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Today's Family Magazine


By Stacy Turner

As a middle child in a large family, drama seemed like a second language. Whether it was the outrage of an older sister who wanted nothing more than to be left alone by her siblings or the theatrics of a younger sib shedding crocodile tears, telling anyone who’d listen how she’d been left out of something really important. Dramatic behavior was learned, it seems, as evidenced when anyone brought home a less-than-stellar report card.

The scene began with Mom spinning the sad tale of the pain and regret that would no doubt befall the earner of such poor grades.  In fact, unless the offender changed their ways and learned to apply themselves, they were on a surefire path straight to the gutter.  “With grades like this, do you know what you’ll be when you graduate?,” Mom asked, pausing for dramatic effect.  “A charwoman!,” she’d answer not giving her penitent child a chance to respond.  I supposed the first few times she predicted doom, it may have had the hoped-for impact of remorse and promises of change.  But much like the boy who cried wolf, her threats of destruction soon lost impact, with one sibling or another interjecting the answer before she had the chance to build up any steam. 

But for me, safely in another room overhearing the conflict, I was intrigued as to what in the world a charwoman was.  I imagined my older sister chained to a charcoal grill in the sweltering heat, flipping an endless supply of burgers, day in and day out.  It wasn’t until I cracked open the oversized Merriam-Webster dictionary that I learned of her anticipated misery.  That terrible fate, according to Mom, that would befall anyone who tanked algebra or geometry was to become a maid or cleaning lady, though likely one in Charles Dickens’s era. 

Knowledge is power, though I found myself disappointed with this definition based on the fuss and fanfare surrounding its usage.  I had hoped for something more scandalous, befitting the drama and outrage that often punctuated report card season.  I reasoned there were scads of far worse occupations, according to both my young mind and Merriam-Webster.  In fact, I can list several right now without even trying. 

As a mother, I now recognize the voice of alarm in my head that keeps me awake at 2 am when one of my kids has done something unwise or we’ve had some sort of disagreement.  That voice sounds a lot like my hysterical mother, ramping up my stress level, considering the myriad ways the current situation can and will go horribly sideways.  Exhausted, yet unable to sleep, I force myself to breathe deeply until my mind settles and the “sky is falling” soundtrack recedes into white noise. 

I focus on the voice of more seasoned parent friends who remind me that even good kids make bad choices and need a “course correction” now and again.  Ultimately, I know that whatever my kids end up doing with their lives, if they’re happy, healthy, and able to support themselves, then I’ve done my job well.  I know that in parenting teens, there’s only enough room for one person’s drama, and sadly, my turn is over.