Mother’s sacrifice teaches son a valuable lesson

Pete Lakeman

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events that I experienced firsthand; used with permission.

Sixth grade, circa the early 1990s. My mother, a third-grade dropout, sat on a couch about ten feet away from me. She had topped her class for all of the three years she attended elementary school. She was one of the many girls whose great potential was unrecognized by cultural preference to educate boys. 

Like most weeknight evenings, she was knitting while enjoying warmth from a charcoal brazier that made the cold highland air bearable. As much as she may have wanted, she couldn’t help me with any of my homework. It was way beyond her knowledge. I had older siblings to seek help from if I needed it. As such, I had almost complete control of determining if my homework was done. I rarely fibbed about my progress, largely because of the integrity values that my parents had instilled in us and also because I often did well at school. A third reason that stuck with me to adulthood was the fact that it was impossible to lie to my mom.

On this particular day I was feeling tired and I thought I had just come up with an ingenious way of fooling her that I was busy studying. I placed the kerosene lamp at an angle that obscured my book and then cupped my chin in my left hand. I used my right hand to turn the pages at a pace that mimicked good old-fashioned reading. Perfect! Or so I thought. I’m not sure for how long this ruse worked but sleep has a way of winning without much effort.

The next thing I knew was my mom asking me to go to bed and explained that in future there would be consequences for trying to fool her. Apparently she had tried having a conversation with me several times at the time when my brain was half asleep but the index finger was still turning the pages. Obviously, at some point, all activity ceased and I comfortably laid my head on the table. 

This is for all parents and guardians:

Introduce the love of reading early on. Studies have concluded that even just having books around encourages your child’s curiosity. 

Be curious about your child’s learning. Ask them what homework was assigned and let them show it to you as well as briefly explain it. Even when you don’t understand the content, ask a general follow up question and offer encouragement.You have to start this early on in their schooling life otherwise you will be fighting a losing battle. 

Set high but realistic expectations. Allow them room to struggle and make mistakes. This is where real growth takes place.

Model the values that make a well-rounded person including but not limited to integrity, diligence, and humility. 

Ask your child to make use of homework help time at school to seek help when needed. Find out if your local library offers similar services and take advantage of them. 

It takes a village to educate a child. An entire city might not be enough to redeem their potential if they lose their way early on.

I’m so grateful that my mom stayed up late to encourage me. It made a world of difference, and now I can face the world with confidence. 

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I'm credentialed social studies and biological sciences teacher with over twenty years of classroom experience. I'm an avid gardener and tech DIYer and I love nature walks.

California State

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