Years ago, before I had children of my own, I worked at a preschool. I taught the youngest class, the two year olds. It was also my responsibility to open the gate in the morning and watch over all the early birds until the other teachers arrived.
There was this one mom, I forgot her name, so let’s call her Pearl, for no other reason than I like the name and don’t see too many forthcoming opportunities to use it. Well, Pearl was a mess. I swear that woman was always flustered, always in a hurry, rarely fully dressed or made up and she nearly always had forgotten something. Tuition, lunchbox, her child’s shoes. She was kind of hopeless in an endearing, Doris Day sort of way.
No matter how late she was, she always, ALWAYS got down, eye to eye with her daughter, oh heck, let’s call her Ruby, and gave her about a half million kisses and hugs before she left for work. She just about drowned that little girl in love. I wouldn’t have had to see it to know it though, because even though Ruby was often shoeless, with unbrushed hair and may or may not have a lunch, she was the smiliest kid you ever saw. She was a happy, optimistic, carefree doll, the kind of kid that you knew was loved upside down and backwards.
So, you know, I liked Pearl, but she was not the Mom I thought I’d be. My kids would be well-dressed, matching, organically-fed, fully combed and at home, on my lap, reading Swiss Family Robinson, thank you very much! Remember, I was barely 20, had no kids of my own and thought that because I’d taken some Child Development classes, I knew WAY more than your average mom. But it wasn’t just that Pearl fell short of my June Cleaver vision of motherhood, it was that I thought she was nuts. Really, really nuts.
See, she would come in, like this wild wind, hair flying, things trailing behind her… SMILING and carrying on about what a beautiful sunrise it had been, “Glory to God,” and how her roses were blooming early and how “Praise Jesus” she’d only hit one red light this morning! Clearly things were falling apart around her and it was as though she didn’t even SEE it. She had more hallelujahs in her than a Southern Baptist Revival!
All the kids would be screaming and out of control, balls flying around the playroom, someone yelling at someone else, and she’d stop, dead in her tracks, survey the scene, smile and say something like, “What a blessed little slice of heaven on earth!”
I kid you not!
And she meant it too! She wasn’t saying this in the “Holy crap you’ve got your hands full, I’m not sure I want to leave my kid in this disaster zone” kind of way, she was deadly serious!
I always just kind of smiled, reminded her to zip her skirt and politely motioned toward the clock to let her know that she’d better be on her (way too) merry way. When she left, there’d always be a great deal of head-shaking from me, and any other parents that had witnessed the chaos in Pearl’s wake.
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said, “Bless her heart,” meaning, “Man, she’s messed up.”
Then, one day, I became utterly convinced that she was drinking, or at the very least taking an excessive dosage of anti-depressants.
Pearl came blustering in, as usual. This time, she was carrying on about the cloud that looked like a cross which she thought was a sign that Jesus didn’t mind that she’d woke up late and put Ruby in the car in her pajamas with the only food she could lay hands on that was portable, a Twinkie.
I looked down to see Ruby, with her pink gown, disheveled hair and white goo covered face, grinning up at her Mama. I looked back to Pearl who said, “But you know what? Praise Jesus, that baby just got so much JOY out of that Twinkie!” She handed me a plastic grocery bag containing the little girl’s clothes, lavished kisses on Ruby, and off she went, wiping the white crud off her blouse.
I stood there, completely astonished and wondering if I should call Child Protective Services.
Who feeds a kid Twinkies for breakfast?
Who “praises the Lord” for that kind of malfunction?
I don’t know how much later it was that I found out she was in the midst of a divorce, he’d left her for someone else, and that her brother, with whom she was very close, was dying of cancer.
I’d like to tell you that I came to some grand conclusions about life, but I didn’t. At least not at the time. I still thought she was two eggs shy of a full dozen.
Now and again though, I think about Pearl and wonder where she is, and if her blouse is buttoned. I think about Ruby, she must be oh, about 16 now. I wonder if she’s going to highschool in her bunny slippers.
Mostly, I think about them when things are a little out of control, when I notice that one of my kids is wearing two different flip flops in the grocery store, and I turn to see that another has snot running down his nose while his brother is squealing for me to buy him a paper towel holder that “would make a great gun.” I think of Pearl and I smile. She would have “praised Jesus” that two were snotless, “amen”ed for the one was imaginative and given a resounding “praise the Lord” that the other was a free spirit who didn’t mind at all if he didn’t match.
Now I don’t care who you are, or what you believe, I’m pretty certain that to that you could only say, “Amen, sister! ”