Parenting: A Tribute

Bellais Family Panama 1935

The young family of a five-year-old daughter and squirming twin boys.

The noise coming from the front of the house could not be ignored. Someone was kicking at the screen door and hollering, “Is any one home?” The seven-year old girl reading a book in the living room jumped as the noise startled her. She ran to her mother’s bedroom crying, “Somebody is trying to break into our house.”

Her mother, busy preparing for a trip to town continued putting on a dress and looking for an appropriate hat to wear. Her plan was to go to the big shopping arcade. It was a new shopping place with many grand stores. She wanted to look her best as she wandered through the arcade to peer into the shop windows, stroll through stores, and eat lunch at the big department store restaurant. She had dressed her daughter in a frilly dress the daughter liked. Earlier she clothed her two-year-old twin boys in white sailor suits. All she had to do now was finish dressing herself and when ready walk to the trolley stop and the four would ride into town.

Her husband, a sailor at the Norfolk Naval Air Station, and she lived in a house that had once been the main home of the farmers the land the house was on. The farm was a small peninsula surrounded by tidewater creeks and swamps covered with swamp weeds. While it wasn’t the best location for a family of four, it was a good house, sturdily built, and all a first-class petty officer in the Navy could afford.

“Mother,” the girl cried, “can’t you hear the banging and shouting at the front door.”

william age 2

A mischievous two-year-old

The mother, now flustered by the noise and her daughter’s panic, said, “Yes, I hear it but I have to get dressed before I answer the door.” So, she completed the task of dressing, straightened out the back of the dress, pulled on the front, and shoeless, ran to the door. She flung it opened in a rage ready to chastise whoever was standing there and kicking at the screen door.

“What is this all abo..u..t?” she said as the answer was held up in front of her.

“I own the farm this house is on,” The man at the front door said. She was aware of who the owner was, but never met him. The farmer continued saying in an angry voice, “I was working near the creek and found these boys wading in the water.” He held up identical twins holding them by the collars of their sailor suits. Speaking through his teeth and in an accusatory voice the farmer asked, “Are these yours?”

The woman gasped, “Yes, they’re my twin boys.” She unlatched the screen door, opened it, and watched the farmer deposit them in front of her.

Scolding the mother, the farmer said, “Better keep a tighter watch on them boys in the future.”

Had this event taken place today, the farmer would more likely have called the police, the family services case worker would have soon after arrived to take the boys and the girl into “protective” custody and the mother would have been arrested. Fortunately, this story takes place in 1936, a time when people were less litigious and more willing to forgive. The story is about me, my twin brother, my sister, and my mother who often recounted this event. I have no memory of wading in the tide-water creeks near Norfolk. It was for her a moment of terror. She had already lost a child to an auto accident some 12 years earlier. Nevertheless, humorously she told the tale of two boys who could not keep away from water and trouble.


My mother in the 1940s

My mother and my father, to be more inclusive, were doting parents. They loved their children and wanted them to be safe and happy. But, my father was preoccupied trying to meet the demands of being a sailor. My mother was and had little preparation for motherhood. She also had been raised in an environment in which children were basically expected to obey, take care of themselves, and seen but not heard. Further, twin boys were especially difficult to care for. We were active, curious, and mischievous. What was a young mother to do? She was the only caregiver for these three children.

In adult years, we often talked about the childhood days and her observations about raising two active boys. She wanted us to get out of the house as much as possible. That was easy for us, my brother and me. There were few things to keep us inside. We came in just before dinner time in the winter to listen to “Terry and the Pirates,” “Superman,” and “Jack Armstrong the-All-American-Boy” on the radio. In the summer we stayed outside until the lightning bugs began to glow.

Dorothy Bellais 1990

My mother in her old age

Right from the beginning she wanted us to find our own entertainment. Playing out-of-doors was essential. Getting to school on our own was necessary—we started walking to school in the first grade (there was no kindergarten then). As we grew older, now in Annapolis, Maryland, we explored tide-water creeks near our home, we swam in them without lifeguards or parental supervision all summer. Found sunken rowboats and brought them to surface to float out into the middle of the creeks. We played on the railroad tracks and trestles, and made rafts to float out into the Severn River. After the war years the family moved to the Mojave Desert. There we crawled through culverts to escape the Naval Air Station to explore the desert. Later, as we became Boy Scouts, we climbed the rugged cliffs of the Sespe Wilderness canyons of the California Range. We explored the beaches near Oxnard, California and swam and boated in the ocean.  All of these adventures without parental supervision. My mother was proud of the fact that she let us grow up and have all this in our memories of childhood.

Today, it is likely my mother would have been arrested. Found guilty of child endangerment and then imprisoned for 20 years. What has happened? Has the world become more dangerous, the rivers deeper, and the mountain higher? A 11 year-old girl cannot play in a public park without parental supervision these days. Children have to be bused everywhere. Their time must be regulated and play must be organized. I never belonged to team of any kind until high school. We played in groups of friends. I belonged to a Boy Scout Troop where the patrol leader planned weekly hikes—not the Scoutmaster.

It is a sad, sad, situation. The state, a next door neighbor, some random individual, is watching as has been done in authoritative, dictatorial, counties. Children aren’t allowed to have fun—especially boys. Parents aren’t allowed to let their children grow and mature. I can’t appreciate my mother more as I look back on her courage to her twin boys have a wonderful childhood.


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