and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
May #2

Conversation with Mother
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, May 12, 2006

After my mother died in 2001, my ex-husband planted an ornamental pear tree in her honor in my yard. I like to sit in its shade to read.

I'm sure I'm not the only daughter who's noticed that while losing aged parents is a natural thing, we miss them more and longer than we expected.  I especially miss talking about current events with my mother.  Talking to the mother-tree helps me sort things out:

Hi Mom.  Missed you over the winter.  Happy Mother's Day.

I know it wasn't easy raising me the independent and impervious child but you had the assistance of the entire small-town community and the Catholic Church, with their consistent and shared values.  Of course I rebelled against most of these; but some of them stuck to my conscience anyhow and got passed on to your grandson.

I fear it will be harder for him with the twins.  The world is changing so fast.

Remember sex education in St. Marys, Pennsylvania?  You gave me a pamphlet, said to ask if I had questions, then disappeared.

Dad denied knowledge of either your whereabouts or anything in the pamphlet.  The nuns just said, "Don't do it 'til you're married."  Your grandson, Lance, was three years old before I figured out what the "it" was I wasn't supposed to do.

There was definitely room for improvement in teaching these things.

When Lance was in the 6th grade, the Marblehead school system did it right, hiring a delightful black woman who covered several towns with her common-sense sex-ed. curriculum.  Parents were invited to experience her class before deciding if their children should take it, and laughingly observed that her race made it easier when the kids asked her the tough questions because they couldn't tell when she blushed.

Of course, she was just there to teach the basics, not how to use a condom for either straight or gay sex, with the assumption that our children were all going to "do it" soon.

Our governor has been trying to include abstinence as part of the curriculum and has encountered resistance, as if "abstinence" were a religious plot to breach the divide between church and state.

I guess some education leaders are afraid to appear "uncool." And uncool parents are sometimes vilified when they object.

One thing that hasn't changed is kids drinking and driving.  Some people want to raise the age to get a driver's license.

Neither I nor Lance got our license when we were sixteen.  We had only one automobile and everyone understood the family breadwinner couldn't risk having it damaged.  Now you see kids driving their own expensive cars out of the school parking lot.

Looking back, I think one of the best things about our family was that it didn't have too much money.  We also found it easy to say no.

There is a discussion in some towns about dress codes for public schools.  I'm glad we didn't have uniforms at Central High, but we did have to dress neatly.  I still think I should have been able to wear slacks, even jeans, but it's gone way beyond that now.  Some adults here think that kids should have a right to free speech and free expression of their fashion individuality, even when attending taxpayer-subsidized schools.

Remember packing me my lunch for school, before there were cafeterias, and giving me money for milk?  Now they actually have soda and snack machines in the schools.  I don't remember Coke in our refrigerator; a special treat was that chocolate Yoo-hoo drink.  Lance and I both have good teeth, thanks to your insistence on milk, juice or water for drinking, and the schools not selling us alternatives.

Now some schools, concerned about the obesity and diabetes epidemic, are removing regular soda and allowing only salty sport drinks and diet soda with chemical sweeteners that will eventually be found to cause other diseases.  And some politicians are talking about taxing foods that are bad for you as if government has the slightest ability to define "bad for you" at this time.

You always cooked balanced meals for Dad and me.  But in my family, Lance is the best cook.

I liked that you were home waiting for me after school, and I'm glad I stayed home with him for several years; but I know you often wished you'd had a career, and I wish I'd been more of a homemaker.

I think there's a pattern here, a cyclical thing more than an ongoing downhill movement.  I could always see what your generation was doing wrong, and rebelled against it.  My generation's way seemed much better until it went too far with almost everything.  Now as your grandson raises your great-grandchildren, I see a backlash.

We didn't have a TV set until I was 12, and then enjoyed family viewing; I let Lance watch too much on his own.  His own family doesn't have cable.  Mary works only part-time, cooks fresh foods, and makes a home.

As society keeps adjusting itself, we learn that it's never too late to listen to your mother about some things.

Miss you, Mom.  Wish you were here.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.