by Terri Winder
It was almost exactly one year ago when it all began. It was one of those ordinary everyday moments, but with one comment everything changed, and now the moment is burned into my memory forever.
My daughter-in-law and I were walking into a department store in downtown Salt Lake City when we saw a large display of Cabbage Patch Dolls.
“I bought Cabbage Patch dolls for all of our kids the very first Christmas they came out,” I commented, nostalgia welling up inside me, “Since half of our kids were adopted, I wanted them to have dolls they could adopt.”
“I know,” she replied, “I heard how you ripped the head off of Matthew’s. doll”
I stopped mid-stride, totally stunned by her comment. “I did what?”
“Marshall told me how he and Matthew were fighting in the front room and Matt knocked a shelf off the wall and broke some porcelain doves. So, to show him how you felt about your things being broken, you picked up his Cabbage Patch doll and ripped its head off.”
Even with all the evidence stacked neatly against me, I could hardly believe her. The way I remembered it I loved my boys, and I loved the Cabbage Patch dolls, too.
How could I have done something as horrendous as she had just described? And all because of my porcelain peace doves. How ironic. I shook my head in dismay.
The next morning I asked Matthew point blank if the story I had been told was true. He not only confirmed it, he added a few more details.
He laughed as he talked about it, as though it were a Law of Moses thing – a possession for a possession — but his apparent forgiveness troubled me even more.
“What happened next,” I asked him, “did I sew the head back on?” He couldn’t remember, but his voice was wistful as he talked about his boy doll named Myron.
For the second time in less than 24 hours, I was defenseless and speechless.
As soon as I could, I cornered Marshall. “Do you remember your Cabbage Patch doll?” I asked tentatively, half-way afraid he’d tell me another horror story.
“Yeah,” he replied, “but it wasn’t my favorite toy. What I remember was my teddy bear. I wore it out sleeping with it every night…”
As he talked, a plan began to form in my mind, but first I needed to talk to my other children.
Over the next week, I found opportune moments to ask questions like this, “Brad, what do you remember as being my worst moment as a mother?”
Without hesitation, he answered, “The biscuits.”
“What biscuits?” I prompted, steeling myself. I had no negative memories connected to biscuits.
“The biscuits Matthew and Marshall and Joshua and I made. There wasn’t enough baking powder for the recipe and so we used baking soda. The biscuits turned out really nasty, but you made us eat them anyway. We put grape jelly on them so we could choke them down, and the jelly turned them green, but you made us eat them anyway.”
“Because?” I asked faintly, already suspecting the answer.
“Because you wanted to teach us the importance of following a recipe and you didn’t want us to waste food.”
I had already guessed as much, but that only troubled me more. This was obviously a bitter lesson. Remembering the “In the mouths of two or more witnesses” rule, I ran Brad’s story past Joshua.
“Oh, no,” he said, laughing. “That’s not right.”
I started to breathe a sigh of relief. It was short lived.
“We used baby powder along with baking soda; that way we got in both the ‘baking’ and the ‘powder’. And the biscuits were green even before we put the grape jelly on them.”
Aghast, I blurted out, “And I made you eat them?”
“Oh, I thought they were good,” he shrugged. “Didn’t bother me none.”
Gradually I built up a list and within weeks, I put my plan into action. I found a Cabbage Patch Doll as close to Myron as I could and mailed it to Matthew. Marshall got a teddy bear. Brad got a can of baking powder, with “monetary compensation” taped to the top. Some of the kids, I didn’t have to ask. I knew Joshua was upset we had sold his pickup to help finance his church mission, rather than let it sit at the curb for two years. He got a toy pickup loaded with “logs”- the kind that would burn a hole in his pocket.
Over the ensuing months, I continued my Reparation Act. When I told my oldest daughter, DaNae, that I was taking her shopping for a new dress she asked why.
I reminded her of the time I had come to help her with her first baby and I had done her laundry. She had a dress in the hamper that was dry clean only. I hadn’t looked at the tag before washing it – and I ruined it.
“You don’t have to replace that, Mom,” she insisted.
“Yes, I do,” I told her. “It’s not the dress by itself that I’m worried about; it’s what it represents, all the mistakes I made as a mother. I want to make restitution, if only with a token gift.”
DaNae’s husband understood, but he gently suggested, “When we’re teenagers we tend to find fault with our parents. I think adulthood – or true maturity – comes, no matter what our physical age, when we’re able to forgive our parents their faults and realize they’re just doing the best they can for the children they love.”
I looked at him gratefully. When DaNae and I went shopping, our husbands came along. We had a wonderful time together; but as we placed our purchases on the counter, DaNae wouldn’t let me pay for her outfit. “You told me you’d buy me a dress,” she reminded me, “and this is a skirt and a blouse. We’ll have to come shopping again, another day.”
At that moment I recognized that her gift wasn’t a dress, it was time she wanted. Time with her mother. What a wonderful realization.
Ironically, Nathan is the only grown child that I did not get to apologize to. I kept pondering what I could do for him and no inspired thought ever came.
Then, as I was looking through family pictures to use for his funeral, I found what it was I should have known earlier. It was a group picture and he was holding his dog, Arnie. He had brought the dog home against my express wishes, and I hadn’t let him keep it. I had been more concerned about neighbors and their opinions about barking dogs than I had Nathan. I should have let him keep the dog.
I dropped to my knees and asked God to please let Nathan know I was sorry for all the mistakes I had made as a mother. And also, if it wasn’t too much to ask, could Nathan have a dog in heaven?
Shortly after that, our beagle, our most favorite dog of all time, disappeared without a trace. I like to think he was translated. His master, Robert, is very sad; but perhaps it had to be this way, so I would know my prayer had been answered.
Besides, Robert is going on a mission in about nine months, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to leave his dog parked in the yard for two years.
Anyway, your time is coming, Robert. I’m already planning your apology.