“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” ~ Robert Fulghum.
The soundtrack of my teenage years was mostly composed of reggae (along with its forbears the ska and rocksteady), with a layer of ‘soul’ music flowing through. It took a while for original Jamaican music to be played on local radio stations. For many years it was easier to hear the Beatles or Nat King Cole than to hear authentic Jamaican music. Sundays was for ballads, Jim Reeves featured heavily. But we could rely on the ‘sound systems’ that would boom out in the night, or the bars with their juke boxes, to hear the home grown sound. At school we were permitted to attend ‘socials’ (aka ‘Boogies’), and for a few hours between the end of school and the onset of dusk, we could dance to the sound of the Heptones, the Wailers, Toots and the Maytals, and more. Of course, there would be a strong disciplinary presence at such events. If the deejay dared to play the famous ‘Toots’ song; 54-46, the whole evening could be shut down. That song celebrated the time Toots was arrested and convicted for possession (ganja), that was his prison number.
There would usually be an interlude of slower music – and this is where boys and girls slow danced together, again under the watchful eye of whichever teachers were there to chaperone. When we got older we would refer to such music as ‘rent-a-tile’ dances, as you did so little actual movement you did not need more than a tile for your dance floor. I loved music. I loved to dance. In fact, to keep track of my favorite songs I would log them on the pages of my school hymn book, song title on one page, artiste (Chi-lites; Stylistics) on the top of the facing page. Sacrilege? Perhaps. Unfortunately, I lost track of that hymnbook over the years (my mother may have given it away). I can just imagine how many memories would come flooding back if I ever saw that book again.
‘Me and Mrs. Jones’ had particular significance for me, because my mother was Mrs. Jones. And so my teasing classmates would often sing it to me. It didn’t make me happy, since my mother was also a much-feared teacher at my high school, and most people did not have happy associations with her. She was stern, she was strict, she hardly ever smiled, and so it could be quite tricky being her daughter.
Mother-daughter relationships can be tricky any way. I learned that once I gave birth to my own daughter. It is so easy to judge and condemn when you have not had a particular experience yourself. Like most daughters of my generation (I believe), we didn’t claim that ‘my mother is my best friend’. That was not the nature of the relationship. Even as an adult, the interaction did not evolve into anything like friendship. She had been a tough mother, prone to angry outbursts, which perhaps contributed to me growing up a ‘people pleaser’. Unfortunately that often leads to codependency – an unhealthy way of connecting with other people. It certainly contributed to the way I approached my role of wife, married to a man who was similarly prone to angry outbursts.
It is often in hindsight that we begin to unravel, dissect and analyze the people who made us. If we are lucky we can be more objective about their strengths and weaknesses. My strict mother contributed to the successful education of generations of high school students, who approached their adult life armed with a useful set of skills: shorthand; typing (they are so thankful today, in this keyboard driven world); able to present themselves professionally in a competitive world. And as a parent myself, if I found myself particularly frustrated with my young kids that I would start yelling, I would hear my mother’s voice in my head and try to find another way of expressing myself.
There was another attribute of my mother that I learned to appreciate later in life. She was often swift to pronounce judgment, quick to condemn actions that she thought were wrong. But once, having learned to give my opinion on a subject she felt very strongly about, I was impressed at her reaction. We had been discussing whether a parson’s wife should be sterilized if she didn’t want any more children. She was of the opinion that it was wrong. I expressed my feelings, that if they did not want any more children, why should they continue to use birth control that may have had adverse effects for the wife? She could not agree. The next day, after having given it much thought, she said: ‘Perhaps if I had had the option I would have thought differently’. So often we are quick to condemn the actions of others, when we don’t know their experience.
We are seeing the rights of women being eroded once more. Regardless of your personal opinions regarding abortion, it seems barbaric that new laws are being put into effect that would make it possible for anyone to sue anyone for assisting a woman to get an abortion beyond 6 weeks post conception. Most of us don’t even begin to suspect we are pregnant that early. The thought of women being able to enact laws that addressed what men can and cannot do with their bodies is unheard of. And by the way, we all know someone who has had an abortion, even if we don’t know it!
After the Texas law, Florida promptly decided to follow suit. Please note, I happened to be researching Florida law regarding the patient’s bill of rights and responsibilities this week. In Florida law, a healthcare provider may not ask a patient whether they own a handgun, whether they own ammunition, and may not ‘harass’ patients regarding gun ownership. Guns apparently have more rights than women do.
This Friday morning, with the sound of Billy Paul singing his song in my head, I long for a world where more people are willing to put aside knee-jerk reactions for a fairer analysis of complex situations. If you have a complex relationship with your parents, I hope you are able to revisit it, and focus on the positive. And I hope you get a chance to ‘rent-a-tile’ with the partner of your dreams!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!