Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mama's Jail ~ A Thanksgiving Story


When my son was fifteen, he did something stupid. His dad, my ex-husband, gave him the usual Atta boy don't do that again” talk, the school got their three days without his smart mouth, and I was left with the what am I gonna do with this child? nightmare invading my dreams. In those days there was no dungeon, no chains, no rack – not that I would have used it ( I didn't even believe in spanking) – but you catch my drift.

What am I going to do with this child?
The conversation went something like this: “You know I love you so I'm not even going to preface this punishment with I love you because you've already gotten a slap on the wrist but OK OK I love you.”


“Yeah, I know Mom.”
He started to walk away.


“Well, I hope you'll still love me when I tell you what your punishment is going to be.”
Although I vowed never to give the think of all the starving children speech to my child (I broke that rule many times), this time I went for the jugular. Mine was bulging. “What were you THINKING?! Do you think you can just go through life handling things this way? Do you know how privileged you are? (yeah Mom) Do you understand that there are kids in this world who would love to have your life? (yeah Mom) Why are you choosing to mess things up for yourself? Do you know that you can't play sports now? (yeah Mom) Are you listening to me?! If you don't get your act together young man you're going to end up somewhere you don't want to be and I'm not bailing you out. Do you hear me? (yeah Mom) You have no idea how close you came to getting in serious trouble today, do you? Do you? Well, DO you?? (a surly yeah Mom....See, I told you, listen to the smart mouth.) What you do right now in school will determine your future. And now you have a bad mark on your academic record and a three-day suspension before high school. You are out of control!”


“So ground me,” said the smart mouth.

“No. I will not ground you.”

He halted.
“What are you going to do?” he asked.

“Just think of it as Mama's jail.”



The smart-aleck ceased for a moment and then....."Whatever, Mom.”

I was furious with him and at my wit's end. He needed to see how the real world works. I made arrangements. It took some doing but they finally saw it my way. "You want your son to do WHAT? But he's not a criminal (not YET I thought) and we're not a juvenile detention center." (well......) "Will you please allow us to do this? I asked the nun-like administrator of this facility. “I'm not trying to teach him a lesson here, that is not the point, but he needs to see and understand with his own eyes how lucky he is and how his actions now can affect the rest of his life.”


So for the next two months that summer, we got up at five am, drove to another town and worked in a homeless shelter's soup kitchen. It was the worst of the worst neighborhoods. I had cleanup detail (you didn't think they'd let me near the food now, did you?) and he served the line.


“What are we doing here?” he asked.
I never told him why. He didn't need another lecture.
Think of all the starving children just got real.


After one week of losing his summer sleep to ride an hour in my car at the crack of dawn - with music blasting all the way - and mingle with very old people volunteers and stir canned creamed corn in a pot for an hour he said, “Why didn't you just send me to REAL jail?! I hate this!”




Uh huh, I thought. Just stir, buster.

In the middle of the second week he started to actually get up before I did. Hurry up, Mom. We have to get going.” (Oh great, I thought. He's met a pretty girl at the homeless shelter. That's the only reason he would get up at five am. My plan has backfired. Drats!) And what was this grand revelation I expected him to learn? Heck if I knew. I was just a parent with an unruly fifteen- year -old with no respect for himself or his elders or his life. I didn't even know if it would make a difference.
All I knew was that somehow the corn and pintos and no-dessert-for-you rule would magically translate into a light-bulb moment for him. Osmosis maybe? I just knew this was the right thing to do. I I didn't know how or why.


One early afternoon as I started to clean the lunch tables with a large wet rag and a bucket of soapy water, rearranging the napkins and utensils for the next meal, I looked up to see my sleepy-headed son talking with a man through the narrow serving window.
My boy had just served lunch. There was pie for dessert that day.
Pumpkin pie.The man had returned to the window for another slice.
He was dirty. Shaky.
No teeth. Scraggly. Scary. Smelly. And hungry.


The rules were clear. One serving per person. No seconds. Period.
No one was looking. And I'm thinking....We're going to get thrown out of the soup kitchen for not following the rules. Oh great! Suspended again. And this time I'm going down with him. Oh the shame. Until.....


The man who wanted more pie.

Up until this point he rarely made eye contact with anyone in the line. Especially not the kids. He plopped the food on the plate and reached for the next empty styrofoam sadness shuffling through. People with their entire families in tow. Hungry folks down on their luck and needing not even a hot meal. Just a meal. Families living in cars through no fault of their own. On the street. Raggedy clothes crossing elbows with his Tommy Hilfiger jeans and watch.
Pork 'n beans, wax beans, any beans. Didn't matter. Please feed my child. My little girl is hungry. I saw it in their eyes. The sadness. And the shame.

I was so moved that summer. Apparently, I needed a reality check too. But that was not the point. Was it?



The man would not stop asking and he was forced to look him squarely in the eyes. I could see the wheels turning in baby boy's brown-eyed head..... “Will you shut up? I'm going to get in trouble if you don't go away.”
Silence.
And a hungry stare full of embarrassment that a life-giving gesture lay in the hands of this kid he did not know and would never know - someone young enough to be his grandchild - who held something he wanted.. something he had to beg for. And then I saw my son slip a plump piece of pumpkin delight (with whipped cream) onto the scraped clean empty plate. The man nodded appreciatively, lowered his head, and walked away.


By this time my wet rag had dropped to the table and the cleaning had stopped. My hair in a net, pretending to fold silverware sets, I watched what happened. He saw me sit down. I waited for someone to say something. I waited for him to get in trouble. No one saw his discretion that day but I'll tell you this - If I could have jumped through the tiny little window and wrapped my arms around that boy I would have done so.

He was shuffling his hundred dollar Nike shod feet standing with a spatula and an empty pan, trying not to look at me. When our eyes finally met, the blur of tears between us said what no lecture ever could. We never talked again about the man, the pie, or his punishment.
But I was proud.


We finished our tour of shelter duty as promised and school started again in the fall.
That was fourteen years ago.
Did that summer stop him from forever being a knuckle-head? No.
Did he straighten-up-and-fly-right from that moment on? No.
Were there more nightmare dreams for me through the teenage years? Yes.

But I have to believe that it shaped his understanding of the world a bit and through all his troubles that most certainly came later, I did see – and continue to see – a great compassion develop in him for people in need.









And to this day, every time I'm offered a a slice of pumpkin pie.... I see a homeless man, a prized piece of dessert and brown-eyed humility.

Mine.







© Mimi Lenox

54 comments:

Sandee (Comedy +) said...

Raising boys can be a real challenge, but this is a great way to do it. What an inspirational story. Very well done Mimi. Big hug and lotsa lovies. :)

bobbie said...

This was beautiful, Mimi. Thank you. You've made my Thanksgiving.

Lisa said...

Thank you, Mimi. As the mother of a sixteen year old boy, this story goes a long way. Happy Thanksgiving.

Travis said...

This is a great story.

Queen-Size funny bone said...

Thats the only way to learn.

Ferd said...

That blur of tears is contagious.

A great lesson for me as well. And good! Now I can check off working at the homeless soup kitchen!
Thanks, Mimi!

avtcoach said...

Very nice Mimi! I too had my years with a child who I thought would turn the wrong way. Those years were painful but we kept at it. What a great investment of time you game him! What goes a bit unnoticed in this story is that you worked too. You served too! That took great sacrifice. You did not know what outcome you would get but you did it with him!!!
A great lesson!

jennifer said...

I caught a case of mother's tears. What a precious story and memory.

kenju said...

You should give lessons in how to be a mom!!

Lucy said...

wow! You are one smart Mom! I just loved that story and loved your sons compassion.
I am sure he has never forgotten the sadness he saw in that shelter, or the goodness he saw in his own heart.
I am wanting to gather my crew and ship them to one for thanksgiving.
hugs Mimi!

Desert Songbird said...

I'm always in awe of kids learning humility through service to others. My kids are learning some wonderful life lessons; I hope they stay that compassionate.

Great story, Mimi. Wonderful life lesson.

Barbara said...

Hi Mimi,
I think that I have been coming to the Palace quite awhile now, because I remember this story !
That was one important lesson that your son learned.

Can I give you a challenge ? This is not a meme. Could you go 24 hours without spending a cent ??
Check out my latest post.

XXX and if I miss you, Happy Thanksgiving my dear.

Patti said...

Like Barbara, I also remember reading this wonderful story.

Happy Thanksgiving, Queen Mimi.

Charles Gramlich said...

Wow! I know that took a lot of effort and time on your part but it was quite likely the greatest learning experience he could have had.

Well done.

Starrlight said...

Oh well done, Mimi! I took Miranda to a soup kitchen to volunteer with me when she was all of 5. It happened after a particularly trying shopping session and an arguement over the need for yet another polly pockets doll. It had the desired effect. Show don't tell is my motto!

Anndi said...

I loved this story the first time I read and I still do. Timeless piece.

Our children learn so much from actions.

We've made up Christmas baskets for poor families over the years. Donating what is needed for them to have a nice Christmas dinner. Even though times are very tough, we'll be doing it again this year. Tis better to give than to receive...

Oh.. TAG! hehehe!

Summer said...

Wow! Great story, and an even greater lesson.

You remind me so much of a dear friend that I worked with many moons ago. Much like you, she was a very wise woman! At the time, I was a single mother of one toddler. I was having just minor issues in discipline. Her kids were all in their twenties so I often looked to her for advice. She told me, "There are defining moments in your child's life when they've made bad decisions. These are the moments when you have a chance to make a difference in how your child sees the world. Stear them in the right direction. It won't be easy. Sometimes you'll be seen as dramatic or taking it too far, but it's your job and yours alone to make that difference." That story reminded me of her advice!

This will be my inspiration when my boys are teenagers.

Mimi Lenox said...

Sandee - Raising kids of any gender in this day and age is a challenge. Happy Thanksgiving to you, sweetie.

Mimi Lenox said...

Bobbie - I read your post last night about your husband and the loss and sadness you feel. I hope you find peace in your holiday season. Your post made me want to believe in love again.
Thank you for that.

Mimi Lenox said...

Lisa - It is trying at times. Happy Thanksgiving.

Mimi Lenox said...

Travis - Thank you. I know you read it last year too....time is ticking away so fast.

Mimi Lenox said...

Queen - It was great for me too.

Mimi Lenox said...

Ferd - Men who can cry over things like this are real men. Yep. I said it. Blur away...

Mimi Lenox said...

Coach - He had his battles and his demons. We all have 'em in differing forms. I love him so much.

Mimi Lenox said...

Jennifer - Nothing quite like what happens to moms when you're worrying about your children.

Mimi Lenox said...

Kenju - I don't know about that but he made sure I brought my A game on a daily basis.
Bwaaahhaahahhaaa...

Mimi Lenox said...

Lucy - "...or the goodness he saw in his own heart."
THAT was the goal.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Mimi Lenox said...

Songbird - You are an awesome mom. I've seen what you do with your kids and how you involve them in the church and activities. I've always thought so. You are my inspiration!

Mimi Lenox said...

Barbara - Thank you for visiting me at Thanksgiving. Can I go 24 hours without spending a cent?
I don't think so.....

Mimi Lenox said...

Princess Patti - Happy Thanksgiving to you and Sir Ralph. Are you cooking turkey?

Mimi Lenox said...

Charles - He learned a lot. I hope....

Mimi Lenox said...

Anndi - A tag for the Queen?

You are such a great mom too. There will be families going hungry this year with nothing for Christmas. I can't stand the thought. Good for you and Chicklet! What a wonderful lesson for her.

Mimi Lenox said...

Starr - I think you are an awesome mom. Always have. She is lucky to have you.

Mimi Lenox said...

Summer - Great advice from her. I was seen as "dramatic and too far"....not just this time but in many instances before and after that.
I would do it all the same again.

bundleocontradictions said...

*sniffle* Any one of us could be in that position @ any given time. It's amazing what an extra piece of pie can do. (Other than expand my rear.)

Akelamalu said...

Your son learned a very important lesson Mimi and you did a great job finding the right place for him to learn it.

Babs (Beetle) said...

A great story, and a great thing to do! Well done to you for teaching your son his lesson but doing it with him :O)

I have never had pumpkin pie. It looks interesting.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

A wonderful story, Mimi, that helped your son a lot.

Finding Pam... said...

Serving the least, the last and the lost is one of the most rewarding experiences that we have ever had. I was the director of a food pantry and the clients touched my life in so many ways. I

Jeremy said...

That's a beautiful story, Kudos to you for putting him through it, and sacrificing your own summer sleep for both his benefit, and the benefit of others.

Jeremy

Bud Weiser, WTIT said...

Amen. Happy Thanksgiving...

Mimi Lenox said...

Autumn - More and more folks are in that position. It's scary.

Mimi Lenox said...

Akelamalu - Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Mimi Lenox said...

Babs - Pumpkin pie has never been my favorite but I'll never look at it the same way!

Mimi Lenox said...

Jean-luc - There were other lessons along the way but I think that was an important summer for him.

Mimi Lenox said...

Pam - I'm sure that must have been rewarding work. You are such a kind soul.

Mimi Lenox said...

Jeremy - Thank you for stopping by. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Julie said...

I'm thankful for friends who help me find what's important.

Thanks for being one of those friends, Mimi.

Shelia said...

I can't see through my tears! Having a 17 year old knuckle head boy of my own, I relate in so many ways, and imagined my son standing there in your son's place. I feel blessed to know, for certain, my son would have done the same. And, to know that is overwhelming.

Thanks for helping me see my son there, as yours once stood.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Mimi Lenox said...

Julie - You are a precious friend to me. Happy Thanksgiving.

Mimi Lenox said...

Sheila - Happy Thanksgiving to you, Sheila. May your day be filled with blessings of the intrinsic kind.

meleah rebeccah said...

Oh My God. Now I know what to do with my smart/wise-a$$ son when he acts up.

What a beautiful story. I liked the part when you thought you were going to get in trouble WITH him. That was funny!

ciara said...

beautiful story, mimi..i know your son learned a lot from that time. thx for sharing

i always hate when stepson says he's starving. he's lucky to have food,shelter, clothing...i always say people in africa/other countries are starving, the homeless are starving, you are NOT starving. one day maybe he'll learn that it's not all about him...maybe it's going to take something drastic happening to him.

Raven said...

What a wise good mother you are. Your son is lucky. Great story for all of us too. A reminder of how much we have is always good. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thankgiving.

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