What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon

Chapter 11
The Stare 

[p.34]Even though we are a very enlightened, consciousness-raised generation, I still think that there are some things our own parents did much better than we do when it comes to raising children. I especially felt this way last spring when I took my kids to the zoo.

I decided to take my kids to the zoo because all parents are now required by federal law to give their children the educational experience of watching a lot of large, very stupid-looking animals munch hay and scratch themselves in embarrassing places. So I invited my mother to join us and off we went to the zoo where everybody, I’m sad to report, had a thoroughly miserable time.

The problem, of course, was that my children were interested in all the wrong things, which always makes me grumpy. They were interested in the water fountains and the straw dispensers and the machines where you can buy Official Deer Food. They also wanted to flush toilets in the bathrooms and fiddle with garbage can lids. After that they ran around in circles, blasting each other with pretend lasers and accidentally bumping into elderly women who then swatted them with heavy purses.

The only animals my children displayed any interest in at all were a pair of frisky rhinos, which, in turn, were only interested in each other. This frequently happens at zoos in the spring, I am told.

“Look, Mom!” my kids screamed. “What are they doing now?”

“Ha, ha!” I answered nervously. “Now what do you say we go buy some more deer food?”

When we got in the car to go home, they started to whine.

“We want to ride the train. Remember, you said we could and then we didn’t. We want to ride the train. Please. Please!”

“Don’t whine,” I said.

“You and your brothers never used to whine,” my mother piped up.

“Of course we whined,” I said. “All kids whine.”

“You didn’t,” she said, and then she added, “because I didn’t allow it.” I thought about this for a minute and decided she could be right [p.35]after all. I didn’t do a lot of things my kids routinely do because I didn’t want to risk getting The Stare. This was a patented look my mother gave her offspring that said, “If you continue to behave in that thoroughly obnoxious manner, you will go to your bedroom and stay there until you are so old that all your teeth have fallen straight out of your head.”

I remember one memorable occasion when my mother gave me The Stare. We were eating Sunday dinner which meant that I was busy smacking my lips and leaving milk moustaches all over my mouth.

“Let’s not eat like piggies!” Mom reminded me cheerfully.

For some reason I thought this would be a very good opportunity to try out a little joke on her. “Oink! Oink!” I answered.

The room went completely silent. My father, my brothers, the dog eating our shoes under the table—they all looked at me like I’d lost my mind.

“Excuse me?” my mother said politely. Then she gave me The Stare which promptly caused me to melt away not unlike the witch with the green face in The Wizard of OZ and I was never seen or heard from again. Not only that but I have never said oink oink at the dinner table again.

So when my mother says we never whined, I’m inclined to believe her. My own kids, on the other hand, like to whine and are pretty darn good at it. Just last night, in fact, they were all emitting Olympic class whines because I checked out the Excita-Bike Nintendo game from Sinclair when what they really wanted was Duck Tales.

Enough is enough, I said to myself. If Excita-Bike is good enough for me, it’s good enough for them. That’s when I decided to try The Stare on them. Unfortunately it did not have the desired effect. Instead of reducing them to nervous little puddles of kidlet, they just thought I’d gotten something in my contacts.

For reasons that we don’t entirely understand, none of my friends can do The Stare either, although their mothers were all Black Belt starers just like mine. My friends and I feel pretty bad about this and have formed a support group to help us deal with our sense of inadequacy. We meet once a week to share our feelings. Then we eat refreshments and play Excita-Bike on the Nintendo.

No doubt our mothers are all wondering where they went wrong.