I loved to go shopping. One time my mom used my strongest reinforcer to trick me and teach me a lesson. “Yo’ mama so fat and stupid, she puts baby dookie on her hot fudge sundae.” “Oh yea, you’re momma so fat she takes a shower in the swimming pool.” “Yo’ mama breath so hot she could make scrambled eggs wit’ it.” “You so poor, you live in a cardboard box under the freeway.” “Yo’ mama so poor she flips pancakes with the fly swatter.” “Denise wins,” said Cheeto. And so the yo’ mama jokes went on for days during recess or lunchtime. I battled everyone. You had to. If you didn’t battle, you were a little chump. A nobody.
My mom happened to be a secretary at the elementary school I attended. Someone ratted me out that I had been participating in yo’ mama joke battles. I wondered if it was the safety monitor, always walking around staring at everyone with her little safety sash. Perhaps it was one of the older kids that watched over the younger kids, maybe the girl who always ate a lollipop for breakfast and smelled like banana bread. In any case, my mother was enraged and outraged by such behavior. She wanted me to be a perfect little doll. She expected perfection and nothing less. Prim and proper. However, there was nothing proper about kids at my school. It was an environment plagued by poverty and vulgarity. You either punked or got punked. I chose not to get punked.
My mom decided to put the smack down. She was rough herself. If something happened she didn’t like, she resorted to extreme measures to get her point across. Typically, this resulted in fierce resentment. Resentment, that set the tone for our relationship over the years. As an adult I recognize her efforts to make me respectful. I understand that parents don’t pick up manuals on disciplining their children without the use of severe punishment strategies. I didn’t understand then because I was a kid with a limited behavioral repertoire. I followed the take it a like thief tootsie pop kid culture in a yo’ mama joke battle. She followed the traditional philosophical threat, “do it one more time and I’ll smack you with a chankla.”
It was a Saturday morning. A bright, sunny Saturday morning. She said she was going to surprise me with some shopping at the callejones. I was so excited. I was completely clueless about the conversations she had with someone behind my back about my jokes with my friends. I had no idea what was about to unfold. The trauma of being ambushed is severe. That’s how she rolled. I prepped myself with some sunblock, umbrella hat, Minnie Mouse sunglasses, and a water bottle in my Rainbow Bright backpack. I loved to go shopping. I was always very observant of all the freeways, streetlights and stop signs.
On this particular day, I noticed she went off route. I started getting suspicious. “Hey, wait a minute.” “Where are you going?” I began to nervously fidget. Oh my gosh, is she taking me to the doctor for a shot? Oh my gosh, what is she doing to me? “Mom, where are we going?” “Mija, I’m going to show you something.” She started driving at a drive-by speed. I was getting scared. Am I gonna die? Does she have an AK?
We pulled up to Skid Row. “Mija, you think this is funny?” “Look at the people living in cardboard boxes.” “You see that.” “Do you see the woman with her baby laying on the floor?” “She lives in that tent.” I was crying hysterically. “Stop, mom!” “Stop it.” “Why are you doing this to me?” “This is scary.” “Are you gonna drop me off here?” “You don’t want me anymore.” “I’m sorry.” “I don’t want any toys.” I gasped for air. I couldn’t breathe. My mom said, “I heard about the jokes you were saying with your friends.” I was furious someone ratted me out. “Who did it?” “Who told you?”
I wanted to kick, scream and slap whoever ratted me out. I felt ashamed. I couldn’t believe people really lived in cardboard boxes. I was deeply saddened. Traumatized. My mom said, “I’m gonna drive by one more time.” “No mom, I already saw.” “I know.” “We don’t need to go down that street.” “Let’s go down a different street.” My mom ignored me, “We’re going down that street one more time.” The street was filled with needles and trash. People strewn across the floor, sitting next to shopping carts and people lying in tents scarred me. I was shocked. Sometimes you learn about bad little boys and girls by reading Aesop’s fables and sometimes you learn from experience. That was painful.