On a cold, dark night a few years back, columnist Chris Hunt comes face to face with special lessons learned from his mother
Oct 17, 2016
I’m laying on my son’s bedroom floor, holding his hand as he begins to drift to sleep.
I try to ease my hand away but his grip tightens. “Daddy,” he whispers, “You gonna leave me?”
I should. He’s old enough to fall asleep on his own, but I don’t want to.
I often wonder if I’m too soft with him. His mother certainly thinks so. Even my mom hinted as much, while we were in a phone conversation during lunchtime a few weeks back.
Riley was being the special sort of terror only a four-year-old who doesn’t want to eat can be. The conversation went like this:
“Riley! Enough’s enough! You’re not leaving the table until you eat.”
“He’s not eating?” Mom asked.
“No, Mom, he’s not eating. Pretty soon I’m going to have to count to three.”
“I never had a problem getting you kids to eat.”
“Thanks. That’s helpful. Riley! Get back on your chair! One … two …”
“I never had to count to three.”
“Great, Mom. Riley! If you don’t …”
“Just hit him.”
“ … what?”
“If he doesn’t eat, hit him. I hit you kids if you didn’t eat.”
“But you said we always ate.”
“Yeah, because I hit you if you didn’t.”
“How’s that counting to three going?”
Sounds a bit rough, sure, but when I was young, food wasn’t exactly plentiful. Too often, she went without so her children didn’t have to.
Growing up, we lived in a violent neighbourhood. My sister Jennifer was on the news once, pointing at the chalk outline of a woman who’d been stabbed near our house.
Then there was that afternoon a criminal kicked in our back door and burst through our house, a cop hot on his heels. Neither said a word as they raced down our hallway.
I even saw a shootout. I was playing outside when I heard a loud bang. A second later, a man ran by followed by a police officer. Both had guns drawn. I wanted to race after them, but my mother screamed at me not to move. It was the first time I’d seen her afraid.
So yes, life was hard. But hard doesn’t mean bad. We learned that if you wanted something, you had to earn it. And you learned to appreciate the good things in life. For me, that’s always been my family.
My brothers and sisters all looked after me in their own ways and my father taught me the value of hard work, but my mom gave me the greatest gift. When the shouts outside were deafening and the night seemed dark and cold, my mom would read to me.
I’d lose myself in those stories. Sometimes I’d even envision those stories with me as part of the plot. I said as much to my mother once and she smiled and said I’d be old enough to have my own adventures one day.
I couldn’t wait to have them just so I could tell her about them.
And that brings me back to my son’s bedroom floor. He squeezes my hand and again asks if I’m going to leave. Usually he asks to make sure I will check on him. But that’s not what he means tonight. Earlier today, I had to tell him his grandmother, my mother, passed away in her sleep.
What he means is something more sombre. “Daddy, are you gonna leave me?” Ever?
I squeeze his hand. “No, I’m not leaving.” Ever. He closes his eyes and is asleep in seconds.
I linger on the floor, my hand in his. I really should go, but the night just seems so dark and so cold and his hand is just so warm.