navigating the landscape of the heart

by bam

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?