The Very Strict Mother

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Discover how one teacher learned to look beyond the
obvious.

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I glared at Linda and for the first time really noticed the
wrinkled dress that was too short and the long brown hair that
needed washing.

Seven-year-old Linda fought and scratched and bit and clawed to
sit next to me. I don’t believe I ever finished a sentence the
entire year. Linda interrupted continually to keep the attention
centered on herself.

“My mother would like your name and address. She’s very careful
who I talk to.”
I wrote out my name and address for the very fussy mother. “Would
she like my phone number, too?” I joked.

Linda withered me with a glance. “Of course! She is very
pa-tic-u-lar about me.”

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I tried to get through to my class with Linda butting in with
irrelevant questions, remarks, or else leaning against me and
trying to hold my hand.

At least she has the right kind of mother, I thought wearily.

The next Sunday Linda actually climbed on the table and crossed it
with wet shoes so she could sit next to me. “My mother likes you,”
she announced. I was properly flattered. “My mother never allows me
out later than 7 o’clock at night. There’s so much I’m not allowed
to do.” She sighed contentedly.

Good for that Mom, I thought. I tried using flannelgraph, but
Linda kept jumping up to adjust the figures she felt I
misplaced.

And Linda interrupted. “My mother is so-o-o strict! She doesn’t
let me play with just anybody. She always wants to meet them.”

“Um-hmmm, now about Samuel, let me finish (or was it Saul?), um, I
think I was telling you how Samuel didn’t correct his sons when
they were growing up, and so…”

“My mother corrects me. Let me tell you!”

I resented the very strict mother who wouldn’t let me finish a
sentence or get a point across.

“My mother only lets me watch nice TV programs.”

“Why don’t we make get-well cards today for the sick folk in the
church?” I interrupted.

“My mother would want to know their names.”

Now, this was too much! “I don’t know the names yet, because you
see, we are downstairs in the church, and the ones who are sick
aren’t upstairs, but I’m not up there to see who isn’t
there…”

I glared at Linda and for the first time really noticed the
wrinkled dress that was too short and the long brown hair that
needed washing.

“My mother approves of me being in God’s house,” she said sweetly.
“She is very strict about things like that.”

Suddenly I had an overwhelming urge to meet this very strict
mother. That week was too busy for a call, and the next Sunday
Linda was absent. I spoke to the driver of her church bus. “Can you
tell me where Linda lives? I’d like to meet her mother.”

He looked at me the way you look at people who aren’t too
bright.

“Linda won’t be back. Moved out of town.”

“Well, at least she has a strict mother to watch out for her. I’m
sure her mother will see she attends church.”

“Linda doesn’t have a mother,” he said abruptly. “She’s been in
one foster home after another. They all neglected her. She’s never
known her mother.”

Linda…not have a mother! But she told me over and over again
what her mother was like.
Or was she telling me what a mother should be?

Strict, very strict. Saying “no,” setting guidelines, making
rules, finding out who friends are, establishing a curfew,
insisting on church attendance.

I thought about it for months.

About two years later, Linda was back. She ran up to me one
Sunday, happy and well-groomed, bubbling over with talk about her
family life, school, and friends. She didn’t mention her “very
strict” mother anymore, but somehow I knew she’d found the mother
of her dreams.

Lois Dick is an experienced teacher and author in Newton, New
Jersey.

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