Back years ago when Mama was widowed, it became suddenly and shockingly clear that she wasn’t completely capable of being on her own. This was news to us because she had always stepped up and did whatever it took to look after our family. She was quite ingenious and hard working.
“Ronda,” she said one day. “I need you to call the doctor’s office and make my annual appointment.”
“Why can’t you call?” I asked.
“Because I’m afraid to. I get nervous and I’m afraid I’ll say something wrong.”
This, of course, was a complete fib. My mama never worried about saying anything wrong, which is why she said whatever she wanted to say whenever she wanted to say it.
As I recall it now and I’m sure I recall it correctly, this erupted into a fuss between us. I complained that I didn’t have time to do it while all she had was time. We both firmly stood our ground. She, as usual, outwitted me by calling my sister and getting her to do it. There was a lot of time and disagreement put into what amounted to a three-minute call, which included the time it took to look up the phone number.
Things like that kept popping up. “Can you call the insurance company?” “Could you write the check for my house taxes?” “Will you write a note to Sarah and thank her for the gift?”
“Mama, what is wrong with you? You have plenty of time to do all this. All you do is eat, sleep and read the newspaper. And go to church on Sunday.”
Finally, she told the truth and I know it was a piece of truth hard to tell. “Well, I’m just not good at doin’ these things. Your daddy always took care of everything and I never had to look after things. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
I nodded, smiling. “Okay, then I’m goin’ to teach you how to be a grown-up. It’ll benefit both of us.”
Little by little, Mama, somewhat begrudgingly, learned to do a few things on her own. One day I dropped her off at the front door of the doctor’s office for some blood work. “Go in that door, turn to the right and go to the waiting room. I’ll park and be right in.”
A few minutes later, I went bopping in, passed Mama who was already seated and headed straight to the sign in sheet. As I picked up the pen Mama called out, “I’ve already signed in.”
I’m telling you that no mama has ever trained a child out of diapers who was more proud — or more shocked — than I was. I dropped the pen. A look of happy delight spread from cheek to cheek. I clapped loudly and did a happy dance.
“Oh, Mama, I’m so proud! You’re such a big girl now!” Mama, her posture always perfectly erect, lifted her head and grinned beatifically while the rest of the elderly ladies in the waiting room looked bewildered.
Mama clasped her hands together triumphantly and said, “Thank you.” She was proud, too.
Over lunch recently, Maggie told me that when her daughter was 7, the girl’s godmother died suddenly, which gave Maggie an epiphany. “I told my daughter, ‘Okay, I’m going to teach you as much as I can as fast as I can because if I die, I want you to be able to take care of yourself.’”
She showed her where the Christmas card list was, how to wash dishes, call for appointments and to cook. By the time, she was in the fourth grade, Hailey was practically in charge of the house.
“Independence,” Maggie said, “was the most important gift I ever gave her.”
Having helped raised Mama to independence, I agree. Be it teenagers or elderly mothers, independence is a good thing for everyone.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.]