“The Meanest Mom on the Block” – Misdiagnosis of a Four Year-Old

2ndBirthday_1966

Click here to read...

Click here to read…

You wouldn’t know she would win the award to look at her–the picture of innocence at 22 years.  She even took pains to perpetuate the illusion, showering me with exotic presents like wooden mallets and fancy ribbons, my favorite chocolate cake, even my cousins Pat, Sharon and Susie standing by as witnesses on my second birthday.

I can see it so clearly now; I was already on my way out–like the crooked candle on the right.  Somewhere out of frame, lurked my upgrade–the 1966 Katie.

And in two years it would be official; the election results would be in. Ann Walsh, by unanimous decision, would be voted the “Meanest Mom on the Block.”  Apparently, when she was informed of the official tally she was reduced to tears.  My misdiagnosis of my mother’s parenting style came back to haunt me in a tattered album that I’d pretty much ignored most of my life.

BabyBook2

It’s really a blue over-stuffed fortune cookie, predicting much of my years–written in my mom’s unmistakable hand that hasn’t changed.

On the page outlining education, she noted…

mistakes

My very first teacher in the pre-preschool days died suddenly in November–a terrible event for a child of any age.  But my only real memory of that time is my mom’s reassuring hand as we walked up the hill to school and I entered the classroom to meet Mrs. Hurst.  That transition was necessary; I needed that escort into the room for the safe hand-off.

The accuracy of her observation on the bottom of the same entry, “extremely sensitive to making mistakes” couldn’t have been more precise.  Even this past Wednesday during an annual review of my department, the visitor smiled at the nearly 50 year-old man across the desk and said, “You seem nervous, Kevin.  Relax.” 

I’m not sure where I became so terrified of mistakes, but she offers more insight on another page.

Favorites_music

I still like Petula Clark’s “Downtown” and have it on a number of playlists–along with, I have to admit, the “Batman” theme song.  I still have the creepy elves picture down in a box in our basement, too.  But Humpty Dumpty?  I have no recollection of a Humpty Dumpty–until I scanned this picture of my nursery today.

Nursery

Lurking above my head like a Chucky doll, there it was beside a matching Humpty Dumpty lamp completing the ensemble of doom.

Humpty

The anxiety, and sometimes terror, I’ve felt throughout my life of never being able to put all the pieces together again made this my perfect mascot-a smiling, oblivious Humpty before his great fall.

When I was a teenager, my mom told me about being voted Meanest Mom and weeping over her crimes–which was obviously my intent over some injustice like being asked to come inside for dinner.

“I figured I was doing everything wrong since you were the first and we were so young. But by the time Maureen told me the same thing, I just laughed and said, ‘Good!'”

When I was five she was already feeling plenty confident about her abilities and made some tough decisions.  The first was holding me back a year when she noticed that her son was coming home from kindergarten with stomach aches.  As I’ve written about before, she didn’t pick the easy path of just letting me cry it out.  She knew her kid well enough to let him sit on the wall one more year, regardless of what all the kings horses and all the king’s men had to say.

The next year, I loved kindergarten.

After a successful first grade (with the dry-humored Mrs. Dolly whom I adored), my parents decided to enroll me in the local Catholic school.  The entry in the book explains it all.

2nd

Sister Mary Beatrice.  I can still see her frowning down at me in my cramped wooden desk.  I can still smell that terrible textbook with the cryptic title:  “Phonics.”  What wasa phonic?  Which bus was mine in the parking lot?  There must have been 75 of them.  Only one of them wouldn’t dump me off in some remote section of rural Ohio.

The Worst Mom on the Block decided to make an immediate change a week later, I was back walking two blocks to Cameron Park Elementary where the sun seemed to shine a little brighter.  (Envision 15 nuns not singing with Julie Andrews, but shaking their heads at the fallen young mother.)  But even visiting the now-abandoned school a couple years ago, I still felt safe.

CameronPark

On another baby book page, under “Favorites,” my mom predicted this very blog.

Grace

I still love pictures in albums and the stories they tell and owe more to my mom for this type of memoir-writing than I realized before this morning.  I don’t recall much drama during mealtime grace, however.  I do remember my mom laughing and correcting me, informing me that the auctioneer-speed that I recited the pre-meal prayer (“Blessusohlordandthesethy…”) wasn’t actually asking God to bless the “guests” we were about to receive but instead, in a much less cannibalistic manner, the “gifts” we were about to receive.  But then, she boldly noted, that we could go ahead and thank the cook of the meal as well as the Lord.

Seals1

Without knowing much about baseball, she agreed to be the coach of the Seals, my sister’s hardball team.  She battled the usual prejudices one would expect, patiently dealing with the same head-shaking the nuns gave her–all the way to the World Series trophy.  I still bump into players from that team who tell me how much my mom meant to them.

In the middle of my senior year of high school, my mom finally had apparently had enough of me carrying on about college, my exams, my future, blah-blah-blah.  She took a deep breath, looked me in the eye and said, “Would you relax.  Why don’t you just join the Navy if you’re so stressed out?”  I didn’t want to hear that then and probably told her again why she was still the meanest mom on the block.  But I know that precise use of those sharp, sober comments has rescued me a thousand times as a father and teacher.

When my dad died and we were beside his bed in the hospital, she gripped my hand tightly again, like she did on that long walk back to my kindergarten class: “Well, it’s not going to get any worse than it is right now.”  The next morning, she didn’t know what to do next and she heard a voice that replied, “Massive healing.”  And those frank assessments, coupled with her warm hands, made the next week bearable for me and hundreds of others as we grappled with such a tremendous loss.

Clearly a large majority of the attendees at the funeral home were cousins, friends and Clawson High School staff and students who were there for my mom as well as my dad.  And they all told me the same thing about her, “She’s like my own mom.  She actually cares what’s going on in our lives and is there no matter what.”

AnnPat

“How’s your mom?” has been the question that has closely followed every “Hi Kevin” since 1997.  And when she was able to meet and marry the amazing Patrick Quinn through some mutual friends who loved them both our joy in her joy was breathtaking.

It’s too often we forget that hand on the back of our chair, lovingly supportive and making sure we don’t fall from a stack of phone-books–never to be put back together again.

Chair

Happy Mother’s Day to Ann Walsh Quinn from one of your four biological kids.  We are all fortunate and proud to represent the hundreds of your other children who all call you Mom.

Love,

Kevin

About Kevin Walsh

Before creating MyMediaDiary.com, Kevin taught high school video productions and language arts for 25 years. He is the producer of the web-series and blog, www.DiggingDetroit, founder and producer for MMD Productions at www.mmdphotovideo.com which offers quick, professional photography, video and multimedia solutions for individuals, organizations and businesses. His text, "Video Direct," is used in 40 states. He is the current president of the non-profit DAFT (Digital Arts Film and Television) which sponsors the Michigan Student Film Festival. He lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, is married to Patrice and is tolerated by his two teenagers. Follow Kevin on Twitter @kwteacher
Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to “The Meanest Mom on the Block” – Misdiagnosis of a Four Year-Old

  1. Ann Walsh Quinn says:

    Thanks, Kevin. “The Meanest Mom on the Block” title has now made me cry twice. Once when I was young and insecure and now because you have summed up the gifts, heartaches, and truths of being a parent in one beautiful package. Very touching. Thanks for being a great son and proving that Dad & I managed to not screw you up completely. Love, Mom

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      Thanks for the great sense of humor, Mom–particularly not minding the title! Your sense of fun, steady hand at the tiller has been a wonderful role-model for Patrice and me!

  2. Joe M says:

    Really wonderful Kevin. A fitting tribute. You keep making me cry but that’s OK!

  3. Laura E. Kelly says:

    That has to be the best Mother’s Day essay EVER!

  4. Mary Ellen Maguire says:

    Heart tugs here, Kevin! Such a marvelous piece to read. Feeling the depth of love through you all, from long ago to present. Thanks!

  5. Claudia says:

    One of your best stories. Loved it.

  6. Mary Kowalski says:

    This is why Ann Walsh Quinn is my child’s godmother. Your portrait of a very special lady is perfect.

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      Thanks, Mary. Sorry for the very-long delay in replying. You share a special place in our memories as part of a tapestry of special moms in our lives!