One of my fondest memories — Happy Mother’s Day
The day my Mom decorated the ever-living shit out of my contest submission
Technically she did it at night — the night before the submissions were due. I can’t remember how old I was, but I do remember that I was young and that Book It! was just getting started. I was a Book It! champion and really could have traded stock in the infinite personal pan pizzas I scored from that program.
For those of you who don’t know, Book It! is a program that Pizza Hut created in 1984. As a kid, all I knew about it was — read books, get pizza. Simple. I read sooo many books as a kid. I didn’t care, I read anything and everything. And after each book I read, my parents signed a certificate that I took to Pizza Hut to get a FREE personal pan pizza. I ate pizza for free for about three years. It was awesome. I’m sure my parents also appreciated that because they had five children, so one less mouth to have to pay to feed helped over time. Looking back, I am grateful for my metabolism. I devoured all of those pizzas like I consumed every word of every book I could get my hands on.
I remember bringing all the books up to the counter at my school library — always checking out the maximum amount allowed — and I learned then how to be a responsible, young borrower of books. At first, I was only reading for the pizza. Once I realized that pizza was just pizza, and when the luster of being rewarded wore off, I found that I was reading to read. I learned that I could escape into worlds I had never imagined. I loved taking journeys and going on adventures with the characters in my books. I was in love.
Sadly, this love didn’t last. I soon found that I wanted to make my own stories and to write — so I did. I’ve been writing ever since. Only recently have I taken up reading again, and just as voraciously as I did when I was a child. But this isn’t about reading or writing, it’s about Pizza Hut, actually. Because I was at Pizza Hut every day getting my free pizza.
I soon became a regular. I knew every number that corresponded to every song on the jukebox. I knew that ‘A.S.S.’ was the top score for six months straight on the Frogger arcade game. I knew that the glass-top Pac-Man machine only held seven drinks before a spill occurred. I knew that hanging from the rafters was the sweetest inflatable raft, full of prizes beyond compare! Especially a new mountain bike! I knew that it was part of a contest and the winner took all. I knew I was going to win that contest.
Weeks, months, the endless agony of every moment of a child having to wait — eternity — passed. I had heard about the contest at the end of the past year. It was now April. They decided to select the contest winner the day after Easter. The contest was simple: color a pre-drawn picture of an Easter bunny. How hard could that be, little me thought?
It wasn’t hard at all. I had a big ass box of crayons. All 96 of them. I loved the crap out of every color and I was so careful and delicate when I had to sharpen one. My box even came with a sharpener in the box, like built into the box. Yeah, next-level stuff.
With each crayon, I colored that rabbit in shades of shade. I had pinks supporting greens and blues lifting yellows. It was truly a divinely inspired piece whereby my hand was directed by something greater than me. At least, that’s what I remember. Really, I mostly remember thinking, even singing to myself, “I’m gonna win that raft and bike. All the stuff inside. I’m gonna swim in that raft and ride that bike all day long. All the stuff is mine.” And as I dulled my last crayon, I stepped away from it and witnessed it from afar.
Somewhere, angels rejoiced.
Even the Sun blushed when it tickled it with its rays.
I held my breath.
Trembling with joy and excitement, I shouted, “Mom!”
Being the Mother of a boy that calls everything Wolf, she took her time responding to my tonal declaration of emergency.
“Yes?” she said as she appeared.
“I finished. I’m going to win.”
She looked over my shoulder at my work and then moved closer to study it.
“That looks really nice, Tony.”
That was it. My masterpiece was finished and it had Mom’s seal of approval. Now we take it in and trade it for the raft and bike.
Trying to sleep that night was like waiting for Christmas Morning to wake itself up. I kept thinking, where am I going to put the raft? And I realized that I didn’t even know what was inside it other than the bike. It was up really high. Where am I going to put everything?
Being the oldest of four siblings means that sharing isn’t a choice, it’s a strategy. No matter what, I was going to share. Everything. Always. The only thing I didn’t share was my box of crayons. That was the only thing that was just mine. This reasoning made me realize that there was going to be a lot of things in this treasure trove that I was going to have to share. It was alright, I was used to it. Plus I love my siblings. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t win or that I wasn’t going to win. I was already planning on where everything went.
The next morning I woke up and ran downstairs. I wanted to make sure my coloring was still where I left it. It was. But my heart wasn’t. My heart had jumped out of my chest and was still beating in the lingering trail of haste I had left behind me coming to fetch my precious. In complete terror and horror-stricken agony, I couldn’t un-wrench my eyes from what I saw.
An atomic bomb worth of glitter, in gold and silver, now bedazzled my easter bunny coloring. I wanted to vomit. I wanted to cry. I asked why until my throat hurt and the word stopped making sense. I was destroyed. Using the sense that only mothers have, my mother sensed my panic and was upon the scene in no time at all.
“Mom! What happened to my bunny?”
She thought for a moment, apparently sensing the agony writhing within me.
“Well, Tony, I thought I would just add a little touch up to it.”
“Touch up” if you mean like trying to put on makeup while walking through the air dryers in a car wash.
“Mom, it’s ruined. It looks like a robot.”
The words I would have used instead if they had been available to my kid-brain.
She took a breath to ground out the gravity of my emotions.
“Tony, it will be alright. I just know that you have your heart set on that raft full of prizes and I thought I’d help a little.”
“You should have left it alone. Now I’m not going to win.”
“Trust me, none of them will look like this. You will win.”
I didn’t have the reasoning capacity that I have now, obviously, I just remember being so sad. I didn’t see the situation from her point of view. I chose to be mad instead.
We took my disco ball bunny art to the competition and we were instructed to hang it on the wall. There were so many others there. For the first time, I felt like I might not win — and not just because of my metallic monstrosity.
In the end, my mother was right — as she often was. I did win. Being a kid, focused only on the prize, I never really thought of why I won — especially because of what my final submission turned out to be. All I knew was that my mom had helped and it secured me the victory.
What it all means decades later
Other than the bike, I don’t really remember what else was in the raft. Most of it was lost to the destruction of younger siblings, but I got two lifetimes of use out of that bike. I look back on this moment often, and I have told the story a number of times to friends and family, but never once did I ever really see it from my mother’s perspective. It’s been a little over two years since my mother passed away and I realize that I never told her that I am sorry.
I am sorry for how I reacted. I am sorry that I didn’t realize that she spent — I don’t even know how long after I went to bed — probably hours doing her artwork over mine. I’m sorry that I didn’t see that she was so motivated as a mother to help her baby boy win some prize that he wouldn’t stop talking about. In a sense, she had to break my heart to keep my heart from being broken. She knew she had to transform my art into something that would win. On one hand, she knew that doing this would make me react much the way I did — it broke my heart to see my work vanished from existence. On the other hand, she knew that the prizes were more important to me than my “art.”
I cannot fully comprehend the power involved in choices like that from a mother’s point of view. I understand wanting nothing but the best for your child but I still cannot understand having to make a choice like that. All I do know, is that all these years later, I’m as close as I can be to knowing that it was a choice made from love — a mother’s love.
Mom, I’m sorry I didn’t see that at the time — and only now do I understand. I’m sorry that I never told you that I loved that you helped me win. Mostly, Mom, I want to say that this is but one of the many moments that I still have of you and I’ll cherish it forever. Even though I always start by saying how you killed my bunny with glitter, I always end by saying how much I love how much you loved me.
If the rest of my years are anything, I hope they can return this love to the world. Thank you for being my mom. Thank you for raising me how you did. Thank you for loving me — even when it was hard. I hope they have glitter bunnies where you are and that they remind you of me.
I love you, Mom.
© Anthony O’Dugan 2021