When my mother told us the tale of how she learned to swim, she said that her father rowed her to the middle of the river tossed her out of the boat and told her to swim to shore or die. She would then say that he then rowed ashore and waited until she had managed to struggle her way to shore with contempt in her eyes, and he took her home. The story seems cruel and hard to believe but considering the kind of man he was and the number of mouths he had to feed, it also does not seem to be beyond the realm of possibility. One thing I know for certain, my mother was an excellent swimmer well into her 70's. Whatever the facts, the point is laid bare, my mother had to learn things the hard way. Sometimes, she made me learn things the hard way too.
My mother did not abide whining or feeling sorry for yourself. If you got hurt, it was fine to cry for a moment but then you had to rub it a little and go play. She cleaned our wounds with alcohol and hydrogen peroxide. I remember that as a child the only thing that distracted me from the intense pain of Hydrogen Peroxide poured on an open wound was the fascination with the bubbles that would form on the wound, but not on the areas unwounded. As an adult, I would learn that this was because the Hydrogen Peroxide was indiscriminately killing cells as it disinfected, and is no longer considered an ideal method of cleaning a wound. But it served its purpose at the time.
When I was a baby my mother used to take us out on the river or the bay to go swimming. She told me that she would dunk me to get me used to the water. Apparently, this surprised some parents that she would do such a thing because it would make me cry. When I was older and it was time for me to learn to swim, she would take around the pool a few laps on her back, but then I was on my own. Eventually I decided I was happy hanging-out in the shallow end of the pool, where the swimming was optional. When she noticed this she would scoop me up and toss me into the deep end. She would let me splash and squirm a bit, but she would always jump in and rescue me. Eventually, though I can't say when, I learned to keep my head above water. Later still, I too became a strong swimmer.
Every night at bed time, my mother would read me a story and sing me a song. But afterward, it was lights-out. Time to sleep. No night lights, no whining, just sleep. Admittedly, sometimes I would get away with sneaking out to lay on her lap while she watched T.V. or crawling into her bed to cuddle. But these were rare and special occasions. The presence of a monster in my room was certainly not a reason to not go to sleep. I can remember very well that one Halloween I had gotten a Skeletor costume with a glow-in-the-dark mask. Skeletor was the villain from He-Man, and I thought the costume was super cool.
Somehow, the mask had gotten hung in the closet in my room, and the door to that closet had been left ajar. So at night, after my mother read my story and sang my song. After she left my room and turned out my light. I was left alone in that room with a glowing Skeletor face staring at me. It was terrifying. I know when I first noticed it I cried out for my mom to come help, and I know she came in, flipped on the light, told me to calm down and asked what was happening. I am sure I barely communicated what was going on in my childish brain, but she closed the closet door and left, turning out the light and closing the bedroom door again. All would be fine. Until the closet door slowly slinked open again. As an adult, I know it was because the door wasn’t latched properly, but as a kid, this freaked me out. Again, more screaming… Mom comes in and tells me to “knock it the hell off and go to sleep!” She closes the closet door (soundly this time) and leaves me alone in my darkened room. Alone, with the knowledge of what lurks behind that door. I eventually managed to get to sleep that night, but I knew that the next night I would have to be prepared.
When the next night came I went to bed, and I insisted on having my baseball bat and a helmet by my bedside. I am sure my mother thought it was strange, but she allowed it, probably assuming it was simply a proverbial safety blanket of some kind. Little did she know, I was prepared for battle! As soon as she left the room and the light went off... I could see that evil skull glowing deep inside my closet. I didn't know what it was, but I knew it was evil and had to be stopped. So without taking my eyes off that terrible glow, I reached to the side of my bed and I grabbed my helmet and slipped it on. Then I grabbed my bat and I held it at my chest as I steeled myself for battle. I said a quick prayer to make sure God was on my side...
Quickly, I leapt to my feet and let out what I believed was a fearsome battle cry. Now as a parent I know that this was likely an ear piercing shriek. I took a flying leap off the foot of my bed and ran towards the closet door. I swung the door open as fast as I could, and with eyes closed tight in abject fear I proceeded to beat the holy hell out of the contents of that closet.
It didn't take long for the light to flash on as my mother burst into the room demanding to know "what in the hell was going on!" After a quick explanation of my bravery and tactical use of my large brown puppy-dog eyes, I could see that I had successfully melted her heart. She wasn't mad. She knew I was cute. She took the time to find the mask which was now somewhere on the floor and she showed me that it was the mask I had asked for and loved playing with. Once I was satisfied that it was, in fact, one of my own toys I was ready to go to sleep for real. No bat. No helmet. But I did have a glowing Skeletor mask hanging from my bed frame.