Secret Weapon

Secret Weapon

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

Secret Weapon

Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation.

C. Everett Koop

In 1965, when I was a little girl, my family moved to a picturesque neighborhood in Pennsylvania. We were stunned to find a petition had been circulating to bar us from settling there. The neighbors, upon learning that a family with seven kids was elbowing its way into their territory, feared the worst. Perhaps they had envisioned seven times the mischief—churned-up flowerbeds, battered mailboxes, their sleepy lives unraveled by gleeful shrieks of children peppering cars with rocks and tripping up the elderly.

The petition was denied.

And so we moved into the colonial-style house, my parents’ first home after fifteen years of transitioning from one army housing complex to another. What a luxury it was, owning a brick structure with two stories that we did not have to share with other families. The backyard, stretching on for what seemed like miles, tugged at my exploring spirit.

As one month flowed into the next, the neighbors held their breath. Finally, there was a collective sigh of relief as they began to see that their world would remain intact after all.

Then they began to wonder why. Why was such a large family so quiet? Even during Dad’s tour in Vietnam, there was not a single hiccup.

What the neighbors didn’t bank on was Mom’s secret weapon—a weapon that would have brought Genghis Khan to his knees. Flattened evil empires. Rewritten history.

Her secret weapon, for lack of a more technical term, was “the look.”

I believe there was a patent pending on it at the time.

This is how it worked.

First, the eyebrows arched. Then the lips tightened into one thin, rigid line. The eyes, narrowed and unflinching, turned to glass.

Whenever I was caught in mid-mischief, there she was, armed with that baleful stare. I was a fish about to be slapped onto butcher paper if I dared twitch. None of my brothers and sisters had the nerve to challenge “the look,” so I could only imagine the consequences of crossing that line. I was certain that it meant being hauled away to a dark, damp place for bad kids, where a cackling witch pinched their fingers to see if they were plump enough to be on the menu. You can be assured that I never once attempted to confirm this.

There were even times Mom had the eerie ability to foresee mischief barely hatching in my brain. One look in my direction whittled my plans, along with my constitution, to sawdust. Like the Nat King Cole song, my only alternative was to straighten up and fly right—for the time being.

As it always is with army life, after three years and one more sibling added to the family, we followed Dad to his new assignment, where we were once again placed in generic housing on post. To this day, my parents cherish the friendships they collected while living on that treelined street in Pennsylvania. I’ve never forgotten the sweet man next door who always seemed to have a pocketful of butterscotch candy for us when he mowed his lawn.

A few years ago, my three-year-old niece was acting bratty at the dinner table, which solicited a five-star glare from her grandmother. Our forks poised in midair, we waited awkwardly for the little girl’s reaction. Then . . .

“Grandma!” she said, giggling. “You’re funny!”

We gasped.

She had breached the rules and . . . and she was still living!

Even more shocking, though, was what I detected on my mother’s face. A trace of defeat. Just enough to make me appreciate how precious that tool must have been to her all these years, the pride she must have felt to be able to discipline a caravan of kids in church, in the store, the park, libraries and museums—all with just one look. Especially in one particular neighborhood that dreaded our arrival.

It’s been said that Mom was the only one in her family who successfully adopted her mother’s glare to control the kids. It must be genetic. The other day my two-year-old was whizzing around at top speed on the Sit-N-Spin during naptime when I opened the door quietly and zeroed in on him with that look. He braked with his heels, hopped off and quickly crawled into bed.

Hmmm. Maybe it’s not too late for that patent after all.

Jennifer Oliver

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners