For Mother's Day, a tribute to my late mother Joan Burgess, taken from the book Who Killed Mom? A delinquent son's meditation on family, mortality, and very tacky candles:
Parenting, like dodging bullets, is an existential activity. It happens in real time. Only in retrospect do you see the astounding variety of topics and situations a parent must handle. Even as I struggle to recall little bits of precious conversation my mother and I shared--gentle jokes, serious subjects--I am often reminded of the vast, random banquet of advice and information she was called upon to supply.
In grade nine I attended Rivers Collegiate, where Mom was teaching. "Steve," she told me one evening, "when I was standing beside you in the hall today I noticed that you need to start using antiperspirant."
Another puberty-related curve ball, and a deceptively tricky one. There are plenty of young men who get it wrong. Some opt for deodorant first, then shower; or shirt first, then deodorant; or most pernicious of all, deodorant, more deodorant, shirt, deodorant on shirt, and finally enough cologne to cater a hobo reunion.
Antiperspirant in hand, I had a question. "Mom--where are the sweat glands? On the hairy part of the armpit or below it?" She thought a moment. "It's the hairy part, I think," she said.
Of course she was right. Whether in the realm of fact or opinion, Mom could be depended upon to steer her children right.
One day when I was in grade three or four, I asked her to give me a bowl cut. What I really wanted was a Beatle cut, but I had misunderstood the terminology. Think of it--a harried mother of five, pressed for any break she can get, and here comes a sucker volunteering to be sheared like a sheep. Thirty seconds with scissors and a mixing bowl, and for once she might get a spare moment to flop on the living room couch with a cup of instant. But no. "I don't think you really want a bowl cut, Steve," she explained.
I believe that incident alone marks my mother as a creature more elevated than ordinary humans.
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