The Lessons We Learn

Mother’s Day, 2013

HARLEMSometime during the Mets game today, one of my followers on Twitter asked the following: “Do you ever think of how lucky/fortunate you are that your job is to go to baseball games?” The short answer, of course, is yes. But the question led me to think a little more about why.

It reminded me of something I wrote back in the fall of 2005, when I was a senior in college, hoping desperately to line up a summer internship at The Washington Post. The newspaper insisted on applicants writing an essay, in which they were to explain why they would make great journalists.

I remember resenting this requirement. Part of the reason I enjoy being a journalist is that the stories I tell are of others — not of myself. I’ve never been truly comfortable putting words to paper when the subject matter is the same as the byline.

So, I devised a solution. I wrote about my Mom, and some of the lessons she taught me as a child, lessons that she continued to teach until the very end of her life:

The Lessons We Learn
By Marc Carig

If you stood on the bathtub and craned your neck at the proper angle, you could see the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge through the bathroom window – provided the fog or refinery smokestacks didn’t block the view too much.

Back then, we lived on a hill overlooking a bay. Our three-bedroom house – one of the first generations of the phenomenon now known as tract housing – blended in easily with the rest of the modest, neat homes on the block. You could walk the streets of our neighborhood without too many worries but you didn’t leave your bike unguarded in the front yard either.

That’s where my two sisters, my brother and I grew up under the dictatorship created by our mother.

Dad’s general idea of parenting involved bribery in the form of candy bars and trips to the ice cream man. He drove a soda truck 10 hours a day starting at 4 a.m. So once he got home, the “that oughta shut ’em up” approach seemed most practical.

We never minded. Mom, however, took an old-school Filipino philosophy toward child rearing, which meant that you ran like hell when she went looking for her belt. I hated it then even though I can’t blame her for it now.

Under Mom’s dictatorship, there were exactly two offenses guaranteed to bring swift punishment: dishonesty and selfishness.

Once, I tested Mom’s commitment to prosecuting these atrocities. My sister and I shared a tricycle and one day, she decided to take a ride in the backyard. I grew bored of watching her and decided it was my turn. So I pushed her off the tricycle and she cried. I ignored her and rode off.

Earlier that day, I noticed my mom working in her garden. For reasons I still can’t explain, I drove the tricycle all over her tomato plants. Mom threw a fit. I lied and told her that Lyn did it. Lyn blamed me. She knew I was lying, so Mom went looking for her belt, then me. I ran like hell. She found me in her room, buried under a shield of blankets and pillows. She unearthed me from my hole before dispensing justice.

To this day, I share Mom’s disdain for dishonesty and selfishness.

Years later, my English teacher told me to give his journalism class a try. He said that I had an above average ability to write and that my knowledge of sports might help the school paper which needed a few sportswriters. It tried it, fell in love with it and decided that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Mr. Brown thought I could become good at journalism and pushed me to write even more. Each school day for four years, a folded copy of that morning’s San Francisco Chronicle’s Sporting Green waited for me at my desk. Mr. Brown circled that day’s best writing, circling lines and words that he thought I needed to read. Learning from those great writers inspired me to take journalism seriously.

Mom, however, thought that I should to stick to engineering. Those people make more money, she said. Besides, she wanted some sort of return for buying me all those Lego sets when I was a kid. We fought about it for weeks.

“Don’t end up like me and your dad!”

“Money isn’t everything, Mom. This makes me happy.”

By then, I was too old to take a belting and she wasn’t going to change my mind. For the first time in my life, I defied her and stayed with journalism.

Ironically, the lessons she taught me when we lived in the house on the hill made me suited to become a great journalist.

Mom’s still coming to terms about my decision. She hasn’t tried to sway me back into engineering in years. Sometimes, she even calls me at school and asks how things are going with my classes and the internship hunt.

Maybe she’s not crazy about my choice of career, but I figure begrudging acceptance is a cozy compromise.

Of course, I really never knew where she stood on my decision until about a year ago. I made a surprise visit home and found Mom having coffee with a few of her friends from work. She jumped off the couch and gave me a big hug before heading to the kitchen to fix me something to eat.

“So, how was Boston? It was the Globe, right? I heard you covered the Red Sox? That must’ve been exciting!” Mom’s friend said.

“Yeah, I had a great time. But how did you know the Boston thing?”

“Your Mom talks about you at work all the time. Sometimes, she brings your stories in and makes us read them. She’s really proud of you, you know.”

— 30 —

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