The Good Child

by Jeanette Reid

A proper woman raises proper children
At least my mother felt this to be true
Good comportment signifies good breeding—
Upright, refined, above the common herd

Unpolished shoes and scruffy knees were slipshod
Unbrushed hair, dirt-rimmed nails a pure disgrace

She taught us by instruction and example
The niceties of life, the golden rules
Of etiquette and dress and right behavior—
Words we heard deep into our sleep:

Be prompt       Be courteous       Be obedient
Stand straight       Don’t interrupt       Enunciate

Brother nodded, then did whatever pleased him
I argued back, but dared not disobey

So when they called us last week from Assisted Living
To report she’d rung the fire alarm at 3 am
Calling out two fire trucks and a rescue vehicle,
Causing the evening staff to evacuate
Fifteen feeble residents into the winter night,

I was shocked       embarrassed       dismayed.
Mother, why? I asked. Whatever were you thinking?

She pulled herself up straight and raised her chin.
“I’m tired of being told what to do and when to do it–
When to eat, when to dress, when to go to bed.
All their rules–they treat us like we’re children!”

Amazed, I looked and saw a well-bred child
Who’d taken 90 years of living to rebel.

Jeanette Reid taught high school English in Baltimore County, Maryland where she was also a mother of three. She has lived in Western North Carolina for the past fifteen years with writing as her focus for the past ten.

About The Good Child—This poem came out of my ongoing efforts to relate to and understand my own mother (long gone) and other women of her generation.  Originally, it had many more verses, but when the last two lines finally came, I was able to let the unnecessary ones go.  As so often happens in writing, the process led to insight.