Somebody to Turn the Rope

Somebody to Turn the Rope

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

Somebody to Turn the Rope

Kids spell love T-I-M-E.
~John Crudele

Growing up with seven brothers and sisters, there was always someone to play with. Sometimes though, when my older brothers were scattered throughout the neighborhood with their friends, there weren’t quite enough kids at home to play some of our favorite games. Many times one of my sisters or I would run into the house calling, “Mama, Mama, we need somebody to turn the rope.” Mama would put down her broom or turn off her iron and come outside for a game of jump rope.

One evening, my younger sister and I went to Mama, our faces forlorn and our eyes pleading. My sister held our worn jump rope in her hands. I coaxed her to make the plea because she was younger, cuter and harder to ignore.

“Mama, we can’t play jump rope by ourselves. It takes two people to turn the rope, and at least one jumper.” She gave Mama her most beguiling smile. “Will you play with us, Mama? You can jump, can’t you?”

Mama leaned on her mop and gave me a knowing grin. She was on to my ploy. I managed a weak smile and ducked my head guiltily.

“Of course I can jump,” Mama said, putting the mop back in the bucket. After that, Mama frequently joined in when we played jump rope. To my chagrin, she was a better jumper than I was.

Games were always more fun when Mama played with us. Neighbors would shake their heads and smile when they saw Mama playing hopscotch, jump rope, leapfrog or softball with us. She was a small woman, so from a distance she looked like just another kid. She always seemed to have as much fun as we did.

Once a neighbor questioned Mama’s willingness to drop whatever she was doing and play with us. Mama smiled and said, “I was an only child and I was very shy. I seldom had playmates. I guess I’m making up for what I missed when I was growing up.” She looked around at her bevy of kids who were hanging onto her words. “I can’t imagine why anybody would rather shine their floors than play with their kids. My house will always need cleaning, but someday all of these kids will be gone.”

We were the only kids in the neighborhood who had a mother who came outside to play with us. She joined in our games with as much enthusiasm as we did. When we divided into teams to play ball, we always had to pick a number to decide which side got Mama. Mama would smile as we fought for her since she always got chosen last when she was a girl. I am so grateful that I grew up with a mother who put our childish wishes ahead of her many chores. In her wisdom, she knew that having fun was more important than having a perfectly clean house.

I can honestly say, when looking back, that I can’t recall if our kitchen floor was clean or whether there were crumbs in the corners. I don’t remember whether our bathroom fixtures gleamed or whether there was a faint ring around the tub. I don’t know if our clothes were always starched and ironed or whether we wore them wrinkled to school. But I do recall very vividly how Mama looked as she jumped rope, her ponytail bouncing up and down. I can hear her voice chanting, “Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, all dressed in black, black, black; with silver buttons all down her back, back, back,” as she smiled happily. She gave us such wonderful memories that we still talk about them today as middle-aged adults.

Mama is growing old now. Her steps are slow and halting. Her memory is fading. Her shoulders are bent. But when I look into her warm blue eyes, I still see the young mother who thought that happy children were more important than a spotless house.

~Elizabeth Atwater

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