plugging back in, part two: the mama gene

by bam

it didn’t take long for me to notice.

even in the whirling dervish early days of this experiment in life after newsprint, even when i was madly tearing open boxes, squatting on the floor and sinking into news clips from a quarter century ago, i found myself bumbling into moments that opened into something that can’t be hurried, can’t be rushed, can’t be made to unfold.

they were the moments when my little one looked up at me, grabbed onto the loophole of time and slowed it all down. allowed the magic to seep in.

oh, there were no cymbal crashes. no serenades in the background. sometimes, just the simple glug of milk galumping out of a jug and into a glass. a glass that had been set out. waiting.

long ago, my little one told me he loved it when he bounded in the door and found the plate and the glass there on the counter. my little one, for a boy who’s wrestled with words in one way or another over the years, is a master of speaking straight from the heart.

what he was saying is what all of us, deep down inside, wish for: mama, give me a sign that you pondered my coming back home. leave me a clue that you waited, that you made a place for me — at the counter, yes, but truly deep in your heart.

that’s why, isn’t it, we swoon when we see chocolate cakes under proud glass domes. why waxpaper-lined tins of chocolate chip cookies can make our knees all buckly. that’s why, when we tiptoe into the pantry, and find a box of our very favorite girl scout thin mints there on the shelf, we break out in a smile.

oh, sure, the sugar and fat have something to do with the grins. but, really, isn’t it all about the molecule that’s never been mapped under a microscope? the one that signals, “someone remembered. someone knows.”

goodness. i don’t mean for this to plumb the depths of after-school snackings. the subject here, despite my dilly-dallying and detour, is a certain brand of magic, the magic of a mama’s slowed-down watch. and how it stirs me back to all my deepest senses.

indeed, the magic i’ve been bumping into of late has come in other sorts of moments, too. ones that had nothing to do with milk pouring from a stout glass bottle.

the moments when instead of shaking the poor child from slumber, barking over my shoulder that he had to hurry because i had a train to catch, i plopped myself on his bed, woke him up with the palm of my hand rubbing circles on his still-soft 10-year-old skin.

the moments have come when i was there to peek over his shoulder as he tried to figure out why one fraction equalled another. when i wasn’t stumbling in from downtown, wasn’t still trying to shake off some nasty thing someone had barked at the office.

instead, these past hours that have turned into days and weeks and more than a month, i have stumbled back into the holy grace of the poetry that’s there, waiting to be scooped up in bare hands or buckets, when you slow it all down, allow the rhythm of your life to unfold in legato, not staccato, time counts.

when you tune your heart’s clock to its deepest truest measure: the one that reaches out and connects with the ones you birthed, you rocked as a baby, the ones whose every plane and bump and crevice you once knew by heart. as you cradled that squirmy 8-pounder, day after day, in the bath or the changing table or propped up on your shoulder, back in the days when you could not chop a potato or bite into an apple without that little someone demanding attentions and intercessions in duplicate and triplicate depending on the day — and the belly aches and the never-ending hungers.

when you put your hand to the knob as you see that child stumbling up the walk, under the weight of books and backpacks that seem too much for a mere lad of one decade.

when you are there in the parking lot, waiting in the old wagon, the one without hubcaps because of the snow tires, the one that sticks out from all the shiny SUVs, when you happen to have thought to throw a granola bar and a banana into the back seat. just in case that someone is hungry after all that tossing of balls and chasing up and down yet another court.

when you find yourself scrubbing the suds off a plate, just across the counter from where the homework has been dumped from the backpack, and you are there to hear the words, “oh, wanna hear a funny thing?” and then you listen to the story that would have gotten lost had you time-crunched a day in the life of a fifth-grader into the two hours between dashing in from the train and tucking the storyteller into his bed.

they are but wisps of moments, these moments i am now catching, as if a butterfly hunter out in the woods with my long-handled net.

they are whispering moments. moments you might not notice, and might not realize you’re missing.

but when you catch them, when you hold them up in the sunlight, when you turn them and spin them, and take them in from all angles, you realize they are the holiest of sparks in the landscape that is your life.

they are the rare few moments here on earth when our presence matters. when we open our eyes and our ears and our hearts, and reach out from inside where all the loneliness lives, and we find ourselves — in quotidian gestures, opening doors, putting out plates, tucking in sheets — doing God’s work, the work of letting the souls in our midst know that they matter, that their load is lifted, is shared, is lightened.

because there’s a mama right there. a mama who loves that child through and through and inside out and upside down. and she’s slowing down, in whatever ways she can, to seal that message to the deepest place in the heart.

his heart. and mine.

isn’t that the essence of why, in the end, we’re alive?

i know full well that not every one of us has birthed the ones we mother. i don’t believe that birthing need be part of that equation, though if you’ve been there when the first squawk came, it’s a rush and a flood that forever propels your heart. so maybe you play out the mama gene with someones other than a child. and maybe you need to play it out in double-time, because you find yourself firmly in the fast lane of life. but however we play it out, isn’t it synonymous with the very definition of loving, love as you would wish to be loved? isn’t that a mama’s — or anyone’s — holy mission here on earth? do you have a story of being loved that way? and if it wasn’t your mama who loved you like that, was there someone else? do you catch yourself in those whispered moments when you find it inside yourself to lift up another someone’s heart as if your lives — your own and that someone else’s — depended on it?