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Last Updated: 02/01/2018

 Article of Interest - Parenting

It Takes Strength to be a Parent Instead of Your Child's Friend
by Betty DeRamus, Detroit News, August 29, 2002
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Whenever she could swipe a spare second, Mama would perch in the front window and look up and down our street. I used to think she could see around corners, inside hallways and even down night-shrouded alleys.

"What you want?" I'd yell whenever I saw her.

"Nothing," she'd answer, a smile softening her usually stern mouth. "I'm just watching."

She was always watching. Looking. Keeping track. Sometime she'd even show up at my school in the middle of the day with a raincoat or boots, searching my face to see if I had smeared on any lipstick.

There was no need back then for any special initiative to increase community involvement, one of the goals of the Detroit Public Schools as classes resume next week.

And no need for special parent advocates to help boost school enrollment and encourage parents to become more involved in their children's schools and lives.

Mama and her friends and neighbors noticed everything. The night I nearly kissed the boy next door, her voice found me in a corner of the front porch and called me inside. Later, she banished another would-be boyfriend for failing to remove his hat in the house. Her eyes saw everything, and she could smell trouble while it was still struggling to take shape and claim a name.

She wasn't alone, of course. The neighborhood was full of watchers.

I grew up surrounded by men and women who told stories, spanked their kids and sat on front porches, rocking and looking. They were ready to step into the center of any situation and become the parents of any child they saw.

In my neighborhood school, which was Catholic, the nuns were surrogate parents. Armed with nothing but sharp rulers and tongues, they could make students walk in straight lines and talk in worried whispers.

But nobody could replace Mama.

She was forever in motion, vacuuming rugs, talking someone into giving her a job, fighting with landlords who refused to fix sagging stairs, persuading my father that it was time to move to yet another flat or house.

During one stretch of hard times, she turned our attic into a boarding house, filling it with roomers. The first one to be evicted was a West Indian foolish enough to admit to Mama's face that he didn't believe in God.

She and the parents of my schoolmates not only came to schools and school-community meetings. They made it clear that if their youngsters messed up in school they would pay for it twice -- at school and, later, at home.

Back then, I hated Mama's see-everything eyes and unbending rules.

I didn't know how much strength it took to be my parent instead of my friend.

I didn't understand why she kept me in schools that swaddled my blossoming body in baggy, pleated skirts and stretched my mind with writing contests.

Now, of course, I understand it all: the cod liver oil, enemas and home-made cold remedies; the strict schedules and dating restrictions; the unexpected school visits, and the men and women who peered through windows, keeping watch.

They were trying to be real parents.

Betty DeRamus' column appears in The Detroit News on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Call her at (313) 222-2620 or e-mail bdera

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