Everyone thinks their mother is special (and they are), so I will explain some of the extraordinary things my mother has done for me.
From the time I started first grade until I finished sixth grade, I attended the Chicago Public School my mother taught at, Paul Revere School and she actually taught me 3rd grade, so she should have got hazard pay. Let me explain.
We didn’t live near Paul Revere, its east of Park Manor and we lived in West Pullman, so we had a 30 min commute every day if traffic was good, more if weather, accidents, etc.
So she had to be in the transitional mode on the way to and from school, going from Mom to Mrs. Johnson and back.
At the time I told anyone who would listen how difficult it was going to a school that employed your mom, having her friends (who were all teachers on faculty), watch your every move and just not truly being able to be a kid.
It was like having a job and it prepared me well for the working work, except I started this gig when I was six years old and I had no idea (until years later), how hard it was on her to achieve the balance.
My first day at Revere didn’t go well from my memory, I was unhappy because my mother had transferred me out of our home parish school of Saint Columbanus (where my grandparents ran the place), and I had many friends and it was home (well as homey as a neighborhood school can be), and now I was in a cold public school where I knew only a few people.
My mother had brought me to her school several times in previous years and I met with some of her students and her teacher friends were familiar to me but I was just visiting and could go back to St Columbanus where I was comfortable.
But as I found out later that the administration at St Columbanus revered my grandparents and not my mother and she didn’t feel she got the respect she deserved. It has to be hard being a parent and being second in line when it comes to your child. I didn’t understand that then but do now and it must have been tough.
Once I settled into Revere it was okay, I made friends but kids knew who my mother was and I never quite got as close to other kids as normal and I’m sure more than one faculty member question my mother for moving me to a urban school when we lived in a nice area. My father worked a swing shift and with my grandmother being in the area, my mother was seeking that fabled balance to do her job and raise me and she did a great job but some nights the pressure had to be enormous.
But as I finished second grade a dilemma was approaching, see back in the early 80’s CPSD kids were still “tracked”, you had the “smart kids” and the “dumb kids”.
My mother routinely had “ the smart kids”, and that was the group I was in, we had been together since 1st grade and it was where I was headed and I knew this would be difficult, so even at the age of 8, I campaigned to get out of my group to avoid having my mother teach me third grade.
It didn’t work.
So I endured one of the more challenging years I’ve ever had. It’s up there with working for your parents (as a teenager or young adult), or with your spouse. You are constantly with them, dealing with them, at home and outside of it, seeing them in all facets and trying not to go nuts and I was 8 years old.
At the time never acknowledging or even thinking how tough it was for her. She never gave me anything but fairness; in fact a few years later my fifth grade teacher noticed that my mother graded me harder than any other teacher to that point.
But I never called my mother anything but Mrs. Johnson and we kept it professional.
I tell people that year gave whole new meaning to the word “education”. I learned tolerance, balance and how to work hard and excel under what I thought were less than ideal conditions.
The other children in the room felt sorry for me because my mother was known as “ol mean Mrs. Johnson”, and as they always said. You have to go home with her.
Trust me though I was still a kid, still had some fun, still had friends and even a girl I liked and didn’t stop any of that just because my mother was at the front of the room. In later years I would avoid getting close to people because it was just too awkward having her there and not being able to truly feel free at school.
I was glad once that year was over and I’m sure she was too, but in her case that school year was Golden Apple material.
Fourth grade was fun; having gone across the hall to the artsy teacher and getting a little bit of breathing room was exhilarating. I also became a library helper that year and didn’t have to spend before and after school in my mother’s classroom doing homework or reading the Sun Times. I could go downstairs, shelve books, read, talk with other kids who helped in the library and relax a little. I know my mother had her hand in getting me in there and it was great.
One day that will always stick in my mind is December 9, 1985, the previous night in CCD class I won a very large candy bar (about a pound), for getting trivia right and I didn’t share the candy bar with anyone, I ate it all one pound of it in a sitting and afterwards I noticed my back tighten up, but I drank some water and it was a little better.
But the next day in gym class I got giant hives, never had that before and I itched, first a little then a lot, and unbeknownst to me, I turned bright red. It was evident when we returned from gym class and my artsy fourth grade teacher went and of horror of horrors, got my mother. She took one look at me, asked me how I was and if I could make the afternoon. I told her I could and did.
We quickly went home after school and my father drew a scalding bath with Epson salt, it was like the world’s largest bowl of oatmeal sans butter and brown sugar.
And it didn’t help my symptoms, so a trip to the University of Chicago Wyler’s Children’s hospital and several hundred dollars later, I was all better. Thanks to mom.
The next significant thing was a year later with the annual science fair, now I’ve always been a science nerd, still am actually, but now I was in fifth grade and my mother came up with the “Paper Towel Comparison”, just trying five or so paper towels for absorbing water and cleaning, it was kind cool and to my surprise I won the school science fair with it.
That got me a trip to the district science fair and it was intimidating and I worked with the late science teacher and it was a nice break from school and being away from my mother but at the same time kids were changing, being more social and school was not as cool for them as it used to be.
And I was not a resident of the area and it was working against me and being nerdy was really working against me and it became apparent to me that maybe I should go to school somewhere else.
My last year at Revere School with my mother was bad, it started with the longest strike in CPS history, 19 school days lost because of labor strife. My mother stayed up and didn’t walk the picket line like she had in previous strikes and educated me and tried to keep me from getting too far behind. And she did a good job at but socially I was a 4th grader and my classmates were in junior high. The teacher was like the students, she was more concerned about her social life than education and here I was from my mother’s studious example and struggling to keep my sanity.
Once again I made it clear I wanted out and after the strike and seeing things going down hill quickly my mother asked me if I could make the year and hold and start new the following year and I did but I did make negative comments the remainder of the year out of frustration and immaturity.
But once again my mother was true to her word and got me enrolled in a small catholic junior high near our home I could walk to and relate to the kids so much better. Those two years there before high school was a great time for me to get a quality education, really get to know my neighborhood and meet new friends and reconnect with my faith.
Like everything else, I’m indebted to my mother for her hard work, sacrifice and planning, not to mention putting me first, thanks and I love you.