By Dr. Scott Elliott
The Meridian Star
It was over a half-century ago, so I don’t remember a whole lot about my kindergarten experience.
I do recall my teacher, Miss Lillian; milk breaks, and those gosh-awful mandatory naps. I also remember getting my picture on a poster-board for learning to tie my own shoe. That was undoubtedly the crowning achievement of my first year in public schools.
And one other thing I remember about kindergarten – our Christmas band. What a ragtag ensemble – kids playing the blocks, cymbals and moroccos, trying to bang things together in some kind of rhythm while Miss Lillian accompanied us on the piano with traditional carols. I was assigned the triangle, a small metal instrument held by a leather string with one hand, while striking the three-sided object with a little metal rod.
Miss Lillian practiced our adorable little group several times in preparation for that holiday recital. How she ever coped with all that chaotic clanging and banging, I can’t imagine. Nonetheless, it was promoted as a concert extraordinaire. Every Mom and Dad was invited. I wore a bow tie for the gala – yes, a bow tie.
Well, to make a long story short, almost everyone’s parents attended the concert – except mine. My father worked in a factory some 15 miles away and just couldn’t take off. My Mom? It simply slipped her mind.
Now, let me assure you that I’ve got a really special Mom. She is the mother of four and, to this day, would throw herself in front of a train to defend any of her children. But, like the rest of us, she’s human. In the case of my kindergarten Christmas concert, I’m certain she got busy vacuuming, dusting, cooking and the like and just flat forgot.
And it broke her heart.
Back in those days, I was really lucky to be a part of an Ozzie-and-Harriet middle class family. My hard-working father had a pretty solid job, and my Mom – like most mothers in the 1950s – toiled as what folks once called a “housewife.” My Dad brought home the bacon, and Mom took care of just about everything else.
It was an entirely different era in Americana. Like most families, we somehow managed with one car which Dad drove to work. We had a single black-and-white TV which received from our rooftop antenna only three network channels. We ate our sit-down evening meals, which my mother dutifully prepared, as a family. Going out for a burger and malted milk shake was, maybe, a once-a-month big-time treat.
I attended what used to be called a “neighborhood school.” My older sisters and I walked with a pack of other kids to the schoolhouse every day without fear of some maniacal child abuser hustling one of us into a car. Nobody even thought about such things occurring back then.
But returning to the Christmas concert – I recollect standing on stage holding my triangle and scanning the audience for Mom. I couldn’t find her, and that was queer to me. She would never, ever miss anything in which one of her children was involved, from Girl Scout cookie sales to Little League practices to church picnics.
It must have hit Mom about lunchtime that she had forgotten the morning concert. So, she dressed in her Sunday best and walked to the school. Mom found me on the playground and started sobbing, apologizing all over herself for having missed my less-than-prolific musical debut. She gave me a big hug, repeating that she was “so sorry” through the tears. Of course, by that time, I had forgotten about the whole thing. I was much more interested in recess than regrets.
While it was no big deal to me, it most certainly was to Mom. I didn’t understand why as a 6-year-old. But long since having raised two children of my own, I understand now.
Something else about youth – it’s impossible to truly appreciate that kind of parental love. It’s surely something that I took for granted. I don’t anymore, especially because I see so many children today seemingly deprived of such family security. And I must wonder, whether in our own community or anywhere else in America, if that’s not the origin of so many problems. We hear of youth committing violent crimes – thieving, vandalizing and even killing. It is beyond disturbing; it is, in effect, changing cultural paradigms, i.e., where we choose to live, when and where we shop, etc.
I am not suggesting that every delinquent child is the product of a broken home. Sometimes parents can try very hard to provide their children with all the love and support in the world; still, their kids become victimized by other, ultimately stronger influences who lead them down a path to destruction. I do believe, however, that the correlation between a lack of parental engagement (and, thus, educational attainment) and crime are undeniable. If that were not the case, then why is it that the average reading level of an inmate in Mississippi is fifth grade?
I don’t have any answers. However, my faith tells me that it is high time that we focus less on the problem and more on the master problem-solver. Meaning, first and foremost, we need to pray in earnest for our children and our community.
Beyond that, I realize that not everyone is going to be blessed with an all-star Mom like mine. Therefore, the more fortunate have some responsibility to be “en loco parentis,” meaning to act in place of the parent. As a society, we would do well to embrace the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” which is thought to have originated not, as some might think, in a 1996 book by former First Lady Hilary Clinton, but rather in African tribal cultures.
The truth is our children don’t come into this world hating their fellow man and bent on mayhem. Those are learned behaviors. So, it is incumbent on all of us to accomplish, at a minimum, two things as adults — first, model positive behaviors which hopefully youngsters will seek to emulate and, second, be vigilant in addressing need where we observe it. And that doesn’t always have to be with a dollar bill. An encouraging word can be even more valuable.
In his third law of motion, Newton theorized that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” While I wouldn’t dare to argue with Sir Isaac, I nonetheless believe that some actions – like an unsolicited act of kindness – are more apt to be met with an equal and like, rather than opposite, reaction.
Most people are good, and if we take the time to encourage others, they will most often respond in kind. Food for thought during this holiday season.
Dr. Elliott's views are his own and do not represent an official position of his employer, Meridian Community College.