What's Yours?

LA MESA -- Everyone has one.  A particular memory of their mother that will never fade.  Perhaps it's something your mother did, or something you did for your mother, something your mother said or something you said to your mother.  But we all have one or two that are tucked away in the place you keep things you never want to forget.

I'd like to share one that stands out to me.  It's not a tear jerker or anything, just an amusing, humbling moment that has stuck with me because upon reflection it makes me so glad my mother had what it took to say no to me.  I think saying no is one of the best things parents ever do and probably because she was good at it, and told us no with reason and respect, it was easy to carry on her tradition when I had my own children. 

I was probably six or seven years old, and as  Mother's Day was fast approaching I told my mother I wanted to go get her a gift down at El Mercado --the EL Mercado as I used to call it.  It was a little store down at the foot of the hill from our house in Whittier.  Since my mom knew I didn't have much money, she gave me a dollar or so, and down the hill I headed.

When I got in the store I looked around with joy as I always did there.  El Mercado was a kind of independent five and ten cent type store inside which I was always in heaven.   You could buy all kinds of things, and best of all they had an irresistible toy section.  I walked up and down each aisle and then it caught my eye:  A Magnet Set.  It had a horseshoe magnet, with the standard yellow and red paint on each end, some little metal circus animals and people to pick up with the magnet and a smooth skinny bar to keep on the end of the magnet to keep it magnet-y.

I had to have it.  I mean, my mother must have it.  That's what possessed me. My mother needed that magnet set.  What mother wouldn't want a cool six-piece magnet set neatly blister packed on a colorful piece of cardboard?   So I bought it, walked back up the hill, wrapped it and waited for Mother’s Day.  The wait was unbearable, because I knew exactly what would happen... 

My mother would open the present and say, “Well, how lovely!  Magnets.  But you know, dear, I really don’t need any magnets, so why don’t you have them?  You can play with them.  Thank you, sweetie. I love you so much.  Now go and play magnets…”  This just seemed so completely reasonable to my six year old self.  That's what made what really happened so surprising.  And unexpected.

“Magnets? “she said.  I was waiting for the how lovely part.  But instead, she held up the plastic wrapped cardboard containing the dreamy magnetic treasure and said, “You bought these for yourself, didn’t you?”  (This is the worst thing about mothers in my opinion.  They can see right through you.)

After a few moments of silence I said,

“No, I thought you’d like them…  Really I did.” 

“No you didn’t.  You bought them for yourself.  And that is not what you told me you wanted to go to El Mercado to do, is it?”

Now one might think by this time I would have been feeling terrible and guilty and the like, but no! In that ingenious and wonderfully resilient way children have,  I hung my head and said I was sorry;  but all the while I knew that once she thought she had made her point she would say, "Well, since you went all the way down to El Mercado and bought them, there's no sense in wasting them.  But remember, don't ever do something like this again. Here.  Go play.  And share these with your brother and sister."  My perfect plan was still on track, if shaky, and a little shame was not too big a price to pay for a new set of magnets.

But my mother continued, “You bought these for yourself.  And that was a selfish thing to do.  So I am going to put these away. No one will ever play with them.  Including you.”  And then she put them in the cupboard high above the refrigerator, where they stayed forever, unopened, unplayed with.  Just like she said.


Happy Mother's Day, indeed!   Six year old's plan completely thwarted....

I love recalling this childhood tragedy because it reminds me how naive and transparent little kids can be.  And it has forever remained for me a good example of how to deal with a child's unreasonableness with firmness and fairness. And without laughing.  Although I'm certain my mom and dad had a few chuckles about it after I went to bed.  Who knows, maybe they opened the magnets themselves.  Because, really, who wouldn't want a cool six-piece magnet set neatly blister packed on a colorful piece of cardboard... 

La Mesa Today member Chris Shea owns and operates Lifesighs Cards, a creative shop on La Mesa Boulevard in the Village. She encourages you to leave your mother memory in the comments below.

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Comment by David B. Givens on May 11, 2014 at 9:40am

Happy Mother's Day!  Now I know Mom likes me best . . .

Comment by La Mesa Today on May 11, 2014 at 7:28am

Chris Shea,

Your sweet memory reminded me of my own Mom. She's now 94 and living in Upstate New York. She, too, was an incredibly sweet yet vigilant character, a Mother Teresa in every way except that she had had nine children with my father. One year, in my early teens, I remember standing in the back yard of our home. My back was to the house as I entertained my older brothers and sisters with tales of how I had handled the sex education class my catholic school had put me through that week. As I spoke, my mother had emerged from the house and was making her way to the yard with a tray of food as I went on saying something like "So the teacher asks us if we had any experience with childbirth in our own homes. I raise my hand and say 'Well, my mom had nine kids in 13 years. She was a real Pez Dispenser!''' That line had gotten a big laugh from a group of 13-year-olds, but my siblings stood silently, looking vaguely over my shoulder. I turned and realized my Mom had taken in the whole story. She was not amused. For one of only two times I can remember, her hand carved the air and met my cheek. I haven't had a sentient adult hear that story and not agree that I had it comin'!' 

Thanks for your piece!

Chris Lavin, Editor 

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