It was supposed to be fun. It was supposed get me away from watching TV all day long. It was supposed to bring out the creative side in me and it was supposed to be an activity we could do together. Mom made her intentions loud and clear as we headed to the local TG&Y store in June of 1976 to pick out my soon-to-be first summertime project, the Jiffy Stitchery Kit.
Being the full-fledged Mommy’s girl that I was, I knew that mimicking Mom’s talent for sewing would give me the warm and fuzzies that came with sitting beside her and seeing her happy. Yay! This is going to be so much fun and I get to do it with Mommy.
It wasn’t long before the grueling process of picking out just the right kit began to take a toll on our nerves. Every kit I picked out was either too hard for my age or not within the budget. Exasperated, Mom reached for the last package at the back of the rack. Her exasperation turned into excitement as she saw the picture on the package cover.
“Look at this one. It’s so cute. And the little girl on it has freckles and hair just like you.”
I fed off of Mom’s enthusiasm and honed in on the front cover. I became giddy examining the details of the little brown dog, the yellow flowers, and the little girl who looked like me. There was just one thing that bothered me. All those words right next to the girl:
“Please be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet…”
I could read a little, but I didn’t know what it all meant. Mom could tell I was I confused, not really vibing with that big long sentence I would eventually have to stitch.
“Don’t worry about that, she assured me. “ I’ll help you with the letters. I think this message is perfect. It means to have patience as you grow up while God continues to work in you.”
I tried my best to grasp her explanation, but I was more preoccupied with the cuteness of the images to the left of what I thought was a bunch of mumbo jumbo.
Once we got home and started working on our little project, my excitement began to dwindle. Even with Mom’s help, it was frustrating trying to comprehend the instructions on the package– not to mention my ADD and my unfortunate elephant touch with the needle and thread. Back and forth I’d go, trying to get Mom’s approval or correction in an attempt to make it look exactly like the cover. It seemed to me there was nothing jiffy about this so-called Jiffy Stitchery, especially when Mom kept advising me to slow down and pay attention to what I was doing.
Proud of the fact that I had finally completed the little girl portion of the kit, I rushed over to my sewing instructor for her final blessing. Her smile said it all — until she turned the fabric over.
“What’s this? Oh, Marla. What a mess.”
Exasperated once again, Mom sat there pointing out all the lumps, knots, and extra strands of threads criss-crossed everywhere. She had warned me ahead of time that the back side should always look as good as the front side, but my impatient self didn’t care. I wanted it done. I wanted the front to look perfect, and that was all that mattered.
So much for the fun, creative bonding moment we were supposed to be sharing. I stormed off and cried while Mom attempted to correct my chaotic mess. I don’t blame her for voicing her frustration. She was maxed out over my lackadaisical and somewhat bratty attitude – – which I now realize stemmed from my knack for impatience and perfectionism.
A few minutes after our dramatic blow out, Mom approached me in my room with a cleaner version of the back side of my cross-stitch and gently backpedaled over our tense moment, offering a few compliments on the parts I had done correctly. She believed in me, even if my work wasn’t perfect, which gave me enough gusto to complete our project.
I will never forget the day we framed it. I felt so proud and relieved it was over as Mom handed me the hammer and nail for our little display ceremony. After we hung it on my wall, I confidently recited the words, even though I still had no clue what it meant. Despite my expressive tone, Mom grinned knowing I didn’t understand the underlying message.
“One day, you will appreciate the meaning behind this. I promise.”
The cross-stich hung in my room for many years until my raging teenage hormones convinced me that my wallspace would be way cooler with iconic posters of Peter Frampton, John Travolta, and Lionel Richie.
Photo courtesy of Bonnie Pfiester
Unfortunately, after all these years, I cannot find my precious keepsake — which is odd because Mom kept everything. I wish I had at least a picture of my finished product.
Over the past four decades of my life, I constantly link everything back to what used to be that mumbo jumbo line. It’s as if my crafty summer project took on a life of its own, leading me to discover things about myself – – just like Mom said it would.
I’ve come to realize that my Jiffy Stitchery experience was just the beginning of what would become a lifelong series of encounters with impatience and perfectionism.
With each successive phase of my childhood, I managed to unleash new and relentless nagfests upon my mother. For instance, there was that period of time when I was very little and I bugged the heck out of her by requesting to eat a snack before supper. Then in the fifth grade, traumatized over my dark hairy legs, I grated on her nerves with the nonstop saga of begging to shave my legs. By the time I hit high school, I upped my game with my desperate need to own the latest, most expensive pair of Jordache jeans. I was this emotional energizer bunny that kept on going and going. The more she said no, the more I’d keep asking.
Annoyed and maybe even a tad delirious at times, she’d often snap back, “I swear, you’re going to drive me to drink.” If I really pushed her to the edge, I’d hear, “That’s enough, you hear me? Knock if off.” That type of reprimand meant a severe punishment was right around the corner (which involved either my dad or no T.V. time). I was smart enough to stop and let it rest for a week until the next go around.
I don’t know why but being on any kind of wait list felt like torture. If that wasn’t bad enough, perfectionism made its way into the picture. Since Mom had her own perfectionistic qualities, maybe she understood the whys behind long hours I put into trying to make not just an A but an A+ on all my schoolwork. Or the numerous times I’d watch TV, stretching on the living room floor in an ongoing effort to master the Chinese splits. Or the marathon sessions Mom and I had on the front porch in our attempt to write the perfect high school graduation speech.
Without any effort on my part whatsoever, my tendencies towards impatience and perfectionism flowed right into adulthood. But soon enough, real life hit, and my old school belief system began to be challenged by a number of different people and experiences I encountered throughout my adult life.
In college, it was my no nonsense professor, who taught me that a B and even a C is just fine. In my late twenties, it was Mom and countless faith-filled family members and friends who shared hope that one day I was going to have a healthy baby, encouraging me to pray, trust, and wait for God to answer in His perfect timing. But it was a conversation with a dear friend a few years ago that really made me think twice about where I am and how far I’ve come.
She admitted to me that she felt like a failure concerning her twenty-year-old daughter’s wayward direction.
“How can you say you’re a failure, when your job as a parent isn’t even over?” I asked her. “Both of you are still growing and learning – – even through this trial. So don’t beat yourself up. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. We’re all a work in progress.”
Shocked and humbled over my divinely guided response that ricocheted back at me, I immediately connected the dots back to my Jiffy Stitchery. There is no denying that the messy parts of my life have been just like the threaded chaos that hid behind the cute little freckle-faced girl. I strive daily to apply the meaning of what used to be a bunch of mumbo jumbo. Doing so keeps me grounded, knowing that God continues to work in me now and always.
All I have to do is…Be Patient.