Mother’s Truly Are the Gatekeepers of Our Futures
Riding the bus one night, I overheard a woman talking with her young son. He was probably in the second or third grade and, like most kids that age, he thought dinosaurs were the coolest things on the planet and was completely absorbed in the dinosaur book he had with him. I couldn’t help but smile, remembering that at that age I felt the same way and had memorized the names and facts of all my favourites (the Stegosaurus was the absolute bomb). Dinosaurs were like Mother Nature’s super heroes and villains, that’s how cool they were to my rapidly blooming imagination and all these years later, it sounded like they had the same exciting, obsessive hold on this little guy on the bus.
Then the mother started talking and my smile (and his) quickly died.
“Let me see that book,” she said before dismissing it as nonsense. “You don’t even know if these things are real. This could all be made up.” Normally the denial of science would have been the first thing that would have inspired a rant, but it turns out she was just warming up.
“You know what happens to these useless jobs when the money runs out?” she asked, holding the book between her index finger and thumb like it was a filthy diaper. “They disappear. When things get tough the world needs people who can do real things like cleaning.” She lectured him for a few more minutes before reluctantly giving him the book back, and it may have been my imagination but it looked like his frail little shoulders sagged just a bit.
I remember watching as they got off at their stop, thinking to myself that he could have been anything from a paleontologist to a writer, a scientist to an artist, maybe even a great film maker down the road, but each day he spent with his mother, another of his dreams would be crushed, replaced by bleak, joyless mediocrity.
I had been searching for some poignant words for Mother’s Day this year, and coming up with a whole lot of nothing. Last year I told the story of how my mother, usually a reserved woman, punted a rooster into orbit when he tried to attack my little sister. This year I wanted it to be more heartfelt, more genuine and sincere. But what could I say that a million others (including Hallmark) hadn’t said already?
Staring at my keyboard the day after mother’s day, the little tale I just told popped into my head along with a line from a book I had read years before. “A parent’s harsh hand can always kill a child’s brightest talent.” The two memories, years and even cities apart, merged at that moment with scary clarity and I had it, the thing I had always wanted to tell my mother but always lacked the tools and skills to.
Growing up, the hockey arena was the most important building in town. It was more important than any of the schools, more important than any of the churches and definitely more important than Town Hall or the public library (which was really just a few book shelves shoved into a closet). Boys were supposed to play hockey and girls were supposed to take up figure skating. It was one of the unwritten rules and if you didn’t (or didn’t at least try) there was something very, very wrong with you.
Both my parents were stopped in broad daylight downtown (which was really only where the where the two biggest streets crossed) and chastised by other parents for not making me (i.e. forcing me) to play. I never really had much of an interest in sports growing up, and was more concerned with comic books, cartoons, Transformers, Star Wars, my imagination, and of course, dinosaurs. I did develop an interest in sports somewhere around my twelfth birthday but by then it was too late, especially in the eyes of most of our neighbours. I didn’t know how lucky I was until later.
In the town I grew up in, like a million places across the world, there was no time for things like books and art and music. Aside from the fifth grade Christmas pageant and Sunday school crafts, anything imaginative or artistic (or even scientific, while we’re on the subject) wasn’t just considered a waste of time but a sign of weakness, a sign of difference (and being different meant being wrong), a sign of deviance.
I lucked out twice. Not only did my parents not force me to play hockey (and my Dad was a coach, which made things way more complicated for him), but my mother, a talented artist in her own right, offered patient nurturing for my own modest talents with words. That isn’t to say that my father didn’t-he definitely did-but I don’t think my father understood the craziness that spilled out of the insane furnace that was my imagination. My mother probably didn’t either, but maybe she, as an artist herself, understood the grip it had on me a little better than my father could. She understood how much of a slave I was to it.
There is a very good chance that nothing may ever come of my attempts to be a writer. That’s a huge burden borne by everyone with any artistic aspiration. So many dreamers and so precious few opportunities in a world obsessed with Kardashians and free downloading. But at the very least I have a chance, a mercilessly thin one, but a chance nonetheless. And as it turns out, I’m actually in a better place then many of kids I grew up with, kids who were forced to play hockey by over bearing parents no matter what the child wanted. The Devil Himself can tell you how many times that particular road ended in a dead end where sons, no matter how skilled they had become (often as a result of doing nothing but playing hockey even at the expense of their school work) told their parents they never were through and never laced up a pair of skates again.
Me? I still have a pen in my hand and a dream in my heart. And I’m pretty sure I have my mother to thank for that.