‘The Drill’ by Breena Clarke

Clarke, Breena 1996

The Drill by Breena Clarke, 1996

The magic trick:

Showing the mother as both overprotective perhaps but also considerate of how best to handle her son’s increasing independence

Happy Mother’s Day!

This story does an excellent job of encapsulating the pure terror that is being a mother to a young teenager growing up in New York City. Now, of course, there are a lot of reasons that assessment comes with a lot of conjecture on my part, but still… it’s a good story!

The level of detail in all the things her son must do to get home is impressive. Clarke clearly knows the city well. The level of the mother’s paranoia is even more remarkable. She worries about everything. My favorite part, though, is the quick mention of her sensitivity to the Daniel Patrick Moynihan school of thought on black female emasculators – something I admit I needed the accompanying footnote to understand.

To that point in the story you could write her off as a little kooky, a comically paranoid, overbearing, helicopter mom. But no. This mention balances that scale, and the character becomes more considerate in the reader’s mind and her concerns become more valid. It also shows how race weighs heavily on every aspect of American life. She is bearing the burden of some bogus sociology theory from the 60s about black mothers. She knows it’s bogus, but here it is, influencing her conscience. Pretty canny addition as part of the story. And that’s quite a trick on Clarke’s part.

The selection:

Tonight she walks down the east side of the street but sweeps the whole thoroughfare with her eyes, in case he didn’t do what he was supposed to do. One of the pillars of maternal wisdom: after you’ve drilled into the child’s head what he must do, you try to imagine what will happen if he does exactly the opposite. You’ve got to be prepared.

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