Why I Am Not a Catholic Mother…

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my mother.  I have forgiven her for much because she had to try to raise three kids while also dealing with undiagnosed and untreated bi-polar disorder.  I am grateful to have survived, but even more grateful that she has in later years gotten the help she needs to live with and manage her disorder.  I learned many good things from her…but…not all of her theology, or ways of dealing with miscreant children, completely registered with me.  I am sure the nuns, and/or Attila the Hun would have approved of both her intercessory prayers to St.s Fill-in-the-Blanks, and her disciplinary methods, but I have deep theological conflicts with praying to dead people.  I’m pretty sure there are warnings in the Bible against trying to communicate with the dead so I would rather err on the side of caution with that one.  As to discipline with Extreme Prejudice, I don’t have a problem with warming up a kid’s behind for an egregious behavior fail, but I just don’t have that kind of ferocity, or that kind of sadistic streak in me to go postal over trivial errors.

I had to temper my own experience and style of parenting and Christian education with perhaps a tad bit less “fear of hellfire” and a tad bit more “do unto others.”  As in, do your chores and I won’t beat you- unless you do something really stupid.

Granted, for Protestants, Lutherans are somewhat sticky about educating children in the faith. We don’t wait around for the kids to decide on their own that they want to go to Sunday School and/or Catechism.  We do make them go.   Like Catholics, we have our kids baptized (usually) not long after bringing them home from the hospital.  Unlike Catholics, we don’t expect infants and toddlers to actually participate in the worship service- there’s a nursery down the hall for the little screamers for a reason.  We also try to make Sunday School fun- instead of the three hour “extra school” session that Catholic kids who go to public school have to endure on Sundays.  Believe me, elementary school kids are not interested in learning theology or memorizing saints’ names, and reciting prayers for all occasions.  I did, however, enjoy drawing mustaches and devil horns on the faces in the catechism workbooks and writing creative captions for them.  Hopefully that was nothing more than a venial sin. I still do the same thing, only now I use the Paint program to do it.

Middle school kids aren’t much interested in theology either- but they are interested in finding all the double entendre they can, and in making their own fun at the instructor’s expense.  I had a boatload of fun leading a middle school Catechism group for that very reason.  I could anticipate (and usually defuse) their every move, which probably made it less fun for them, but it did help me keep them more focused.  Having my own middle school experience from hell, and working with automotive technicians for 20+ years really gave me an edge for dealing with a group of eighth grade boys.  Nothing they could say or do would surprise or shock me. They did amuse me at times, if they really put some effort into it, but they weren’t out to amuse me.  They wanted to offend me, and that wasn’t going to happen.

For a Catholic mother, my mother wasn’t as harsh as some.  Although she learned about disciplining children from the nuns, she was generally not into beating us as much as I’m sure the nuns beat her.  Mom’s disciplinary forms usually consisted of:

The Hair Pull Restraint:

Yanking us by the hair was easy back in the day, because all three of us had the extreme long hair that was vogue in the 70’s.  All it took was a simple yank and twist around the wrist and Mom could (and would) drag you anywhere she thought you needed to go- usually to a more convenient spot to beat the tar out of you more effectively.  This is one of the reasons why I have very short hair today, that, and the fact that my sisters liked to throw live stinging bugs in my hair.  Bad memories die hard.

The Vulcan Death Grip- with Nail Punctures!

Had we been born male and therefore would had to have our hair buzzcutted, Mom had another more painful, yet effective restraint method.  To this day Mom has extremely long, sharp natural nails.  Mine are acrylic and won’t hold up to this kind of abuse.  She would grab you by the arm, twist you around, and then inflict painful fingernail punctures to the soft, fleshy part of the neck, (not unlike the Vulcan Death Grip) especially if you made a rude comment in front of one of her friends, or tried to run off before she had a chance to make you say “hi” to every one of her 500 friends or obnoxious relatives at whatever gathering we were forced to attend.

Breaking the Wooden Paddle (and/or Wooden Spoon)

Years ago (I’ve not seen one of these paddle games in recent memory) one could buy a small wooden paddle with a rubber ball attached to it by means of an elastic string.  The object of the game was to bounce the ball with the paddle, but Mom never bought these things for us to play with.  She got these things to beat the living daylights out of us with, as in: whack miscreant child with paddle until paddle breaks, find another paddle, repeat.  Wooden spoons were even more effective as they were harder for her to break.

The “Wait Until Your Dad Gets Home”

Dad was never much into the discipline thing.  You knew when he was pissed (pretty much all the time) and to keep a wide berth, but when it came to physical punishment Dad would maybe whack you twice with the belt and then be done.  You knew you’d been whacked- it wasn’t a love tap- but once or twice and that was it.  The waiting for doom to strike was a lot worse than the actual punishment itself.  Dad never really got any enjoyment out of corporal punishment.  Mom, on the other hand, didn’t whack as hard but there was something cathartic in it for her.  She enjoyed it, and she’d keep on whacking until something broke.

The worst part about Mom and discipline is that it was highly variable and highly subjective.  Sometimes you could flagrantly violate the rules and get no response or a half-hearted verbal warning.  Other times you could cut a popcorn fart and get knocked into next week for it.  It depended on her mood and where she was on the depressed-normal-manic spectrum.  If she was depressed, she usually didn’t give a rat’s ass about anything.  That’s when she would lock us all outside and turn up the TV.  When she was normal she would generally have a more spirited response, but her demeanor could turn either to mania or catatonia in the blink of an eye.  I think this is how I learned to cope with cokehead bosses back in the 90’s.  Mom never touched cocaine- thank God- but I did learn that cokeheads respond just as unpredictably as bi-polar people and to be suitably forewarned.

 

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