Close Encounters of the Mother Kind

It figures, the one day I get to be on television and try to be somebody I’m not, my mother brings me back to earth with a lesson I will never forget as long as I live.

In 1977, a movie came out called, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” about aliens being encountered by earthlings. Naturally, after that, we kids stayed out later than usual looking for UFO’s. We talked big about what we’d do if a flying saucer had landed, but if we had encountered one, we might have pee’d our pants.

Being a kid of the sixties, commonly called “The Pepsi Generation”, I was one of the first to grow up with television from birth. And I defy anyone to say that the media did not shape the way our generation viewed the world. The media was a negative force in many ways, my generation being the first to see movie ratings as the movies got bolder and less inhibited. So, when I got older and began raising a family of my own, I decided to let media influence my children in a more positive way.

I made sure my children watched shows like Little House on the Prairie and The Andy Griffith Show which have been referred to as “timeless classics”. Even when times change, the principles and lessons learned in them still work and can be applied to our lives no matter how old we get.

Today, as I begin a new blog, oddly enough, on Mother’s Day, I want to focus on a timeless lesson that I learned from my mother. Coincidentally, it happened on the day when I got to be on television.

There is a quote by a man named Daniel Goleman that says, “A prerequisite to empathy is simply paying attention to the person in pain.” Very true. My brother and I learned a painful lesson in empathy one day when we weren’t paying attention. But have no fear, our mother knew how to get ours.

My mother was my school’s PTA president and got my whole third grade class onto The Popeye Club TV show back in 1968, including my younger brother and two other children that were not in my class. My brother won a six pack of Orange Crush for being able to whistle after cramming his mouth full of crackers. I didn’t win anything, but did get the coveted “goody bag” full of things like Hostess Twinkies, Lay’s Potato Chips and, of course, an Orange Crush. Everybody got a consolation prize for being on the show. Nevertheless, I had a day I’ll never forget, and the show had nothing to do with it.

After the show was over and we were taking those extra children home, my brother and I noticed that our mom pulled into a trailer park in a bad part of town where, apparently, those kids lived. Just before we pulled up, the two kids in the back seat tore into their goody bags with a fury, and started eating everything in them. My brother, sitting beside them, chastised them that they would ruin their dinner, adding some comment (with an attitude) about not being able to wait, and it caused a little discomfort in the back seat. It didn’t help that I said nothing in their defense (although I did punch my brother in the arm). Little did I know that the real discomfort was about to begin.

After dropping those kids off, my mother put the car in “park” and turned to us with that silent stare she gave us when we were in big trouble. My brother and I, of course, had a wide-eyed look of our own that asked, “What did we do?” She ignored us as she said,

“Just so you know for next time, before you open your big mouth, I happen to know those kids may not get ANY dinner tonight.”

I’ve never in my life heard a gear shift so loud as it did when my mother put the car in reverse and backed out of that parking space to drive us home.

Years later, I realized that my mother had picked those two kids out BECAUSE they were poor and might never get to realize the dream of being on the Popeye Club like those of us who had more privilege. I learned a life lesson that day I’ll never forget, and a close encounter with my mother that I never wanted to repeat.

So, I didn’t.

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