The following story was in The Ladies Home Journal, a widely read magazine in the 19th and 20th century; I’m not sure if it’s still in print now but it tells a pathetic story of a mother and her child’s disobedience and how she was punished. I was surprised to read the punishment the mother chose, always believing parenting was far more strict than today. The story, although dated, has a rich moral lesson with principles as relevant for today as ever. I left the story wondering if we have learned much over the last 100 years.
My child was so sensitive, so like that little shrinking plant that curls at the breath, and shuts its heart from the light.
The only beauties she possessed were an exceedingly transparent skin and the most mournful, large blue eyes.
I had been trained by a very stern, strict, conscientious mother, but I was a hard plant, rebounding after every shock; misfortune could not daunt, though discipline tamed me. I fancied, alas! That I must go through the same routine with this delicate creature; so one day, when she had displeased me exceedingly by repeating an offense, I was determined to punish her severely. I was very serious all day, and upon sending her to her little couch I said: “Now my daughter, to punish you, and show you how very, very naughty you have been, I shall not kiss you tonight.”
She stood looking at me, astonishment personified, with her great mournful eyes wide open – I suppose she had forgotten her misconduct till then; and I left her with big tears dropping down her cheeks, and her little red lips quivering.
Presently I was sent for. “Oh, mamma! You will kiss me; I can’t go to sleep if you don’t!” she sobbed, every tone of her voice trembling, and she held out her little hands.
Now came the struggle between love and what I falsely termed my duty. My heart said to give her a kiss of peace; my stern nature urged me to persist in my correction, that I might impress the fault upon her mind. This was the way I had been trained, till I was a most submissive child; and I remembered how I had often thanked my mother since for her straightforward course.
I knelt by the bedside. “Mother can’t kiss you, Ellen,’ I whispered, though every word choked me. Her hand touched mine; it was very hot, I attributed it to her excitement. She turned her little grieving face to the wall; I blamed myself as the fragile form shook with self-suppressed sobs, saying to her: “Mother hopes little Ellen will learn to mind her after this, “ and I left the room for the night. Alas! In my desire to be severe I forgot to be forgiving.
It must have been twelve o’clock when I was awakened by my nurse. Apprehensive, I ran eagerly to the child’s chamber;
Ellen did not know me. She was sitting up, crimsoned from the forehead to the throat, her eyes so bright that I almost drew back aghast at their glances.
From that night a raging fever drank up her life; and what think you was the incessant plaint that poured into my anguished heart? “Oh, kiss me, mamma, do kiss me; I can’t go to sleep. I won’t be naughty if you’ll only kiss me! Oh! Kiss me, dear mamma; I can’t go to sleep.”
Little angel! She did go to sleep one gray morning, and she never woke again, never! Her hand was locked in mine, and all my veins grew icy with its gradual chill. Faintly the light faded out of the beautiful eyes; whiter and whiter grew the tremulous lips. She never knew me; but with her last breath she whispered: “I will be good, mamma, if you’ll only kiss me.”
Kiss her! God knows how passionate but unavailing were my kisses upon her cheek and lips after that fatal night.
God know how wild were my prayers that she might know, if but only once, that I kissed her. God knows how I would have yielded up my very life, could I have asked her forgiveness of that sweet child.