Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lately, I've been startled by childhood memories that come flooding vividly to the front of my mind seemingly out of the blue. Not that my childhood was all that "startling"-- It was actually a middle-America, happy-go-lucky kind of upbringing, but bits and pieces of memories can bowl me over when I least expect them.

Like the time I was about 12 or maybe 13 years old and I called my mother a bitch. It was not my finest moment and was over something silly that revolved around me thinking I was the center of the universe, but under my breath, loud enough to make my opinion known, I called my mother a name that was not spoken in our home. As quick and sarcastically as the word passed my lips I tried to suck it back in faster than a speeding bullet.

It happened early one Saturday morning as she came into my room to wake me for dance school. Mom called me on my inappropriate action then never mentioned it again nor did she issue a consequence or punishment. It was the one and only time I ever spoke in that manner to my mother, but 40 years later, I still remember how bad I felt the second I heard myself being so hateful and ugly.

Why on earth I was reminded of that particular moment today is a mystery. It is not the first time I've remembered that awful exchange over the years, but the older I get, the more that moment breaks my heart.

I am nearly 53 years old, my mom will be 75 in a few weeks. Growing up, when any of her five children would act up, she very calmly replied that someday we would have our own children and get a double dose of our shenanigans in return.

Maybe that's why memories of less than shining moments from my past crop up out of the blue to haunt me. I did not have any children to get my "paybacks", for lack of a better word, even though mom was only joking and trying to calm tense moments when she'd promise us our comeuppance.

Of course that isn't why I choose not to have children but I wonder, when I hear harsh words spoken by a boundary-testing teenager or an overly tired and cranky child, if, as a parent, my past memories would melt into the kind of patience my mother continuously demonstrated with her five very head-strong, exceedingly loud and usually obnoxious children, which we were-- In between being perfect angels, of course.

I watch my sisters and brother parent their children with ease and hear them speak many of the same lessons my mother taught us-- almost verbatim-- And yes, they promise their kids "paybacks" when they have children of their own.

Like most kids, I hear my nieces and nephews test, taunt and torment my adult siblings just like we did our parents at their age. But when I'm in ear shot, I try to find a quiet moment to help them realize that words hurt-- and last a lifetime, so maybe they could choose their words a bit more carefully or just plain bite their tongue in the heat of a teenage drama.

That advice usually drop kicks me straight to the "old fogie" category, complete with big sighs, eye rolls and an "are you kidding me?" attitude-- The same way I'd have reacted to a twenty-nice cent lecture from an elder at their age, but I pass the advice on in hopes of sparing them the out of the blue, slap-you-in-the-face memories that have been rocking my boat lately.

There is no doubt that far worse words passed my lips as a child and teenager--hateful, mean-spirited words-- but the small moments are the ones that seem to pull at my heart the most. My mother and I talk several times a week despite living a few thousand miles apart. I can't remember the last time we had harsh words for one another and I am blessed by that.

My hope is that as we age the not so pleasant moments from our past will fade and our hearts will hold only the happiest and calmest of joys. Kinda sounds a bit Pollyanna but that's what I'm working towards.

Welcome to - Joanna Jenkin
Photo Credit: © ANK -


  1. I work with teenagers and families. And so many families are broken because of things they say to each other. Some of the most hateful things we hear actually come from parents. It's heartbreaking.

  2. This is a touching post. I remember mouthing off to my Mom and I did have my paybacks at times from my kids. My daughter now says she's scared that when she has kids she'll have one like she was. But you know what - I do remember some arguments, but the great relationship we have now makes up for those things back then.

  3. When I was five I gave my Dad the finger...I saw an older kid on the school bus do it and had no clue what it meant but I never forgot that I did it.

    Oh those teen years are hard on both child and parent!!!

    God bless ya and have a wonderful day forgivin' yourself sweetie!!! :o)

  4. I had my moments with my parents as my kids did. It's hurtful sure, but it's a testing of wings.. and it happens in the best of families. Interestingly, my own kids' lashing out at me hurt less because I remembered how "in the moment" my own ill-chosen words were in my youth. It's forgivable and entirely human.

  5. I remember writing on several pieces of cardboard "I hate my mother" when she wouldn't let me do something I wanted to do. My mother turned them all over and wrote "I love Jeanie". My memory of that is much stronger and taught me more than any punishment ever could have.

  6. We all have moments we wish we could take back...

  7. i would have so been eating Ivory soap...yikes...and yeah i echo the first comment...i go into some very ugly homes to do counseling...its often apparent why it is needed just in the way they talk...

  8. I have the same thing going on over here. :-) I know that smells trigger memory, but sometimes, it's seemingly out of the blue.

    So much learning to do...


  9. Your memories bring back my own. It's been what, some 40 or so years ago that I thought my parents were old school squares. They were very strict, and my dad especially didn't take any crap off me. I can remember thinking some not-so-nice thoughts about them. And yes, a few choice words slipped out of my mouth. But parents are wise, and they know you didn't mean it. I got the same admonishments too, that some day I would get my payback. They must have been psychics, or just wise, because I sure did get mine....three times over. And now when I see my grandchildren paying my kids back, I just smile and gloat. LOL

  10. If you utter this word, or kind of word, only once to your mother, you are well ahead of a lot of others. Such volatile relationships are those between mother and daughter. Luckily, we get only, and we forgive and we have perspective, and we can at last be friends. That's most wonderful. And then we can laugh about those episodes, you saying, "My God, Mother, what cheek I had!" And she saying, "I know my dear, but I knew not to get overly excited by it. You were young."


  11. Oh, how this brings back memories. I look back at how my selfishness and hurtful words. Nothing was ever brought up again which taught me forgiveness.

    I love that you get to talk to your mom so often. I'm sure it just makes her day every time!

  12. Oh, how I wish I could talk to my mother, who is somewhere over the rainbow and has been gone for almost twenty years now.

    She forgave me all my indiscretions and I forgave her, too. We actually talked about it over the years that I was an adult. She was only 69 when she died...

  13. I too remember one day being a young teenager saying something I still regret today. You are so right once the words slip there is no turning back. xo

  14. I remember getting spanked and waiting until my mom left out of the room before I said, "I hate you." Thank God she didn't hear me but I still felt ashamed and awful for saying it.

    You're not an old fogey, just someone who knows the magnitude of what words can do to others.

  15. oh I can relate dear...'that' word was never never spoken in my family either but remember as a teenager commenting that something my Mother said was a 'bitchy thing to say' and oh my...nobody...nobody in my family spoke to me for days!

  16. very good post and a message that should be passed on even if the listener acts as though they are not listening.
    Since your mom is still around I was wondering if you ever told her you were sorry. I'm sure she forgave you long ago but you do need to forgive yourself too.

  17. My mother, who raised my brother and me alone, was a pretty tough cookie. We never talked back to her and, though, we often fought with each other, we stopped instantly when we heard her coming in the door. If we misbehaved, we'd get a spanking with a switch -and she'd make us choose the switch from a bush that grew in front of our house. If we didn't choose an adequate one, she would go and do it herself. So, it was punishment enough for us to agonize on whether we had chosen an apropriately large instrument of punishment!!

    It only took a few times before our behavior was angelic!

    My favorite swear word was "hominy" - when said in just the right way, it can be as vile as more profane vocabulary.

  18. My son-in-law said his mother told him she couldn't wait for him to become a father to a son so he could be repaid for the grief he gave her.

    I was there when my grandchild was born. When my squeamish son-in-law saw that it was a girl he did a victory punch into the air. He was so happy! My daughter says he doesn't want another child. I seriously think he's worried about getting a boy. :-) So silly.

    I remember a moment as a child when my mother should have scolded me about something I did. When I asked why she didn't, she said, "I had punished myself enough."

  19. What a lovely candid recollection from your childhood. I totally understand how moments from your past will occupy your mind, I think it is natural as we grow older to look back upon our life. Sometimes seemingly insignificant things will become so important all of a sudden, because we look for answers to the bigger questions and we can only look into our past in our search.
    I am sure you love your mom and always have and you dislike the idea of ever haven spoken harshly to her- especially as the time you have left together is getting considerably shorter. I feel very much the same about my parents.
    Nevertheless I wish you many more beuatiful moments with your family and your mom.;))

  20. So touching! And those words do hurt when our kids say them. However, in the end, we remember the good moments with our kids - just as your mum does with you.

  21. Growing up with four sisters....the things we said and did to each pullin etc.. My Mother only had to say when your Father gets home! It's funny I say to my daughter now I can't wait until you have kids and they curl their noses at the dinner you make and roll eyes at things you say! Pay is a bitch!

  22. Don't regret it JJ - it's expected for kids to challenge their parents (lord only knows I went a bit far on that score) and push the boundaries on what is allowed.
    Everyone has to go through it whether you're the kid shouting at the mum or the mum telling the kid to 'wind their neck in'; our mouths have a tendancy to speak quicker than our brains can stop it.
    The positive part is that you and your mum are close friends - the past, whilst it can't be forgotten, can always be forgiven =)

  23. When I was 19, in a rage, I told my father exactly what I thought of him. I ended my tirade with the words "I wish you were dead."

    Then he killed himself.

    It took me a long time to get over that.

    The rest of the story is on my blog, but be warned, it's not an easy read.

  24. I can understand why it hurts you to remember that, but I'm sure your mom made peace with it long ago. I know it's difficult to let it go, but I hope you can make peace with it, too.

  25. I am the oldest of 6 siblings and my mother often said that to me too. However, at age 14 I informed her that I chose not to have children of my own and do not ever regret my decision.

    However, I married a widower who came with a package of 5 children. I will be honest. Not easy and definitely not fun but I did my best. The 5 children are grown and gone. Some of us have a good relationship, some non-existent. That is life. I do not beat myself up.

  26. I like that Hilary says it is forgivable and entirely human.
    It is. Words can hurt, but if there is a deep real relationship and forgiveness is part of the relationship, words don't have to destroy. You know how I envy your relationship with your mother, my friend, and at the same time am so happy for you that you have a great mom.

  27. It's amazing how those hurtful words that slip out haunt us forever. It only takes a moment to put a crack in a heart. Thank heaven for parents who love and forgive us.

  28. It's those kinds of memories that really clarify who we are. If you weren't bothered by that experience, you certainly wouldn't be thinking of it so many years later, and obviously you wouldn't be the person you are today. I guess what I'm trying to say is that you are a very kind hearted person!

  29. I admire you for this post...


  30. It's funny how vividly the past comes rushing back to us once we hit our 50's, at least, that's what I've found (smile)! I think I hit my teens around the age of 9.. now, with four teenager's of my own, payback can really be a bitch (giggle)!

  31. Thank you for the post Joanna. I am reminded of the past and praying for the future, that I would be a better kinder person to my parents.

  32. Joanna, I so understand this post, I have been feeling some of this lately, with my Dad being gone, I wish I had not done certain things to upset him too. It is alarming sometimes the memories that we have and as you say haunt us. My Mom lives ten hours away and I talk to her almost every other day. hugs to you. love to you my friend.

  33. I too had an instance such as the one you describe. Although, my mother’s reaction was rather volatile! There were a few more but that is the one that stands out the most in my mind and the one that I have revisited many times over. When my boys went through that phase and would tell me that they hated me, I would calmly respond by telling them, “That’s okay, I love you.” One time my oldest said he hated me and I responded and he said that is not what I said, I said I hate you! Again I responded by telling him I loved him and he repeated himself again as did I and then he said, I love you! The boys still talk about how I responded to their ugly outbursts! Responding to a child’s ugly outburst in a like manner only adds fuel to the fire so to speak and causes words to be said that cannot be retracted thus causing pain and resentment. My mother and I had an extremely rocky relationship until I was about 20. Luckily those times passed without permanent harm. My mother and I are very close now and I cherish each moment I have with her. I also have a close relationship with my sons. Funny how parents say the same things… I remember my mother once telling me that she hoped I had a kid just like me or worse and I remember saying it to my boys!


  34. This was an especially poignant and charming post Joanna. I totally get where you're coming from. Don't ever let anyone send you to the old fogie corner, you are hip and savvy.
    Sad memories from the past help to make us better people for the present. I'm sure you tell your mother her special attributes all the time, so don't let a little regret bully you.
    Thanks for your sweet comment today, it means a lot to me as I've always wanted to be a wardrobe adviser (for real).

  35. What a delightful post, Joanna. Sorry your nostalgic boat has been rocking a bit lately. Mine does that too - usually when I least expect it!

    Isn't it funny/odd/curious how moments or thoughts can trigger certain memories? I have my share of the variety I would prefer to stay repressed, but up they pop on a regular basis. Hey... someone trying to tell me something here? No matter. It's all part of the fabric of our being. The snags and all.

    So lovely to see your beautiful writing this morning. It always fills me with so much feel-good. Thank you for that, my friend.

    PS: Jordan is coming home the last weekend of the month. So looking forward to seeing him. Thanks for "taking care" of him as he settles into his new Hollywood bachelor pad.


  36. You know what?I was just talking about this very thing last night in my writer's groups.

    All these memories are coming backto me in flashes all of a sudden.

    How strange...I don't know what to make of it.

    I appreciate your words here.

  37. This hits me in 2 ways... first is how I'm already starting to get mouthed off to by my 7 year old. And I'm dreading what is still to come...

    And second the mean words that some of my co-workers say towards others (both towards adults and kids) and how the bitterness in them is making all of us miserable.

  38. I'm proud to be an "old fogie" and do not hesitate to call out my now-grownup kids on their snide, sarcastic and sometimes profane language. It must work to some extent ... b/c they're not as bad as I was when I was a kid!

  39. oh my friend... the lump in my throat. sigh.

  40. You always have a way of touching my soul.

    I have a very difficult relationship with my mom since I was able to use drugs at home and thought they were okay from a very early age. We don't have a relationship now because she is still a drug addict and part of me saying clean is to only associate with people who are clean.

    Her words to me when I was 14 still haunt me. When she told me to "pack my shit and move out.." still affect me today.

    Hey, Joanna..

    I have 3 teenagers if you ever want to "borrow" any?

    Forgive yourself, everyone and everything...

    Hugs and love, as always!!

  41. GEM is my other name, Joanna...

    Hugs and love,
    Green-Eyed Momster

  42. I give you kudos for finding the time to sit with your nieces and nephews to explain how badly words can hurt. Doesn't matter that they roll their eyes. They hear you. And when the lesson is reinforced by other adults, it will sink in.

    I think the reason these memories haunt you may have to do with realizing that the angst wasn't worth it. I know as my parents get older and especially since my mom has passed on, I feel really bad for being such a heel when I was a teenager. No point in it. I turned out OK. I could have just been more decent and cut out years of pointless battles.

    I think I may have called my mom that name, too. I don't remember. I was about 13. It was the only time my dad ever spanked me. Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to get spanked when you're 13?! I had it coming, I'm sure. My dad has a long fuse and it takes a lot to set him off. That's why I think I called my mom that name. I can't imagine anything else I would have done that would have resulted in that action.

    My mom actually used to say I hope you have kids who treat you as rotten as you treat us. Ouch! I wish she hadn't. I have a hard time handling my son when he proves he's related to me just by pure stuborness. I haven't said anything about how his kids should turn out. I don't want to be the grandma in the middle of a chaotic shouting match. My family's version of childrearing wasn't half as calm as it sounds like yours was.

  43. I found that, as my parents get/got older and I began to cherish the time with them ever more, I'd reflect back on some of my less than stellar behavior moments during the early teen years with regret and sorrow.

    It's silly because, as a parent, I know you don't hang onto the ugly even grow to laugh at much of it...

  44. I think it's wonderful that you have the kind of relationship with your family -- with your nieces and nephews -- in which you're comfortable enough to speak frankly to the kids, to pass along your wisdom. In some families, the parents are so worried about damaging the "self esteem" of the young ones that nobody speaks up when the kids ought to be reprimanded -- even for very bad behavior. They look the other way and gloss it over as "a bad day" for poor Suzie.

    My own aunts and uncles loved and scolded me (gently but firmly) -- and remember their lessons gratefully.

  45. Your mom sounds like a wise woman.

  46. When I first read that you called your mother a B, I mentally just gasped. Probably because the thought of me doing that to my mother just mortifies me! Like I would never have the balls to do it. I know I mouthed back when I was in junior high, and I honestly don't remember what I said, so for all I know I did say that, but the thought of it just makes me wince.

    I wonder, though, have you talked to your mom about it? If so, what did she say about it?

  47. Thank goodness moms forgive their kids!!

    I wish I could remember more of the good times with my mom!

  48. I think everybody has done something that they are proud about...I know I sure have.


  49. Joanna,
    I find it fascinating that you continue to have the harsh memories of that moment when you weren't kind to your mother. I too feel guilty about soemthing I said to my mother and it hurts my heart...words do indeed hurt and we can never take them back no matter how hard we try. I use to have a quick tonuge but have since outgrown the need to get in the last spiteful word and certainly thankful I have.
    Thanks for sharing such an important lesson in life...

  50. What a great post. I completely get it.

  51. You kindly commented on my Hello World blog.
    I went to a Convent school and swearing, bad words were absolutely banned! So we never got into the habit of saying anything more shocking than Oh God!
    I grew up with three brothers and lots of Tamil (regional language) swears were rampant.
    The only time I swear now is on the road when somebody drives badly--every second person in India.

    We play calming muisc--Indian bhajans or hymns that seems to rein in the "bas...." word!

    Enjoyed your post.

  52. Teen's brains are in the process of a massive rewiring that leaves them impulsive, emotional, self-absorbed and often unable to see consequences. Most of the time I'm able to take any hurtful lobs by my boys with that in mind. They love me, I know that - the rest I can weather until the connections are re-forged and they emerge as adults.

  53. Awww right there with ya! I have had the same experience of late..memories flooding back in living breathing color!! Kinda shocking when it happens, especially when it is something you had not thought about in forever. I was wondering if I was just odd this glad to hear I am not the only one!
    Take it from a mom of five...the nasty words fade away..cause a some point they grow up and tell ya they are sorry for being a sot as a teen..and ya love them anyway..cause they are wonderful..despite the fun of the teen years!
    Sweetie..I want you to be an aunt for my kiddos..those lucky kids!!
    Believe me they don't really think you are an old fogie..they love ya for caring!!
    Hugs to you hon, Sarah


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