15: One Day We’ll Laugh About This

15: One Day We’ll Laugh About This

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

One Day We’ll Laugh About This

In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.

~Tom Bodett

After attending Catholic school through seventh grade, I was introduced to a whole new world when we moved and I started attending a public school. There I discovered that men could be teachers and some folks unabashedly ate meat on Fridays! These revelations and others provided a bit of culture shock, but one discovery made this thirteen-year-old girl’s heart gleeful. Having a wardrobe comprised of more than plaid skirts, white blouses, and navy blue knee socks was cool. Very cool.

This lack of a dress code tested my mom’s seemingly uncomplicated child-rearing philosophy. She believed that unless one of her six children’s requests would result in physically or morally threatening consequences, she would grant permission. I know this makes her sound pretty hip, but she was Irish Catholic, so the “morally threatening” component covered a lot of territory, including dressing immodestly.

After deeming my fashion choices no threat to my immortal soul, Mom gave the green light, and I relished all the colorful, fashionable choices I had. That is, until I purchased a teensy red halter top and a pair of very tight pants.

I knew this ensemble would take my mother to her knees (literally), so upon modeling it for her, I wasn’t surprised when she stated calmly, “We’ll talk about it later.” I knew she would make a prayerful decision about allowing me to wear it, and she would get back to me when she’d received her answer.

Within a couple of days, Mom informed me that I could wear the outfit, but only around the house or to a friend’s house. It was not to be worn in mixed company and most definitely not out in public. As long as my girlfriends could see how “with it” I was, I was satisfied.

The opportunity to strut my stuff came that Saturday when Caroline, the most popular girl in eighth grade, invited me and five other girls to hang out at her house. The squeals of approval upon my arrival did not disappoint, and we settled in to gossip and giggle. All was right with the world until one of the girls suggested we walk into town. I knew that “walking into town” meant walking past the homes of several cute boys and then hanging out in the park by the busiest intersection in town. I also knew that explaining I couldn’t walk into town would be social suicide, so I chimed in, “Great idea!”

All too soon, my companions and I arrived in town, and they took their places on the park bench, leaving me standing there in that skimpy halter with my navel peeking out for the world to see. As if on cue, Mrs. Behner, our next-door neighbor, emerged from a store and waved at me before getting into her car. I had no doubt she would immediately report me to my mother.

I told Caroline I wasn’t feeling well and we silently trudged back to her house. When her mother dropped me off at home, who did I see through the kitchen window but my mother and Mrs. Behner! I hoisted up my pants, hoping to cover the offending navel, offered a prayer to my guardian angel, and walked in.

“Did you have a good time?” my mom asked. I checked the women’s faces for any sign of conspiratorial alliance. Nothing.

“It was okay,” I said, and my mother and Mrs. Behner returned to their cribbage game, leaving me confounded but relieved. I silently thanked my guardian angel and prayed my luck would hold.

Caroline held no grudge for the ruined visit to town, and the following week at school, she accepted an invitation for an overnight on Friday. Mom agreeing to an overnight on Friday should have been a red flag, but I chalked it up to her being pleased that I was settling into my new school and making friends.

“In here!” Mom called from the kitchen as Caroline and I bounded into the house after school that Friday. “I’m making you girls root-beer floats.”

My mom was indeed making root-beer floats. She was making root-beer floats dressed in a denim miniskirt, an off-the-shoulder peasant blouse, a psychedelic headband, and round, tinted granny glasses. I was aghast. Moms were supposed to look like moms!

“What are you doing?” I stammered. “What are you wearing? Where did you get that?” Caroline slurped her root-beer float, riveted by my outburst and the peculiar spectacle of my mother.

“Do you like it?” she asked. “Just a little something I picked up a couple of days after you visited Caroline.”

“I don’t know what to say, Caroline. I’m so embarrassed.” I hoped my eyes conveyed the serious need to keep this incident between the two of us. “My mom doesn’t dress like that, I swear! I don’t know why she’s dressed like that!” But, of course, I knew exactly why she was dressed like that. Message received loud and clear.

Caroline shrugged and said, “She seems nice. Sometimes moms are weird.”

Decades later, dementia robbed my mom of her independence, most of her memories, but never her faith or easy laughter. Searching for photographs and trinkets from years gone by in hopes of making a connection, I found those tinted granny glasses at the bottom of the grandkids’ dress-up box. I slipped them on, peered over my nose and asked, “Remember these, Mom? How do I look?”

She smiled softly, and I took her hands in my own. “I remember, Mom,” I said, caressing her paper-thin skin gently with my thumbs. “I remember it all, and I am grateful.”

~Maureen Hart

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