The Plaid Skirt: Lessons From a Mother

The Plaid Skirt: Lessons From a Mother

By Teresa Higginbotham

My mother told me so many things. She told me not to mix polka-dots with stripes; she told me nice girls don't give their big brothers a black eye; and she showed me sometimes you just have to keep on going even though it seems like life is against you.

When my mother was forty-two she was suddenly struck down from being a woman full of energy to someone who could barely get out of bed. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, but not the kind that just kind of hurts here and there, it was if she had the super-duper version of it. In the beginning it was very scary, because we didn't know it could affect someone so suddenly and so severely. My mother was in a lot of pain and very depressed. I stayed home from school to take care of her. Instead of being there for me as she always had been, she withdrew. She stepped out of our lives emotionally as she dealt with this demon. I saw my mother negative and grumpy, something she almost never was before the arthritis. I guess I saw my mother "the human being" for the first time and it almost broke my heart. As a parent you never want to see your child hurting and as a child I never wanted to see my mother hurting. She was in deep pain both physically and emotionally. She cried and lay in bed for two weeks. Slowly the doctors got her back on her feet, but she was never the same sprightly woman I had known growing up. She walked slowly and every step was a labor. Her hands gnarled up and she looked so different.

When she was finally able to walk across the room she told me to get dressed to go to the store. I was worried about her state of mind, but went and put my shoes on. We drove to the local department store. The time of the year was early spring. There was snow clinging to the ground, and the sky was gray, but inside the store there were short sleeve blouses and skirts of bright warm colors. It had to have been painful for my mother, but as we saw the pinks, and blues, oranges and greens, it was like we were both energized. My mother, who never bought anything for herself, started throwing things in the basket. My mouth was open when I saw her throw an orange and blue plaid skirt into the cart. It was so bright it seemed a little much, for another her eyes had a steely look to them. My mother always wore navy blue, gray, maroon--never had I seen her plaid.

"Mom, you want this?" I raised an eyebrow.

She gritted her teeth and looked at me as if she was loading a canon against the illness trying to take her down. "Yes...I want to start new.... I want to be a part of life again...I ought to show up just fine in this." We both looked at each other, tears in our eyes, oblivious to other shoppers and specials being announced over the loud speakers. She was ready to start life again.... It wouldn't be the same...but she was back, anyway.

She did get back. She gave up her job at Sears working on the phone and began selling real estate. She still had trouble walking and some days could barely grip a doorknob, but it didn't seem to slow her down. She refused to let it.

Eventually, I too became a mom. I found many battles waiting along the way, but have always fallen back on that poignant moment in my memory of the plaid skirt. When my second son, Andrew, was born with Down syndrome, I too was thrown off my feet for a few months. Then I realized that like my mother, life was going to be whatever I made of it. I could hide out and hope no one noticed my child was different or I could get back into life. I could look at him for what he couldn't do or I could look at him for what he could do.

Sometimes you just have to go about life in a proud, plaid way. My mother never told me that--like all good teachers--she showed me.

About the Author:

Teresa Higginbotham lives in Texas with her husband and three children. She writes "Tightwad Tess" articles about frugal living, homemaking, and parenting and family humor. Visit her at her website Tightwad Tess.

Article copyright 2000 by Teresa Higginbotham


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