“Everything in moderation, Chris. That’s the best way.”
She always said this when she saw that I was conflicted over a decision. It can be applied to anything, really. Food, sleep, and binge watching a show on a streaming platform. How much is too much? It depends if the snow is piled up to the doorknob and your eyelashes freeze when you go get the mail. That’s at least an entire season justified for being planted, immobile, without it being extreme.
Two seasons of a show warrants more scrutiny, but by episode seven of anything, you have established characters and are emotionally invested. Sometimes there is no coming back.
Along the lines of practicing discipline, I was taught how to drink at home at an early age, around twelve. We weren’t doing shots on a daily basis, but every once in a while, she would give me a small portion of wine or a cocktail to have me taste it. This comes as such a shock to many people, but my mom had a method to her madness. She was not promoting alcoholism but teaching me how to respect it.
The first time I tried it, I could not believe that people enjoyed swallowing such awful tasting stuff, and to the point of getting drunk? That seemed so crazy to me.
“I want you to learn how to handle it so I can trust you not to abuse it later in life.”
While other kids my age were breaking into their parent’s liquor cabinets, she said “cheers” to me.
“I don’t want you to be out somewhere and suddenly have too much beyond what you can deal with. I want you to be able to feel the effects of it where you are safe, so if you are ever offered this, you will be smart about it.”
I never felt like I had to sneak it behind their back when it was something that was presented as a non-rebellious issue.
I think she did this partly because she observed and became more educated as a parent while raising the older ones.
When I was about six years old, my parents invited the entire block to party in their basement. We had the smallest rambler, so why they did this, I do not know. My oldest sister had gone out for the night. And I was being held hostage upstairs with my three brothers and another sister.
I was barricaded into my parent’s bedroom with my brothers while my sister was in the next room. They had turned the tv up to its highest volume so that they could hear above the sounds of the nightclub going on downstairs. The noise was making the floor vibrate.
My mom had told them all to keep an eye on me, and none of us were to leave the upstairs unless it was an emergency.
As it got close to my bedtime, the plan was to have me sleep on the floor in between my sister’s twin beds. I remember laying there hearing the muffled talk and loud laughter through the floorboards. The genius who came up with putting me on the floor did not think this through.
My bedroom, though, was being used for all the neighbor’s coats. My bed was piled high with them. I didn’t dare venture in there because I was told I would be in trouble if I did. It was like my mom was trying to hide us like the Von Trapp kids in the Sound of Music.
We had to stay out of sight or be subjected to punishment, and the threat of the unknown was always worse than the actual reprimand. I guess she wanted to pretend she didn’t have six kids and enjoy herself for once.
I somehow fell asleep but woke up to whispering. One of my brothers said something to my sister, trying not to wake me up. I had my eyes open, but they thought I was out. That is when they tried to get my other sister to her bed stealthily.
The room was pitch dark.
She had returned home from being out with friends and was a little tipsy. Fearing the wrath of my dad coming down on her, my brother was trying to get her out of harm’s way. I heard a lot of stumbling and a slight giggle that got shushed.
All was going well until they forgot I was in the middle of the room, right in her path. Unintentionally, she stepped full force on my stomach, which produced a blood-curdling scream from me. I think my brother shoved her in the direction of her bed and ran.
Because at that moment, the people who had come over were starting to leave, and my mom was coming up to usher out guests and say goodbye.
I recall hearing my sister trying not to laugh in her inebriated state, while the other one was stone silent. I couldn’t take the madness anymore.
I sat up and started crying so loud that every single person heard me. Not just a tiny whimper but a top of the lungs, no breath taken, long wailing exhale. Life had just taken a scary turn for me, and I knew this would bring back “normal”.
The bedroom door flew open with the woman who had abandoned her offspring for a night standing there looking annoyed. What would the neighbors think if one of us was out of control like that?
“Chris! What is wrong with you? Did you have a bad dream?”
Sure, let’s just go with that.
No one had just tried to dislocate my rib.
I was too upset to answer, so she assumed that this was the problem.
“Just go back to sleep. You are with your sisters. You aren’t alone.”
I heard her trail off and told people I was having a nightmare. She had no idea.
It was my first and not last experience with someone who had taken in a little too much liquor.
In addition to that type of self-control, handwashing was an absolute must with her, and I sat through many speeches about this non-negotiable part of life. With her training as a nurse, during a time we would consider the dark age, hot water, soap, and scrubbing like you were about to go into surgery were expected. You didn’t dare come into her presence with dirt anywhere on you.
It was ingrained in me to remove my shoes at the door and wash my hands.
“What is this?”
It was an interrogation if she found a dark fingerprint or handprint on the wall. Everything but the spotlight shining on me was missing.
I learned to think quickly.
“I was on my way to the bathroom to wash my hands, and I must have touched that.”
All she heard was that I was being compliant. Jail time was avoided, and my record was expunged.
Not everyone in the world was put through sanitation school like I was.
It was astounding for me to witness a woman’s conduct while in a line for a self-checkout at a grocery store. I saw a domed container standing nearby with pieces of muffins in it. Instead of placing them in individual cups for people to take, they had thrown all of it in there in a jumbled up mess.
Someone must have had too much to drink in the bakery.
The whole thing was crammed with parts from a morning gone awry while in the kitchen. None of it was burnt, so still consumable, just not in a pretty muffin shape.
Both my youngest daughter and I saw an elderly woman open up the lid, reach in with her hands and start shoving crumbs into her mouth. She was breaking all my unwritten rules. There was no cleanliness and no regard for the amount being consumed.
I usually am a professional at hiding my disdain for such displays, but I must have dropped my guard and voiced my disgust too loudly. I looked away, unable to take one more second of the scarf monster next to me.
Back in the car, my daughter said as she took a sip of her coffee,
“Thank you for teaching me right from wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
I had already forgotten about the unsightly inhaling job by the senior citizen.
“I’m glad you taught me about washing my hands. Not grabbing things in public like that. Just everything. Not everyone is given that. You just took really good care of us when we were little, so we know all these things now.”
“I can’t take full credit. My mom made sure I knew this, so then I passed it down to you and your sister.”
“That lady scowled at you.”
“Yes, like you were the wrong one. That’s why I said I was grateful you taught us the right way.”
I wonder how she feels about stuffing food in her mouth with filthy hands now? This happened before 2020. Covid 19, anyone?
If you wait out life long enough, you sometimes get justified in what you believe.
There are simple truths that seem to prove themselves while you stand there and do what you know is correct even if no one else does.
In 1 Corinthians 15:58, it says,
With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort. (Message)
That friend that thinks you are an absolute lunatic for praying and asking God for help will be calling you tomorrow in the middle of a crisis. Suddenly, your faith will be her anchor.
In a world that can be confusing with conflicting messages, God can use you as an example to bring others peace through your steadfast purity.