
With the target almost within reach, I clenched my fist into a tight ball and raised it over my head hatchet-like. I came down on her hard. Clobbered her was more like it – right between the shoulder blades. I didn’t know I was capable of such a powerful swing. I actually heard a thud as my fist hit her square in the back.
G.I. Joe would have been impressed.
The sudden and full fury of my fist completely knocked the wind out of her. With a forced exhale, she groaned and staggered a half-step forward. She instinctively groped for the nearest shelve in an attempt to recover her balance.
Still hot with anger, I stared upward at the spot on Mom’s back where I’d just whopped her as if daring her to turn and face my wrath. With a slow, guarded motion, my mom turned around to make sense of what had hit her. As she rotated full-circle, the puzzlement in her eyes was matched by the bewilderment that I felt. It was my turn to stagger backwards several short steps. My heart spiked and my legs went wobbly as the earth beneath me caved in. She wasn’t my mother.
The woman whom I had just decked wore the identical top, pants, and shoes as my mom. The pale skin on her face, pulled taught as a drum, wasn’t anything like the soft, warm features of my mother’s face. Her eyes zeroed in on me like lasers.
“What are you doing?”
“I . . . I . . . I thought you were my mom.”
That freaked her out. Before she could say another word, I backed up and darted away. Somehow through the flood of tears soaking my face, I found my mother – exactly where she said she would be, still shucking the corn. Mom lowered the husk and said, “What’s wrong, Jimmy?”
“I just hit a woman.”
“I just hit a woman.”
“Why in the world . . .”
” . . . because I thought it was you.”
Her right eyebrow shot up indicating that I needed to offer a little clarification, especially since I had never hit my mom before. I tried to articulate my fears. I thought she had left . . . because she wasn’t here but there . . . although she was really here, but I didn’t know it at the time. I don’t know whether my explanation made sense. My mom’s reaction, however, was crystal clear. Suddenly all business, she said, “Jimmy, you need to go back and apologize to her.”
Her tone revealed that there wasn’t room for negotiation. She escorted me to the scene of the crime. Standing just out of view of the other woman, Mom waved me on. I shuffled forward, feeling less like the animated G.I. Joe action figure of a few minutes earlier. I could see her face was still tight with anger. She put a hand on her hip and waited.
I offered a sheepish, “I’m sorry I hit you.”
She looked with no attempt to mask her indignation. “Why did you hit me?”
“I thought you were my mother.”
I looked at my feet. An uncomfortable moment passed. I glanced upward and added, “I’m sorry.”
That experience had a profound impact on me on several levels. Using my fists to resolve conflict began and ended that day. I also discovered Mom’s word was golden and that making things right by admitting your mistakes is all a part of life. To her credit, Mom knew for me to be successful within the broader context of community, I had to “own my own stuff.”
Copyright 2007 Cook Communications Ministries. Finding Home by Jim Daly. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.