Sarita loved her new school. I’m probably the happiest second grader in the whole town, she thought.
Next to Sarita sat Amelia. Sarita thought Amelia was very pretty. Instead of having brown hair and eyes, Amelia had long blond curls and beautiful blue eyes. Jed sat on the other side of Sarita. He had red hair. She was staring at him, trying to count his freckles, when Mrs. Wells said, “Good morning, class. Welcome to the first day of school.”
The first day of school was even more exciting than Sarita had imagined it would be. She fit in just fine. She’d been a little worried because she and Mamacita had been living in Sanford only a few weeks. Mamacita had found a good job here, and as she said, the Lord was opening new doors for them.
“I’m sending a note home with each of you,” Mrs. Wells said at the end of the day. “If your mother would like to be a room volunteer, please have her sign and return the paper.”
“My mother was a room volunteer last year,” Amelia said on the way home.
“Mine, too,” said Jed.
Sarita liked her new house. It was smaller than her old home in Texas, but it was still nice. She loved the new curtains with red and yellow flowers and the cozy, red homemade throw rugs that Mamacita had made. “What do you think?” Mamacita had asked. She always asked Sarita’s opinion, and that made Sarita feel special. You see, when Sarita was a small baby, she had been adopted by Mamacita and Papacito.
Sarita had been only four years old when Papacito died, and sometimes when she tried to remember him, she could not bring his smiling face to her mind. Today was a sometimes, so she went into the living room and looked at the family photograph. Then she felt Mamacita’s arm about her shoulder.
“Always remember that we are sealed for time and all eternity,” Mamacita said. “And that we have the Lord’s promise that if we are righteous and endure to the end, we will be together again.”
The next morning Sarita was up early. She made their lunches while Mamacita prepared breakfast, and while they ate, Sarita read a story aloud in Spanish. Mamacita said, “Sarita, you must be the best reader in this state. How talented you are to be able to read both English and Spanish when you are only seven years old.”
Sarita took out the paper that Mrs. Wells had given her the afternoon before. “Will you be a room volunteer?”
“I’d love to,” Mamacita said.
Jed, Amelia, and Sarita handed in the papers with their mothers’ signatures. “There will be a meeting for your mothers tomorrow night at seven o’clock here in the classroom,” Mrs. Wells told them.
After school, the three children waited for their mothers. Jed’s mother arrived first. She had red hair like Jed. She was tall and slender and the prettiest lady Sarita thought she’d ever seen.
Her own mother came next. She waved good-bye to Amelia and got quickly into the car.
The next day things did not go well at school. Amelia brought the first dark clouds when she asked Sarita why her mother was so old. “She’s only fifty,” Sarita said. “That’s not old.”
“My mom is twenty-nine,” Jed said.
“She has gray hair,” Amelia said. “And she’s sort of … well …”
“Fat,” Jed said.
Sarita was horrified. She knew that Mamacita was plump, but she’d never thought of her as fat—or old.
That afternoon Sarita slumped in the seat of the car and looked down at her hands, pretending to be busy so that she wouldn’t have to talk.
“I’m really looking forward to meeting your teacher and your friends and their mothers tonight,” Mamacita said.
“Oh,” Sarita said, “we might not be able to go. I think I might be getting sick.”
“What?” her mother said, wrinkling her forehead with concern.
She looked especially old to Sarita just then, so she closed her eyes tight. “I might be getting a headache.”
Sarita was slow getting dressed that evening. The other mothers would be young and beautiful, and that would make her mother look even older and more wrinkled. “Let’s not go, Mamacita,” she said.
“Sarita, do you really not feel well?”
Sarita tried very hard to feel sick. But she felt fine. Sarita couldn’t lie to her mother. She knew Heavenly Father would not be pleased with her if she lied. “I want to move back home,” she said, tears filling her eyes. “I don’t like it here anymore!”
“Why, you’re homesick,” her mother said, pulling her close. “Bless your little heart, you’re homesick.”
Even though Sarita tried to take forever braiding her hair and putting on her shoes, they were not even late for the meeting. Her mother walked into the room proudly, as if she were as young and beautiful as the other mothers there.
They sat down next to Amelia. “There’s my mom,” Amelia said, but she did not seem very happy.
“Amelia!” Her mother came over and sat down. “Why couldn’t you have waited for me? I don’t know why you have to aggravate me so much. When your father gets home from this business trip, …”
“Hello.” Mamacita smiled. “I’m Sarita’s mother.”
“Her mother? Why I thought you were her—” She stopped abruptly, turning red. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I’m really happy to meet you. It’s just that my husband has been out of town all week on business, and nothing seems to be going right for me.”
“It must be very difficult,” Mamacita said.
“It is. I own a little dress shop at the mall, and I need to be there. But I had to come to this meeting tonight. Amelia has nagged me about it for two days.”
Jed and his mother walked over and sat down just as Mrs. Wells opened the meeting. After welcoming them, she introduced everyone in the room. Sarita was embarrassed when her mother’s name was called. She stood up and said hello to the others just as if she did not know that she was old and gray. And fat. Sarita looked at Jed’s mother, at the lovely green dress that was exactly the color of her eyes. Then she looked at Amelia’s mother, at her silky beige dress and high heeled shoes. She looked at her mother’s shoes—comfortable work shoes, low heeled and scuffed on one toe.
Mamacita’s dress was plain cotton and homemade. She had let Sarita do the stitching on the button holes, and the sewing that she had once been so proud of embarrassed her now because the stitches were crooked and uneven.
After the short meeting, the three mothers talked together.
“I don’t know how you manage a job and taking care of a second grader by yourself at your age,” Amelia’s mother said. “Amelia and her sister keep me worn out.”
“Sarita and I take care of each other,” Mamacita said. “She brings me great joy.”
“Joy?” Jed’s mother said. “Chaos is more like it at our house.”
“And Amelia gets into everything,” her mother put in. “Yesterday she played with my makeup and ruined my eyeliner!”
Sarita thought of the many happy hours she spent putting on Mamacita’s makeup. Mamacita almost never wore makeup anymore, but she never got angry when Sarita played dress-up with it.
“I love Jed dearly, but he broke my best lamp when he kicked his soccer ball in the house,” his mother said. “It was an expensive antique. I wish he’d learn to play outside.”
Sarita remembered the lovely china dish she’d accidentally dropped. It had broken into so many little pieces that Mamacita had not been able to glue it together again. But Mamacita had not been angry about that, either.
“He and his brother and sister make too much noise in the house,” Jed’s mother went on. “As soon as I get on the phone with a client, they have to interrupt me.”
Sarita thought of all the noise she made at home, especially when she played her Primary tapes loudly and pretended to direct the music. Sometimes Mamacita came to her door and said, “I think that one day you will direct the Tabernacle Choir.”
“It must be difficult,” Amelia’s mother said to Mamacita, “worrying about Sarita all the time. It’s hard enough keeping up at my age.”
“Sarita doesn’t worry me,” Mamacita said. “She is my best friend. In fact,”—she winked at Sarita—“Saturday we are going to St. Augustine to see this country’s oldest city.”
“There’s no way I’d spend an entire Saturday chasing a seven-year-old around St. Augustine,” Jed’s mother said. Amelia’s mother agreed.
“Wow! St. Augustine!” Jed said. “I want to see the old fort there.”
“And Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum,” said Amelia.
“Mamacita, could they … Amelia and Jed … go to St. Augustine with us?”
“I’d love to take them,” Mamacita said, “if it’s all right with their mothers.”
Jed’s mother smiled and put her arm around Mamacita’s shoulder. “You are a most remarkable lady.”
In the car on the way home from the meeting, Sarita closed her eyes and tried to imagine what it had been like six years before, when the Bishop had placed Sarita in Mamacita’s arms. She could have said, “No, Bishop. No baby for us. We are too busy and too tired. She might make noise when we are on the phone. She might aggravate us or ruin my makeup or break something.” But no, Mamacita and Papacito had opened their arms and their hearts to Sarita and thanked Heavenly Father for her in every family prayer. As Sarita looked again at Mamacita, she realized that the lines in her mother’s face were not wrinkles from age as much as they were crinkles from smiling and laughing. Mamacita may be short and plump and have gray hair, but I wouldn’t trade her for anyone else’s mother, no matter how young and beautiful she is!