navigating the landscape of the heart
we come to this job, most of us, barely equipped.
heck, i’d spent one fine summer down the lane, a summer girl of sorts, wrestling three lively kids into a daily schedule that, looking back, was a pure piece of cake. and i did have four brothers, one of whom was young enough that i might have been enlisted in occasional diaper duty. maybe stuffed a bottle in his hungry mouth now and then.
and i did meander my way through nursing school. so that must have accounted for something. and i was the newsroom’s default first-night babysitter, meaning that whenever the brand-new ink-blood parents mustered up the nerve to leave the newborn darling for the very first time, i was always the one employed to hold the fort. keep monsters at bay. and, god willing, greet the nervous newbies at the door with babe in bundle still breathing.
really, when i think about it, that’s all i had on my resume, in the little section labeled “work experience,” the part that should be scrutinized, amount to proof of passage, when you come panting to the double swinging doors marked, “labor & delivery. no pretenders welcome.”
once past that point, the only thing they make you do, really, is huff and puff and, finally, someone yells it’s time to push. so you push through the aptly named ring of fire, and then, like that, they hand you the little darling.
that is when, often, it happens. you hear this head-jangling sound, i’d say it’s a schwoop, like the sound of falling down a cave with the wind hurling against your eardrums. it’s a moment, a deep-body whirl, that swallows you whole, and from there on in, you are in it for ever and ever and ever. amen.
it takes some bumbling in those early days, the ones when they set you loose from the hospital, the ones when you find yourself alone, in an empty kitchen, and there, in a sling-back chair device, one padded in many many blankets, you have a screeching, squawking little bundle, one with very adorable hands and legs, and fingers and toes you are tempted to nibble on.
you might consider, as i did in one rash terrifying moment, returning said bundle to the store. telling the nice shopkeeper that you really had no idea what you were in for, and you’ve decided this really isn’t something you’re cut out for. and besides you need a potty break.
but then those mama hormones must kick in, the ones that indelibly etch that baby’s wholeness into the whole of who we are. and from there on in, we’re tethered, hook, line, and holy-ever-after sinker.
and somehow, from deep within, we begin the navigation of the voyage of our lifetimes.
the one, for me at least, that makes all the rest fall by the wayside.
there has been, from the get-go, not another worry in my life that has mattered as deeply as the ones about my babies. i’ve lost countless hours of sleep — cradling them in the bathroom on frantic fevered nights, tracing the source of lamplight that shone from the crack beneath a bedroom door at 3 or 4 or 5 in the morning, lying motionless under my sheets, frozen in my ruminations about what they have or haven’t done.
but along the way, and time after time, i’ve felt the whoosh of heaven swirl around me, lift me up, and carry me for a ways.
when you commit to love in the way that a mama does — oh, she so deeply does — you come to taste a pure brew of oxygen that fills your lungs and puts flight to the flutter in your heart.
say, when you’re curled up on the couch with a pounding headache, trying to stay out of everyone’s way, and suddenly, a sweet 10-year-old boy, one who’s more inclined to dash up and down a soccer field, puts down his TV clicker and comes to rub circles on your throbbing head. then he goes to get a washcloth, something he’s seen you do a million times. and he makes like he’s the mama, taking care of you.
or, when you are washed in worry about your college kid, and whether he’ll remember to turn in his final paper, he calls you, from a river bank, to let you know he’s finally done it. a mere three minutes before it was due, before he got docked a grade for dilly-dallying. and he calls just because he knows how hard you tried to keep a lid on it, and, at last, out of the mercy of his heart, he is loosening the noose that threatened to squeeze you bloodless.
(full disclosure: i just wrote that sentence hoping it would make it come true; at this moment, i have no clue if the final paper’s on its way toward being done, and it’s due tonight at 1 a.m. and he is, as i type, at a national rowing championship in philly, far far from the professor’s drop box. but my friends tell me it’s not my job to worry about college final exams. all right then, this is the sound of me not worrying…..)
ah, yes, so go the lows and highs of this landscape we mothers learn to navigate by pure and repeated trial and error. our pack list boils down to the merest few essentials: our full-to-the-brim heart, our ever-considering heads, every last muscle in our sometimes aching exhausted bodies. and whatever else we need employ to get the job done.
for the job, at its heart, is as fine as any life work could ever be: love as you would be loved. and love forever after.
happy blessed mother’s day, in whatever form you mother.
there is, right now, the hokiest of commercials on TV. (hallmark, but of course.) its tag line is “tell me,” as in a kaleidoscope of mothers saying out loud what they’d give arm or leg to hear their children tell them. i cry every time i watch it. and i know what i would want my sweet boys to say: that they’ve felt through and through how deeply i love them, the very underpinning of so many sentences etched here…..that’s really all i ask, and the one thing that sometimes escapes me: do they know, will they ever ever know, the depth and the breadth of this rarest brand of loving? what would you want to be told, by whoever it is you love so deeply?
Love your writing.
love your HEART! and an especially blessed mother’s day to you, sweet brave charlene. xoxox
You know, I think there is NO way our kids can know how much we love them until they have kids of their own……happy Mother’s Day Barbara!
Beautiful Barb! Your full heart comes right through this hard, cold screen so I’m more than sure your beautiful boys know how loved they are.
I agree with jcv’s comment that they don’t/ can’t know. Sometimes I try to explain it to them. What a wonderful thing they have, that they are so confident of it that they take it as a given.
Beautiful piece, my friend, framed anew.
it is ever so (what is the word here?!?!?! not sad, not empty, not frustrating….) gnawing that there is so much texture, so much volume to that love, and it cannot ever ever be known — can it be glimpsed, maybe — by the objects of its fulsomeness. and thus, in the same breath as i feel the unknowingness of it in the equation of them to me, i turn and realize that i must similarly not have a clue of the dimensions of my own mother’s love for me. and that breaks my heart somehow…..it’s as if in becoming a mother, we finally realized so very much, so very long after it might have mattered the most. oh my goodness, i am getting way too jesuit here, and turning on pinheads.
so often for me it comes down to this: i have written so very many meanders here at the chair, in the hope and prayer that some day when they DO want to know, they will find here the best record their mother could have written them. she loved them story after story, inkling after inkling. in ways big and unmistakeable and in ways that might have brushed by them, like a butterfly’s wing, barely perceptible.
Borrowing Gene and Roger’s (trademarked) comment: This reply of your gets “a big thumb’s up”!
Your boys, as jcv said, may not understand the fullness of your love until they have their own chidren, but all you have said about them tells me how very loved they already understand they are … Talking long into the night with you, crying over long-dead soldiers because they have such a tender heart … Yes, when they come home from a first sleepover to balloons, or home from college to their favorite foods, they know they are loved. What they may not realize is how special a mom they have. So often we think our reality is others’ as well. How untrue this is. Your boys are so very, very blessed.
I definitely never gave my mom the credit she deserved and hope I can make it up to her someday in our next lives.
Wishing you a most happy, blessed mother’s day, dear bam.
You’ve done it again and made my heart sing. As my girl sits writing yet one more scholarship essay and I work on her prom dress (yes, 1952 vogue pattern) I can only hope that she too will love in this way one day. Now that would be a mother’s day gift!
I see that UVA came in 8th but haven’t seen results for Amherst. Good luck to Will and a big hello to Teddy.
Happy Mother’s Day to you.
ah, blessed amy, there is the perfect frame for this whole discussion: that our children will learn to love in the way that they have been loved. and, as one who has cooked beside you and your beautiful girl, as one who has had to catch my breath at the beauty and the seamlessness of your connection, the two of you, i want you to know that you are in my pantheon of mothers to learn from.
bless you, bless your beautiful sarah.
and here is the postscript, post-race, post-final paper: i’ve gotten word (not from the boy himself) that the paper was duly turned in, with more than three minutes to go, more like three hours. so hurrah for that.
and in the bittersweet universe that is competitive sport, my sweet champion won two of three races in the last 24 hours, but in the final one — the grand final, when the field had been narrowed from 54 boats to six boats — 6/10ths of a second kept him from getting the medal he so fiercely wanted.
all afternoon i have been wearing a mama’s stinging heart. it’s a sad truth that we cannot hand our children the victories they aim for, the triumphs we wish and pray we could press into their palms.
but bless that sweet boy’s papa: he was right there on the riverbank, to wrap his arms around the rower, and as i type he is driving him back to the college on the hill, where they will pack up the remains of freshman year, a glorious freshman year, and they’ll fly home to us come monday afternoon.
so that’s my mother’s day, and it’s a sweet one through and through. because in being laced with a bit of heartache, we all remember how sweet the sweetness is. and how what matters most is that we will hold each other ever up in our embracing, and our being there, along the riverbanks of life. for wherever the currents take the ones we love.
This is gorgeous, and I’m so grateful that you posted the update! You inspire my parenting in countless ways. Miss and love you all – xoxoxo