Thursday, June 29, 2017

Who You Callin’ “Cute”?

A friend of mine just called my 92-year-old mother “cute.”  And it cracked me up. Why? Because no one – and I mean, NO ONE – would ever have called my mother “cute” back in the day.

She was a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners, in-charge kinda woman. And you didn’t mess with her. Especially if she had had it – up to here – with one or more of her four children who preferred building forts and riding bikes over making beds and doing chores.

My mother’s rules were not to be broken unless we wanted to suffer the consequences. We knew the term “suffer the consequences” at a really young age, too.

Truth be told, I was a little afraid of that 5’2” dynamo – even though I towered over her by the age of twelve.

Most of the time I was a good kid, probably because I didn’t like suffering consequences.

My mom was an RN who worked at various nursing homes back in Alliance in the 70s and 80s. I worked with her as an aide my senior year of high school – and I saw a completely different side of her at Bel Air Nursing home.

My mom was honest and ethical and cared deeply about doing the right thing. She never called off sick from work and if anyone on staff did, my mother would ask them specific questions about their illness until they either agreed to come in – or found someone to take their place that day. They probably figured it was simply easier to come in and work with the sniffles than to deal with my mother.

But I saw that the other employees treated her with the utmost respect. They listened to her and followed her orders. And they didn’t talk back.  Maybe – like her children – they grumbled a bit behind her back, but she was the sort of person you didn’t talk back to.

Now, this was back in the day when both nurses and aides had to wear white. White uniforms. White pantyhose. White shoes. And the only way to tell nurses and aides apart was that nurses wore those white nurse hats. Aides, on the other hand, didn’t. Thankfully.

I was mortified enough by the white pantyhose and shoes.  

So while I wore the uniform to work every day, I was also a teenager who wanted to express her individuality and creativity – so I wore brightly-colored jewelry to work. That was the year that silk flower jewelry was popular and I had made myself some necklaces and earrings. I can still remember them – they were bright pink and white flowers on a white cord. And cute little flower post earrings.

So I sashayed into work one day wearing my bright pink silk flower necklace and matching earrings and thought I was rockin’ my outfit. Even with the white pantyhose and shoes.

My mother took one look at me and gave me her patented “Anne Marie” stare and told me to take that jewelry off immediately!

But to her dismay, HER boss – Queenie Burroughs – was there. I can still picture Queenie to this day – she was a large, black woman who could either strike fear in your heart if you messed up – or envelope you in a bear hug if she was happy with you.

Queenie thought I was a “doll-baby” – and gave me lots of hugs.

And she overturned my mother’s command to take off that silk floral jewelry. Queenie told my mom that I was a little ray of sunshine and the residents just loved me – and they would surely love seeing that bright jewelry for a change.

Mentally, I was gleefully thrusting my fist in the air and shouting, “YESSS!” But, in reality, I was quietly taking in the exchange with absolutely no expression on my face. I didn’t want my mother to see the victory that surely would have been etched all over it.

And, truthfully, I was wondering if I was going to suffer any consequences later from my mother getting rebuked in front of me over something she thought I had done wrong.

But, interestingly, my mother never mentioned my jewelry again. But neither did she ever call me her little ray of sunshine. Well, maybe she did behind my back. And if she did, it was probably said sarcastically.

But probably not. My mother was the what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of woman. She wasn’t sarcastic. And she rarely did or said things behind anyone’s back.

That was that ethical, honest thing about her.

Nevertheless, for the rest of the year I worked at Bel Air Nursing home, I proceeded to wear bright jewelry to work along with all the white. And the residents DID seem to like it – they smiled when they saw me and commented about it frequently.

I’m sure I didn’t come across as professional, but then I was a seventeen-year-old girl who had absolutely no intention of going into the medical field as a career.

I couldn’t see myself in white pantyhose and shoes for the rest of my life.

And at that point, I didn’t care about looking professional; I only cared about doing a good job in taking care of the residents at the nursing home.

So it was a learning experience for me. I matured a bit. I learned a lot. And I found a new respect for my mother who was more than just my mom – she was a professional woman in charge of a whole lot of people at that nursing home – residents and employees alike. (Well, except for Queenie.)

But never once would I EVER have thought of my mother as “cute”!

Time changes things. And now that she’s a 92-year-old in a memory care unit, maybe she IS cute. Hmmm. Wonder if mom would wear a silk flower necklace if I were to make her one?

Probably. She likes brightly colored jewelry these days. But I think I’ll let things be and she can continue wearing the more dignified sterling silver chain she never takes off.

And I’ll also refrain from calling her either “cute” or my “little ray of sunshine.”

You just never know – there could be consequences to suffer.

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