when magical powers are no longer…
used to be i could fix things. when the lunch box was left at home, i could drive it to the schoolhouse door. the ladies in the office always obliged, and, knowingly nodding, got it delivered. when the mercury on the thermometer soared, or someone’s rosy red cheeks broke out in bumps, i slid open the medicine drawer, pulled out just the right fix-it concoction. when a red crayon snuck into a pocket that went into the dryer, i spent a whole afternoon plucking streaks of red wax from the tumbler. by sundown, you’d never have known.
there was nary a thing i couldn’t patch back together, couldn’t replace, couldn’t make right by the end of the day.
but then the kids on whom i fixated my fix-it powers, they grew up. and while my doctor just the other morning announced that i’d shrunk by nearly an inch, i think she might have overlooked the fact that my magical powers are no longer. they’ve expired. passed the date on the side of the label. must have let out a gasp like air escaping from tires.
now, when a kid with a heavy heart calls late in the night, all i can do is listen. and mutter a swear word or two. (lest you tsk-tsk, the truth of the matter is that i’ve somehow managed to teach my nonagenarian mother the sheer satisfaction, the gleeful release, of a short swift four-letter word. we swear in unison now, my mother and i. one of our few shared pursuits.)
most of the time — thank the holy heavens — the things that bang up the heart of someone you love aren’t necessarily life or death. sometimes it’s a stupid clerical error that mucks up the works. and triggers hard-to-swallow outcomes. leaves a kid on the sidelines. figuratively or otherwise.
more often than not — knock on wood — the things that shove us into the ditch are things from which we recover. another chance comes along. time passes. someone reminds us to laugh. the sky, one night as the sun sets, paints itself a shade of papaya.
it’s the immediate wake that’s tripping me up. it’s what comes after you hang up the phone. when you remember the old days, the days when it was your job to be the cleaner-upper, the fixer, the homegrown sorceress who kept all the goblins at bay.
you realize your heydays are over. you can’t really fly in on your broom anymore, can’t kiss the hurt, and make the sting go away.
you know — because you’ve read it in books, heard it whispered on benches at playgrounds — that it’s your job now to let your kid figure it out. employ their own fix-it powers. exercise resiliency. suffer the blow.
so you do as instructed. you stand back. feeling the lump in your throat grow bigger and bigger. wondering why your chest hurts so much.
you wish you could pick up the phone. call the college. or the boss. explain the injustice. beg for mercy, like any self-respecting grownup would do.
but then, once again, you remember there’s another self-respecting grownup these days; it’s the kid you raised to not topple, not go weak in the knees every time life throws a hook. you tried your darnedest not to over-coddle (though coddling, i’d argue, is just another name for fiercely protecting, and i’d made a vow, a heavenly vow — silly as it might seem — to protect to the death the children i bore. i once actually — naively — believed that if i loved them fiercely enough i could keep them from every last hurt. turns out, the joke was on me).
i miss the days when i could all but fling on my cape, swoop in for the rescue. slice an apple in crescents, grab a fistful of pretzels, stir chocolate in milk. snuggle close on the couch. tuck someone in bed, plant a fat wet kiss to the cheeks. make it all better again.
i wish i’d realized back then that those were the days, the sweet days, when what ailed, and what brewed was within my magical powers. and i could turn out the lights knowing that all was, indeed and in fact, better again. the monsters were chased from the room.
it’s what happens when mothers grow up. though not quite as fast nor as sturdily as their beautiful, beautiful now grown and resilient long-ago children.
our magical powers give out, quite before we’re honestly ready.
*of course i am simplifying here to make a general point, to muse on the achy part of feeling ourselves shoved from one stage to another. certainly there are times when the heavy hearts of my boys demand all i’ve got: not only my listening, but my leaping on planes, tracking down every last possible lead, and whatever else the worry or quandary or setback requires. it’s just that more often than it used to be, i’m merely the backdrop, the listening board, the human sponge for the sadness, dread, disappointment, you name it.
once upon a time, did you too expect that magical powers must be a clause in the motherly job description? did those powers fizzle over time, and what do you do with the ache when you realize your magic wand has given up the ghost?
Thank you. I feel this one. And it’s not just the miles-away kid. Seems lately I can’t even help the kid in the next room. She’s carrying college applications and the weight of that uncertainty. Friends who really aren’t friends. All the time surrounded by us aging parents and grands who seem to always say the wrong thing. Lump in my throat, indeed. But we go on. And deliver hugs, which are always the right things.
My heart aches under the weight of the load of the kid in the room next to yours. The aches of childhood seem to be a lightning rod to me. Maybe that’s why I was a pediatric nurse: I’ve always always wanted to make it better. Because I know how much it can hurt. Holding your sweet girl in my heart. And you too, Jenny❤️
That was sooo lovely, Barbara! My goodness you totally nailed it! And very apropos today in particular… it is Ben’s 17th birthday and he doesn’t want me anywhere around this evening when he gets together with his friends to celebrate….
I hope both your boys are ok?
I cannot tell you how very much I loved seeing you and Blair at Kenyon! It was a wonderful way to start a beautiful day at Kenyon… I trust the rest of your visit was good? Mine was a huge success! I am so happy I was there! Jacqueline Ps I love the bit about the four letter word. I, like you and your mom, find that swearing is very therapeutic! Ha!
i am soooooooo sorry you are not invited to the birthday party tonight! not even to ferry in a delicious tray of cupcakes?!?!?!? happy birthday, dear ben!
we loved seeing you too. what a perfect start to a fall day. i love that our boys live next door, even if they aren’t in the exact same orbit. your J boosts the excellence quotient of KC.
sending a giant hug on this dark and windy october’s day….xoxox
My dear bam, your super power magical wand of comfort is still going strong. It IS hard, knowing we can’t solve our beloved’s hurts. But that you are there at the end of the line, listening, helps them — and so many others! And your words here at the table, comforting and uplifting us as we drop by…priceless. It takes all the mama strength to let them fly from the nest. But that’s how we raise them…to be off on their own. We now need to soothe our own loneliness … Sending all the ❤️
bless your heart. as for all the strength we must muster, i sometimes wish i could guzzle strength potions from a medicine bottle. but then, a beloved soul comes along, and says just the right words, and magically, miraculously, i dig down and find it. funny, how you’ve been the ones to utter JUST THE RIGHT words when i have needed it most.
sending giant ❤ in echo and echo. xoxo
Oh yes– what Nan said… These are my thoughts as well. Sending love upon love, dear sweet soul… ❤ xoxo
❤ ❤ ❤
Oh, how you have put beautiful words to my feelings of emptiness and aging. Even just today I received a call that I could only listen to and give non-magical words of understanding. No warm cookies, no sitting on a twin size bed and talking…..Brings to mind the Pawnee Earth Lodge at the Field Museum and why the ‘oldest women’ would sleep nearest the door should it be attacked: their usefulness to the tribe was nil. Maybe that’s why I work in a high school where every morn I can still talk to teenagers? Thank you darling, for this keeper of a post.
Oh dear gracious, your image of the Earth Lodge, and the older women….I’m gut-punched. Wow. So visceral. And your mention of sitting on the twin bed….equally evocative. The pangs….
You are such a treasure. Thank you for your kindness that never ends. Giant giant ol’ mama hug❤️❤️❤️
sometimes i circle back to the table, because i find something delicious that i need to leave lying here, on the old maple slabs. here’s one: i was listening to Calvin Trillin read his essays from “About Alice,” his ode to his late wife and muse, and in an essay recounting her goodness, he says she once read a letter with this line, which stopped her — and him, and now me — in her/our tracks. in fact, alice called it a secret to life. i call it something just like that. and, so, in a week in which the topic is the children we love, here’s this beautiful beautiful line one mother wrote to her daughter, who happened to suffer from multiple severe genetic diseases and disorders:
‘If God had given us all of the children in the world to choose from, L., we would only have chosen you.’
i say the same….to my W and my T.
Love this so much!! I always felt with my six I was in a tornado and one day it stopped twirling and there I was! Who knew that would happen! You aren’t given a heads up! Life is quieter now, that is for sure! Live for those grand babies now and a good book!! Was a sweet read this morning!! Kisses!!xx
Sent from my iPhone
it will forever blow my mind that you mothered six! but it’s perfect since you were the very epitome of comfort and joy to me when i was a wee girl. you most indelibly marked me, and set the paradigm for how it feels to be loved………xoxo
forever grateful. i miss you.
My dearest Barbie, you don’t realize yet how lucky you are that you’re getting those late night calls…or any kind of call from your boys! And that they still want to SHARE things with you–oh my goodness, those were the days! Now it’s me doing the calling, and I have to be soooo careful about the questions I ask. A few years back, my husband shared with me that our oldest had refererred to me as being “intrusive” during a conversation with him. He wasn’t criticizing, just making a statement. I asked my husband if the boy might have in reality used the word “inquisitive”, and I got a flat out “No, he definitely said intrusive!” It’s turned into a family joke now, but back then I was flabbergasted. So count your blessings and do a happy dance when the phone rings…even if your magic wand has sputtered out!
oh, honey, ouch! as for realizing i’m blessed to get any and every call, i DO know. i promise i know. and i savor every drop — whether it’s a call to ask about a laundry quandary, or a synonym for a word. or heartache in any of its forms. xoxox
I am so sorry! I was trying to sarcastically vent about my own situation, not to minimize yours. When I re-read what I’d written, I can see why you said “ouch!”. I feel awful!!
Oh no! I meant ouch for you!!! Not me!!!!! I felt sad that even if it turned into family joke, that your inquisitiveness was coined as intrusive. So so sorry if you thought my ouch was for me. No no. I was being protective of you!!! Xoxox
If it’s any consolation Barb, as one sort of in the middle, my mom still wields her magic wand in my life. It’s not the same as before, of course. But it is still magical. Motherhood magic is everlasting, if ever changing. With my kids little now & my Daddy gone & my Mom aging (gracefully), I need her magic more than ever ❤️
Your writing & sharing soothes the soul, even when you lay yourself bare. I’m sorry you feel like your magic has diminished – to those of us lucky enough to find ourselves in your orbit- your magic is full to bursting. Alas, the boys are the ones your heart is concerned with. It makes my heart heavy that yours is heavy. Sending a hug & many well placed swear words your way ❤️❤️❤️
oh, dear darling, i LOVE hearing that you still feel the mama magic. it’s just especially sweet to hear it from the receiving end, bless you. what i do know is that there is a certain rare magic i feel inside me — one i’d never known — when i find myself wrapping my heart and soul around my boys. to be able to love in that way is the most priceless of blessings. xoxox