There are a lot of guys who consider themselves self-made men, but I'm not afraid to say this, especially on Mother's Day - my mom made me what I am today.
How? By making me do things.
She made me clean my room. This was a constant struggle for her. My brother and I, who shared a bedroom, were slobs. If we ever fell out of bed at night, no problem. We'd fall into a thick pile of dirty clothes. But every Saturday, Mom made us clean it all up, or we couldn't go outside. She always said it would be easier for her to do it herself than to make us do it, but we needed to learn to do it ourselves. And so we did. I can't say I'm a neatnik today, but I can't imagine the level of clutter I would be living in if she hadn't made us do it.
She made me do my homework. This wasn't that hard for me, I just didn't want to do it, especially for one long stretch in third grade. When Mrs. Collins, my third grade teacher, finally ratted me out to mom, there were fireworks, let me tell you. I learned that you need to get your work done - blowing it off can blow up in your face.
She made me learn to iron a shirt, sew on a button and darn a sock. All of her sons learned this. She said some day we were going to be living on our own and we'd better know how to take care of ourselves. I can't tell you how many times this has come in handy.
She made me go to church. She made all of us little Sweeneys go to church. Mass every Sunday. And we'd have to sit there without goofing around. Occasionally she'd quiz us on the way home on what Monsignor Gilligan had been talking about in his sermon, just to make sure we had been paying attention. It helped lay a solid religious base for me. There was a while, after I had moved out, when I didn't go to church, but when I didn't go to church it was a Catholic church I wasn't going to. And no doubt her prayers and frequent bribes to the Little Sisters of the Poor helped me connect back up.
Mom made us use manners - how to set a table with the fork on the left, and the knife and spoon on the right, how to sit up straight at the table and lift the food to your mouth instead of slouching down and scooping it into your mouth, how to chew with your mouth closed and keep your elbows off the table, how to ask for food to be passed with a "please" and "thank you." I shudder when I see what passes for manners among some of the young people today.
Mom made us laugh. A lot of times the joke was on her, but she didn't mind. She could tell a wicked joke herself once in a while, like this little poem she taught us:
"Little girl from Boston, Mass.,
"Stood in the water up to her ankles... it doesn't rhyme now, but it will when the tide comes in."
Mom made us do all of this stuff, she said, so that if we messed up our lives, we couldn't blame her. She's 92 now, and is proud of us all, she says.
So on this Mother's Day I want to say thanks, Mom, for making what I am today.