84: That Stolen Day

84: That Stolen Day

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

That Stolen Day

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

~Maya Angelou

My mother was on a first-name basis with the school faculty within a month of me starting kindergarten. I am convinced she must have set a Guinness World Record for the number of parent-teacher conferences held in a single school year.

It started when she let her six-year-old pick out her own wardrobe. Three days in a row, I went to school proudly dressed like the 1980’s gold-medal gymnast Mary Lou Retton. Wearing pink leotards under a maroon one-piece swimsuit and leg warmers, I was the epitome of coolness. In my mind at least.

The school, however, was not impressed and sent a polite note home stating that I should wear something a bit more appropriate for school. They were right, my mother reasoned. So, we stepped up our fashion game and I dressed like Cyndi Lauper for two consecutive days before a parent-teacher conference was called. It would be the first of many.

I wasn’t necessarily a precocious child, but my mother was a very strong-willed lady and a notorious procrastinator, and I often got in trouble because of it. Things like late permission slips and missing lunch money, or her advice — “It really is okay not to sleep at naptime. Your teachers won’t mind.” — plagued me. There was always something, and often my mother was the underlying cause.

So when she randomly showed up on a warm fall day in first grade announcing a family emergency, my teachers thought nothing of it. I grabbed my Smurfs lunchbox and raced after her. The hallways were a sea of autumnal color, covered in art made by young and clumsy hands. Orange paper plates transformed into crooked jack-o-lanterns and a dozen variations of black cats cut from inky construction paper hissed at passers-by. To this day, fall and all the colors that accompany it trigger warm memories of my mother.

I kept whispering, “What’s wrong?” but she just kept walking and she wouldn’t answer me. As we reached her little white and blue– pinstriped Ford Ranger (which she had already wrecked twice), I was shaking with fear. As a frequent visitor to the ER at a young age, I was well aware that the word “emergency” meant something bad and painful that usually involved needles and shots.

As we closed the doors of her truck, she grabbed my hand and said, “The emergency is that I missed my daughter.” And then she told me that we were going to the lake, one of our favorite mother-daughter activities. I opened my mouth to cheer but before I got one gleeful screech out, she slapped my thigh, hard!

I was shocked and I started bawling. We rounded the corner of my school and drove past a row of windows filled with the curious faces of my classmates, noses pressed up against the glass. What they saw was my face contorted with sobs, howling just one word to my mother: “Why?” I’m quite sure they thought, “Wow. That must be some kind of emergency.”

Once we were safely out of sight, my mother pulled over and hugged me tight, apologizing for what she’d done. She said, “I’m sorry I slapped you, but if we came around that corner and all of your classmates and your teacher saw you cheering and clapping they would have known.”

That stolen day at the lake remains one of the best days of my life. After I stopped crying, we got happy meals at McDonald’s. We fed Cheetos to the squirrels. We splashed and played in the blue-green lake water, still warm enough in the Texas fall to swim in. We flew a kite and got it stuck in a tree. And we laughed until our cheeks hurt.

I didn’t ask the burning question on my mind. Was it really okay to skip school and play hooky with my mother at the lake? Wasn’t that breaking the rules?

Yes, of course it was — but my mother knew that sometimes rules needed to be bent. Even broken.

They say a mother’s intuition is one of the most powerful forces in the world, and I am convinced that’s true. My mother died that November, a little over a month after our trip to the lake, after a terrible accident resulted in septic shock.

My mother knew something that no one else did that day when she took me to the lake. Somehow, deep in her soul, she knew that her time with me was short. And she was willing to bend a few rules to get one more laugh with me, to get one more hug… to get one more day at the lake.

A month after my mother died, I remember sitting under the Christmas tree, horribly sad that we wouldn’t be able to exchange gifts anymore. But even in death, my mother came to the rescue. Normally, she waited until the last minute for everything. Except that year. She had secretly bought our presents in October and although she was gone — her love and her lessons weren’t.

Those lessons live on in my heart to this day. Trust your heart. Your instinct is smarter than you give it credit for. Find something every day that makes you laugh until your cheeks hurt. Don’t be so afraid of what everyone else thinks. If you want to dress like Mary Lou Retton, by all means girl — go for it!

~Kristi Adams

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