Sunday, February 28, 2010
"I PATTED THE HORSIE"
The best piece of wisdom I was given during my child-raising years was from a pre-school teacher who said not to become one of those hovering mothers who has to run interference for their kiddies all the time. She added "After all, they all try to kill themselves before they are five!"
Now this may be enough to set your teeth on edge, but through the years I more than once had to remind myself of this sage observation. I had four kids in the space of 4-1/2 years, and there were plenty of times that I saw it in action.
Today's story is about Kerry, the little 3-year-old tyke pictured above on Easter in April of 1964. This story happened sometime between then and August of the same year.
In 1964 we lived in a fairly new tract in Westminster, California. There were dozens of little children in the houses on our block. And because it was a different time in society, the kiddies would spend the day outside, running back and forth between the various houses. The moms all kept an eye on whoever was in their house or backyard, and most often, because none of us worked, a group of moms would be standing outside, having coffee and a cigarette and watching the kids play.
There was Calvin, Kathy and Mary Grace, Lisa and Mark, and the other Lisa and Tracy, Monica, Julie, Janet, Mark and Craig, Pilarine, Jimmy, Tommy, Bobby and Dotty, and of course all of mine, Sean, Erin, Bryn and Kerry. It was a good time to be a child.
One day, as the kids ran in and out of the house, I noticed that Kerry was not with them. I walked outside to see where she might be, and I didn't see her. I sat down on the lawn and kept my eyes open -- and finally I saw her rounding the corner of the block and heading for home. She was all by herself and funny enough, she had her hand over her heart.
I got up and walked to meet her, wondering why she was coming from that direction, as none of the kids lived down that far. She had a big smile on her face. "Kerry, where have you been?" I asked.
Without skipping a beat, she answered, "I patted the horsies."
Now on the back side of our block the road ended in a vacant lot where a couple of horses were tethered. There was a smallish fence between the end of the road and the vacant lot, and the kids and I had often walked around there to see the horses. I asked Kerry if the horses came over to the fence so she could pat them. "No, I climb over the fence and patted the horsies."
At that moment, my heart jumped up in my throat and I quickly had to remember that chidren try to kill themselves before they are five, and this was one of those times. But still, I wasn't sure I totally believed her.
I said "Why are you holding your hand that way?" She grinned again and said, "I buy it from the store." She pulled her hand down and there in her little fist was a tiny pack of Dentyne gum, the pack small enough to be covered by her hand and so I couldn't have seen it until she took her hand away.
On the other side of the horse pasture there was a supermarket that had not been opened very long. Apparently she had walked through the horse pasture, out the other side some way, walked into the market and helped herself to a pack of gum. She returned the same way.
I nearly died. What kind of a mother was I to let a child disappear out of my sight for so long that she could accomplish such a thing? To think of everything that could have happened to her - being bit or kicked or trampled by a horse, to be run over by a car in the parking lot, to have been kidnapped on the way, to have gotten lost and not found her way home, to be picked up for shoplifting? Oh gosh, all horrible things that I have to be eternally grateful for not happening.
She really was too young to understand about shoplifting, and at that time I was so thankful to have her back in one piece that I didn't bawl her out for doing such stupid things. We did go in the house and have a little talk about her foolishness in taking off on her own, and the danger of getting close to horses, and of taking things that don't belong to you. And the pre-school teacher the next week had a little talk with her too, at my request, in case she might pay more attention to a teacher than her mother. I do believe she did never shoplift again. And I did make it a point to check on the kids outdoors much more often.
I will say that during her teenage years she often made me wonder if that pre-school teacher's little wisdom should have been extended past the age of five -- to maybe 15 or so! However, in spite of a few minor little horsie-like experiments, she has grown up nicely and now is having fun with her own kids.
I know she's enjoying them as much as I enjoyed my own back in Westminster in 1964.
And I really do think she is a better mother than I was!