Getting Arrested, Yardsticks, and Waiting for a “Yes”
by Michelle Jester
The “mom thing” – I do my best and I learn as I go. I pray (a lot) for God to change and mold me into the mother I need to be for my children, because it’s a job that is ever changing.
Every Mother’s Day, I thank my kids for making it easy-because they have. The older I get, the more I realize it’s the toughest job I’ll ever undergo. I’ve had to analyze intentions, watch trends, set budgets, be lenient, be tough, embrace emotion, reject emotion, and learn more…all about myself as a person and a mother. I claim repeatedly through the years that I’ve grown more than they have. I learn when to let go and when to hold tight; and I learn that one concept over and over and over again, because that still changes daily.
There is a story I’ve told through the years about my mother, and I always preface it with:
One day, when I was too young to remember, the story goes: my mother was arrested. Earlier that day, she called around to all of her friends in search of a yardstick and someone who could sit with us three girls for the afternoon. Even earlier that day, my sister’s school had my mother come pick up my sister prematurely. The story continues: “The moment she saw my sister in the principal’s office, she’d already planned the rest of the day in her mind.” See, when we were young, schools could paddle children if the parent allowed it. My mother was abused by her father and therefore did not allow anyone to physically punish us. Except for her. You’ve probably already figured out the reason my mother was arrested, but I’ll finish the story anyway. Even though the teacher knew she could not physically punish my sister, she spanked my sister with a yardstick, leaving horrible whelps down her back and legs. So, my mother took a yardstick, went to the school, to the teacher’s classroom, and beat HER with it.
Like I said, as awful as my mother’s reaction sounds, I LOVE that story. My mother was tough. She was raised tough. She was a strong, country woman living in upscale South Baton Rouge. Beating the teacher wasn’t the best solution (or the legal one) but that was the only way she knew how to be a good mother and protector.
When I’ve joked through the years that mothers are lionesses, that is one of the stories (there are a few) about my mom that I think of. I attribute a lot of my grit and my protectiveness over my children to her.
My mother wasn’t very “lovey” or affectionate when we were young. She didn’t say “I love you” or dote on how proud she was of us. That just wasn’t her personality; it was my dad’s. She did, however, pride herself on ensuring we had three meals a day. Always clean and healthy. Dressed nice: jewelry, clothes, shoes, and purses…the works. She showed love by providing and protecting in her own way. In her later years, she became more affectionate and did dote on how proud she was of us. She changed.
Change is hard, but it can also be good.
Young parents say that I must be happy that our children are grown. I am, but I also know that the hardest part of mothering for me is now. We’ve given them everything we felt they needed to find their way in life. Now it’s up to them to live it. They won’t live it the way we want them to…and that’s good. It’s also terrifying. Of course we’ll help them by being there. When they ask for advice we’ll give it. Sometimes, when they don’t ask, we’ll give it. We’ll be there to hold their head off the concrete when we can and we’ll step back and let them live.
When Jaymes-Irish started kindergarten, Alexis had just been born by c-section and I had to let J.I. catch the bus. I was already emotional because I always thought of that day as me driving him to school, going into his class with him, meeting his teacher and leaving when he was settled just as I had done in pre-k. However, I couldn’t drive and I had a newborn. So he caught the bus. I was, for the first time since Alexis was born, alone with her. I started crying. Watching my son get on that bus was tough. Compiled with hormones, it was dreadful. Then, Alexis started crying. Nothing I did was enough, which only made me cry more. When my mother-in-law called to check on me it only took a moment for her to ask if I needed her. I said “no”, we’d be okay. After the third day I barely squeaked out a “yes” on the phone before she replied “I’m on my way.”
Forward eighteen years to the first time Alexis called me on a weekend from her first apartment in New Orleans needing to go to the doctor, I went straight to her. When I saw how high her fever was, I took her to the emergency room. A year later, Alexis called from an emergency room to let me know she had a severe kidney infection and was being admitted to the hospital. I immediately told her I was on my way. She rebutted with a “No, mom I’m okay, it is no big deal and Abbye (her best friend/roommate) is going to stay with me.” I said, “Alexis, I am going there. Period.”
Get ready for the heartbreak…
She replied “Mother, I’m an adult. I’m okay. I don’t want you to come down here. I mean it. I can handle this. I love you.” I called my mother-in-law crying and she said, “All you can do is call, check on her, ask if she wants you there and although it’s tough, don’t go unless she says ‘yes.’”
For three days I stayed dressed, called, asked, however she never said “yes.” I cried each day, prayed, but I let my daughter claim her independence….and I thought of my mother-in-law. I’ve often wondered, since then, if she was dressed and ready to come each day after Alexis was born.
I am asking God repeatedly, “What do I do?” and “How do I handle this?” Then, I try to listen. In being a parent I realize I’m also the child. I have a Father that I rely on to help me. To guide me.
And I’ll rely on my husband. He does better at the “adult children thing” than I do. I realize now, I know a lot less than I ever thought I did when the kids were young.
And together Larry and I will pray.
And we’ll ask my in-laws for advice.
And we’ll do the best we can.
When our children have children one day, I hope they will be protective like my mother was of us. I also hope they will be half as good to them as my mother-in-law is to me and to remind them that they want their kids to be independent, just like my mother-in-law reminds me.
I would recommend them not get arrested though, but I do know they will always be waiting for a “Yes.”
And I also know God will guide them.