The Yardstick

My mom used to sew when I was little.

I remember her sewing machine, its color, the smell, the sound. I tried a couple of times and can’t say my efforts were a complete failure, but I much preferred sewing small things by hand: scrunchies (it was, after all, the ’80s), maybe a doll dress here and there — but I’d always sew on my parents’ bed, and I had a bad habit of leaving needles and pins behind when I’d tidy up. My dad always “found” them (sorry, dad).

I have a few of her leftover yardsticks here at the house. The cats think one in particular is their personal toy. Who am I to argue? They chew on it, attack it when it’s perfectly still — it’s good, old-fashioned, low-tech entertainment.

Tonight I was looking at it and noticed a mess of doodles I’d tattooed on its surface decades ago; I had a thing for hearts, daisies and goofy smiley faces. The same shapes also managed to end up on Trapper Keepers, JanSport backpacks and Bibles (apologies are now in order for God).

Looking at the yardstick, the thought that came to mind was this: “I’m surprised my mom wasn’t upset I drew on it.”

I didn’t think this because she was prone to anger — no, quite the opposite. She was slow to anger. She was patient. In my mind, she was a true parent.

I also didn’t think this because it’s something I would’ve been upset over. I simply thought it because it was one person’s possession — and aren’t most people protective of things?

The yardstick wouldn’t perform any less with its new markings. It wouldn’t be rendered useless, less than or less valuable. It could still do its job. It was still worthy.

The yardstick made me realize that the measure of a parent isn’t how their children behave and whether they stay within the lines — it’s also about the parents’ reactions to things big and small. In this case the yardstick was a measurement of my mother’s patience, her fuse, her priorities and her knowledge of what’s really important. She was protective of people instead of things, and for that I am thankful. Forever thankful.

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