If you stopped by the West Side Diner last year for an early morning breakfast, you might have seen her talking to her son about skipping school.
“He did it once, and I told him once was going to be the only time. I nip things in the bud when I see them. We don’t let mistakes happen twice in my family. I did what my mother used to do with me. When we needed to have a talk about getting myself in order, she would take me out to breakfast and we’d talk it over, because she wanted me to tell her what was going on with me, and not be scared to do it. My son was good all his life and I never had to take him out to breakfast, but he skipped school, and I told myself there’s a first time for everything.”
They sat in one of the booths, and she told him to order whatever he wanted. She was going to be dropping him off at school right after breakfast, but first, she wanted to know why he’d missed school the previous day.
“He told me he’d gotten made fun of for something he was wearing. There’s this shirt he likes and it’s all torn up, has holes in it and everything, but he doesn’t care. My son never cared about things like that. He liked the shirt and he wanted to wear it. I could grab it off him once a week to wash it, but that’s if I was lucky. I’m not putting up a fight about what my kid wears to school. I told him to go ahead and wear it.”
At school, a girl remarked on how often he wore the shirt. She asked if it was the only one he owned. Another student chimed in laughing, that he was poor and so of course he only owned the one shirt.
“My son has a lot of shirts he can wear, but he liked that shirt, so the comment shouldn’t have bothered him. I don’t like him getting teased, but if a girl telling you to put on a new shirt gets you to put on a new shirt, I’m good with that. What I don’t appreciate is him being so upset at being called ‘poor’ that he doesn’t want to go to school the next day and doesn’t want to tell his mother about it, because he’s ashamed.”
Her son ordered pancakes and toast for breakfast. She had coffee and an omelet. Normally her son has a good appetite, but that day, he was picking at his food. She asked him if he thought they were poor?
“He said, ‘Yes’ and I told him, ‘You’re right. We are poor.’ What’s wrong with that? I work hard. His father works hard. But you can work hard and you can be poor. That’s just life. I’m not going to be ashamed of that. There’s people poorer than us, and they don’t have to be ashamed either. You don’t have to be ashamed because you don’t have a lot of money. I didn’t have any money when I was growing up. That’s why going out for breakfast was a treat, because we didn’t have money to be doing that all the time, but my mother would do it, and I didn’t take it for granted. But my mother never let me stick my head down and be ashamed.”
She told her son that some of the best people on earth die without a penny to their name and some of the worst die with more money than any of us could ever imagine.
“I told him I want you to work hard and I hope you do better than me and you do have what you want and you can take care of yourself, but that’s not got nothing to do with who you are, and whether you’re good or bad.”
As she was talking, she noticed him getting emotional and she moved to his side of the booth so she could put her arm around him.
“He didn’t like that, because he was at that age. You don’t want your mom hugging you and all that, but oh well.”
In the spring, when all his classes moved online, she found herself a little worried at the state of his room and her house. It’s possible that they weren’t living in as nice of a place as some of his classmates.
“But I had to remind myself what I told him. It doesn’t matter and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I told him I expected him to do everything he was told to do and that I didn’t want to see any change in his attendance or grades or anything like that. I told him to keep his head up, but it was tough. I won’t say it wasn’t tough.”
This month, he starts his final year of high school. His grades have been good, and one of his teachers sent her an email praising his participation in their class.
“I was happy to see that. None of this has been easy, but I got my blinders on. I’m just thinking about him and what I need to do to get him where he needs to be. I’ve been out of work, but hopefully, I’ll be back in a few weeks. That’s what I’ve been hearing. When that happens, I told him, we’re going to celebrate a little, because we deserve it.”
I tell her maybe she can break tradition and take him out for breakfast without a serious talk or issue to discuss.
“Yeah, I like that idea. Why not? Gotta change with the times. Things are going to keep changing anyway. September’s going to be like a brand new year.”