Yesterday after dinner I was sitting with another Mama as stories of her children’s misadventures and mischief were being shared around the table.
She smiled the most beautiful smile, with a tinge of weariness in her eyes, waved her hand, and said, “No. No. I really don’t want to know. Don’t tell me.”
The knowing laughter only increased, and in the midst of the laughter I heard her words that still echo in my heart, “I don’t want to hear, because I keep asking myself, ‘Where was I?'”
She kept chuckling, but I could see it in her eyes. She does ask herself this when she hears these stories shared as each story tops the one before it. She’s not ignorant of them, nor has she buried her head in the sand. She herself shared a story of a high school prank that made the national news. She was just thankful her son wasn’t expelled. Or arrested. She was very thankful the principal knew her family situation and gave her family the grace they needed.
I felt her heart in those moments. There have been times I have asked myself just that question. “Where was I?” How did my child go through this and me not know? How was I so unaware of what was happening with this being whom I carried and loved from the moment the test was positive? Do I walk through life with my eyes closed sometimes? This precious woman spoke for her heart and mine.
You know that saying, “Once a mother, always a mother”? (I might have made it up. Hope that’s okay, because it is TRUE.)
I know it’s true because this sweet and delightfully funny woman…..this Mama’s in her 80’s. She has great-grandchildren and her own baby is heading toward middle age. And yet she still cannot bear to hear the stories of what her sons (and daughter too?) did thirty or more years ago. She asks herself where she was, how they could have possibly done all of those things without her knowing.
Well, let’s see. She was a young widow, trying to raise four children all by herself. Her husband had been sick for nearly seven years before he died, so she was also learning to let go of the role of caregiver, which very likely broke her heart and gave her relief at the same time. None of it easy.
She wanted what was best for her boys and that sweet girl. She even tried changing schools. She welcomed their friends, friends of all races and backgrounds, during a time when that was not so easily done without reproach. She talked to their teachers, up close and personal, not even taking time to change out of her housecoat when time was of the essence, insisting on knowing what was going on with her child at school. She knew the principal well, and when in doubt, she went to her pastor for help with this journey, a road she would not have chosen for herself. A road she didn’t choose for herself.
And here she is, living in a retirement community, wishing they didn’t cook the broccoli so much–she really prefers it a little firm. She loves to talk and visit and share stories–she’s most likely always been a people person, bless her. She gets a bit discombobulated sometimes, especially when calling out a specific son’s name–“It only gets worse as the day gets on,” she says, laughing at her own mix-up. And when her youngest grandson comes up unexpectedly and unprompted to give her a hug and a kiss on the cheek, she turns gracefully away from the conversation, closes her eyes with gratitude and appreciation, reaches for him, and says, “Y’all excuse me for a moment please.” A moment she wishes would last forever I am sure. Her face says it all. She wears her heart in her eyes, that one. And I hope I will never forget that look of peace and love when she turned into his little hug.
I was reminded of something yesterday, visiting with this special Mama. I remembered the looks on the faces of my Mama and Daddy when they met each one of my children for the first time. I can feel the tug on my toe as Daddy walked by the foot of my hospital bed after seeing his Aub for the first time. I can recall the worry in their eyes and hearts when things went awry in my life. The game planning they did and what they made happen to make sure we’d always be okay. How even in the midst of all the sadness and sickness, there was laughter and concern for our well-being, and I remember my Mama’s words when I told her about meeting my Fella.
“Well is it serious?” she asked.
“Mama, for real? We only just met. Anyway, he’s military.”
“Military? You know you’d have to move, right?”
“Mama, I don’t even know. We’ll see, okay?”
“Well, you better get yourself situated. I won’t be around forever, you know.”
And as I heard those words in my heart and my memory, I thought again of this Mama I had the privilege of being with on New Year’s Day. Someone who also loved my Mama and knows the pain of losing someone you love dearly. She knows loss. Very well. And survival–good gravy, this woman knows all about surviving. And I realized, not for the first time, but definitely through a different lens–you never stop being a Mama and worrying over your babies and your past choices regarding them and wondering if things really will be okay. If my babies will be okay. No matter how old they are. Or how old I am.
Once a Mama…..