Posted on November 27, 2018
by Steve Janowick
Back in the ’80s, many high-school kids spent their mornings before the first bell smoking cigarettes in the common area right in front of the main entrance.
At least at my East Baltimore school, they did. I’m not exaggerating when I say there were over 200 kids huddled in a mass, laughing and bullshitting under a giant plume of nicotine haze. As a naïve freshman, they looked like grizzled, old men and hardened ladies to me. Faces with too many lines and folds to be teenagers. But there they were-puffing their youths away. These were the rough-necks. The tough kids. Some would argue the cool kids. But there was no arguing they were a group that a green freshman trying to find his way didn’t want to look bad in front of.
And that’s exactly what I did on the third day of my high-school career.
Still not adept at following the bus schedules and protocols, I missed it on this particular day and needed my Mom to ride me. As she was pulling up in front of the school, I felt my cheeks heat up and my arm-pits moisten. See, the first two days as a bus rider, I’d been dropped off before this motley crew assembly. I hadn’t witnessed it. So, I was shocked and intimidated as hell as she parked the car along the curb, dead-smack in the middle of them. I could have sworn they collectively turned at the same exact second to see who this weasel in the ’73 Maverick with his Mommy was.
My adrenaline was racing pretty good and my cognition was more of an instinct at this point. So, I quickly grabbed my books, opened the door, kissed my Mom and bolted out of there.
Oh, holy Jesus…Yep, I said it. I kissed my Mom! In front of 200 heathens just salivating to embarrass another schleppy freshman, I kissed her. And I knew the split second I shut the door that I’d screwed up. But did I? It was a knee-jerk reaction, man! For every day of my 14 years on earth up to that point, I had kissed my Mom. She was the axis on which my young world turned. I didn’t think it made me soft. I could still throw down and scrap a little. I was still a tough kid who did all the mischievous boy things. But I loved her so much that it didn’t bother me in the least to show her with a good-bye kiss every day. That’s just how it was. It was all I knew.
But at that moment, as I walked through that thick, hovering cloud of smoke and humiliation, I regretted it. For the first time in my life, I was embarrassed for showing affection to my Mom. Although my eyes were glued to the pavement as I hurriedly walked to get inside, I could still feel their eyes following me. I could feel their smirky expressions. And I could certainly hear all the “Mommy” jabs and jokes.
It was a rough rest of the day to say the least, but I’ll never forget coming out of fifth period and walking toward what looked like a 35-year old, steel worker. “Little dude!” He said.
I wrenched my neck to look up at him and braced myself for what I thought was another snide remark-or even a shove.
“Ain’t nuthin’ wrong with being a Mama’s boy. Okay?” And he kept on his way.
I just stood there, frozen and speechless.
I lost my mother only four years later to pancreatic cancer. It was sudden, unexpected and the most devasting, gut-wrenching tragedy I’d experienced in my life. I still haven’t gotten over it and probably never will totally. I loved her and honored her to the very end-and wasn’t afraid to show it-to anyone. And that taught me to do the same for the rest of the women who’d come into my life. And when my daughter one day gets serious with a boy, I’m going to want to know how his relationship is with his mother. Because any man who treats her right, usually treats all women right.
And just like the 35-year old steelworker in the high-school hallway told me, I’ll tell him…
There’s nothing wrong with being a Mama’s boy.
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