Thursday, September 29, 2011

Move Over, Hot Sauce Mom!

“You do the best you know how.  And when you know better, you do better.”
~ Maya Angelou
This is one of my all-time favorite quotations.  It appeals to me because it has significance in an almost universal way.  I use this phrase often with my kids, in relation to their school work, friend situations, etc.  I’m sure they are sick of hearing it from me.  I think the reason it resonates with me, though, is because it implies that life is a continuous learning process.  My students often think that their education ends at graduation; but I know the truth is that graduation only represents the beginning.  
I have evolved as a wife and a mother.  Many of the truths that I held so dearly when I was pregnant almost sixteen years ago {GASP} with Allie, I have since abandoned.  Why? Because, at the time, I was doing the best that I knew how to do.  But when I learned a better way, or discovered a reason why I shouldn’t do “it” the way I was doing it, I changed it.  I knew better, so I did better.  I lived my life, gained experience from it, and adjusted my way of being and doing as a result.
I like to think of this quote when I think about my own upbringing.  Instead of thinking (as we all often do), “How could my parents do that to me???” I am now able to take comfort in the belief that my parents were simply doing the best they knew how to do.  They were not intentionally setting out to cause me pain or suffering, because I am confident that if they knew a better way to do it they certainly would have done so.

Here is great example:  My father is an accountant, the son of a couple of who lived through the depression, and, therefore, a great economist.  He is frugal, but in a quirky way.  As my brother likes to say, my father would be very willing to spend a million dollars on something that he perceived the value of to be in excess of a million dollars, but he will NOT spend a single dollar on something that he believes to be valued at only fifty cents.  The biggest sin you can commit, in my father’s eyes, is being wasteful.  When I was about seven years old, my favorite breakfast was my mother’s homemade waffles.  And while these waffles were delicious all alone, they were even more delicious covered in syrup.  Oodles and oodles of syrup, to be exact.  This was a thorn in my father’s side because, inevitably, there would be huge amounts of syrup left on my plate when I was finished eating.  So in my father’s infinite wisdom, he announced one day that I was welcome to continue taking as much syrup as I liked, as long as I used it all.  If there was any syrup left on my plate, I would be required to DRINK IT.  I chuckled at the thought, because, duh, he had to be kidding, right? Wrong.  The next weekend at breakfast, when I passed my syrup-ladened breakfast plate to be cleared from the table, my father called to my mother for a clean glass from the kitchen.  He proceeded to carefully pour all the excess syrup from my plate into the glass and then placed it in front of me saying, “Drink up!”  He was definitely NOT kidding.

I like to think that my father, in his own warped way, was trying to teach me a lesson in economics, and in living for that matter.  He probably did not intend to harm me emotionally in any way, which he did not.  However, only as an adult am I able to understand the lesson he was aiming for.  As a seven year old girl I simply thought he was mean and horrible.  Of course, when I bring it up now we both laugh about it.  I am hopeful that he is able to see that, while his intentions were good, his method was somewhat misguided.
That incident came to the forefront of my mind when I watched Dr. Phil on 11/17/10 and followed in the news the subsequent trial and conviction of Alaska mom Jessica Beagley, referred to in the media as “Hot Sauce Mom,” because of her forcing her son to pour hot sauce in his mouth as a method of discipline.  If you are not familiar with the show and/or case, here is a clip of the video that Beagley sent in to Dr. Phil.  Filming this video is one of her other five children, her 10 year old daughter.

The media has portrayed Beagley as a fame-seeking monster, who participated in such extreme discipline methods (she also forced the boy to take ice cold showers) in an effort to get on television.  But I prefer to liken her to my father (Waffle Syrup Dad???) and apply the Maya Angelou quote.  I like to think that this is a mother who was at the end of her rope, whose intention was good, who thought she was doing what was best for her son, but was misguided in her approach.