Mother had rules to live by and she was very diligent in keeping them. One of the most important rules was: if you, as the mother, came down with the flu or any other illness, you were allowed only one and a half days in bed. The first day and night you were to sleep as much as possible. The second day was to be spent in bed until about mid afternoon. Then, the rule was, get up, get a shower, get dressed and be ready to go out to dinner the minute your husband walked through the door. The theory was, follow those direction and you would be completely recovered by the next morning.
There was no way on God’s green earth that Jackie was going to miss Thursday night date night. If she was deathly ill on Wednesday, she was somehow recovered enough by Thursday. Thursday night date night was not to be missed under any circumstances.
It didn’t matter how long it took to drag herself out of bed, how sick she was, how severe her migraine, she was going out to dinner and nothing short of death would keep her from it. Mother firmly believed that was the true road to recovery.
I’ll never forget a particular phone conversation I had with my mother one day many years ago. I wasn’t feeling well and had three small children at the time. It went something like this:
“Mary Ann, what’s wrong? You don’t sound well.”
“I’m not well. I’m sick as a dog.”
“Well, what do you have? “
“I don’t know. I guess it’s just the flu or something. I ache all over and I’m nauseous. I just want to sleep.”
“How long has it been? When did you come down with it?”
“Oh, yesterday morning. I woke up feeling horrible.”
“Have you been in bed this whole time?”
The little calculator was going in her brain. “Is Patrick taking you out to dinner tonight? It’ll make you feel better you know. Get up and get a shower. Put on something nice and have a glass of wine and then go have a really good meal. That’s all you need. Really, I’m serious. Get a sitter and go out tonight. That’s what you have to do – okay?”
“Okay, Mom. I’ll do it.”
“All right. Call me and let me know how you are tomorrow.”
I got up and showered and put on something nice, arranged for a sitter and waited for Patrick to walk through the front door. Never mind that just a few hours earlier I’d been laying in bed concentrating on keeping the contents of my stomach in my stomach. Never mind that I was pale and drawn and feverish. I was following the rules I’d been raised to believe and had managed, somehow, to get all dressed up to go out to dinner.
Wasn’t I still sick? he asked when he walked through the door only to find me sipping a glass of wine? Oh, yes, I felt awful. Was I sure this was a good idea? Well, all I could say was it worked for Mother her whole life, so it was sure to work for me.
One time a girl friend asked me, “Why do you think you only get one and a half days to be sick? Who ever heard of such a thing? I mean if you’re sick, you’re sick. You can’t put a time limit on it.”
“Says who?” I asked. “Don’t you know putting a time limit on it is the only way to get well? You can’t stay in bed forever you know. Just ask my mother.”
Never have I allowed myself more than a day and a half in bed to sleep off the aches and pains of the common cold and flu. It was a Jackie rule I lived by and crazy as it may seem, it taught me a lot.
One of the most important things I learned is the power of the mind over the body. I would tell my sick and ailing physical self that it had exactly thirty two hours to snap out of it and then the gig was up. In most cases it worked, and if it didn’t I simply pretended that it did. I believe it made me strong both physically and mentally.
Another Jackie rule was not to take one’s self too seriously. Mother believed in going with the flow and not rocking the boat unless it was really necessary. She used to have little talks with me, especially in my all too serious high school years, and she would basically tell me to lighten up. She believed life was one blunder after another and the trick was in knowing what to make into a mountain and what to leave as a mole hill. Nearly everything should be viewed as a mole hill in Jackie’s rules. If you spent time, she explained, feeling bad about every coulda, woulda, shoulda in this life, happiness would always be a desperate grasp away. She admitted to being a chronic worrier and she warned me not to be.
“Don’t be like me,” Mother would say. “Don’t worry about everything the way I do. It doesn’t do me any good.”
Worry seems to be attached to motherhood though. When my first born was an infant, I worried myself sick. She had colic and as everyone knows, colicky babies never stop crying, fussing, and cramping. There was no relief for either one of us and it broke my heart and wore me out. That was the beginning of what has become thirty two years worth of worry.
It didn’t get any easier as the family grew. As a matter of fact, one day, during the late teenage years of my three kids, I got down on my knees in a moment of exasperation and prayed, “Lord, I give you back these kids. I don’t know why you thought I could handle them and be a good mother, but I can’t, and I’m not, and I quit.”
Somehow, only through the grace of God I’m sure, the kids and I survived each other. I grabbed on to every opportunity to get sick so I could recover by having a glass of wine and going out to dinner, and I learned the big mistake in making a mountain out of a mole hill. And I have to say, listening to Mother has paid off. Jackie’s rules have served me well.