was what the tiny voice said to me through the 3 AM darkness. "Good timing," I thought in my sleepy stupor, "Mother's Day weekend and I get to be a health care worker."
Tired old crankpot me quickly gave way for Nursemaid Melissa, though. Certainly there are things I'd rather be doing in the middle of the night than administering meds and making tea and giving a back rub, but it doesn't take me long to kick it into gear. As much as I like sleep, I like my kids to be not suffering a thousand times more. For that, all the credit goes directly to my mom, who, to this day, is the finest example I have ever seen of a model, agenda-free caregiver. It is clearly her calling and she is poetry in motion when she's caring for others. I can only imagine what she was like when we were little. I was born with a dislocated hip, and in 1965 that meant that I had casts on both of my legs for the first year of my life. So Mom had a one-year-old busybody boy and me, with my legs casted from toe to hip. Even now, in her early 70s, Mom does unimaginable things when it comes to caring for her flock. If she and Dad are dogsitting for one of us, she often sleeps on the couch in the living room with the beast to keep it company. If she and Dad have already eaten dinner and we all show up after a late lacrosse game, she goes right back to it, moving slowly and quietly around her kitchen, preparing a second hot meal and then insisting on doing all the clean-up so that everyone else can sit and talk or rest. It goes on and on.
Mom, in her role as caretaker, is not making sacrifices to earn anyone's love or doing what she does because her ego needs to be fed. She does not need constant positive reinforcement to uphold some kind of misguided saintly self-image. Mom's giving and caring come from a place of genuine compassion and her actions teach us how to have a rich and deep human experience. I have seen, in institutions and families, what happens when someone is put in a caretaking position (or worse, takes one on for all the wrong reasons) against their will. A resentful caretaker can cut a wide swath of destruction, in themselves (ironically, they're often sickly) and in the lives of those around them. There aren't many examples of someone more unhappy than a caretaker who doesn't want to be caretaking. Usually they are seething with frustration, often angry that their seemingly altruistic choices are not garnering them the recognition and love they think they deserve. It can be ugly, which is not surprising given the reality of what it takes to care for another person. It's exhausting. It requires a heart that is true of intention and an ego that is kept in check or nonexistent. True caregivers don't need or want anything in return for their efforts. They are not boastful about their tasks; there is no air of bravado about them. There are few among us to can claim this as our condition. Keep an eye on Annie O'Brien the next time you see her; she's got it down.
Helen Cooper Hood Eyre has to get well today because she's on the docket to share something she wrote about mothers in church tomorrow. She read it to me last night: Where would the world be without moms? she queries...Well the world would be a horror story. But we have moms so the world is beautiful and a love story.
She's right. It is. My mom wrote a love story every time she put her gentle, tiny, healing hands on my weary forehead. By caring lovingly for me for 48 years, she transferred all of her goodness and kindness and selflessness into me. The best of what I am came from her (no offense Dad; you'll get yours next month) and is moving, slowly, though not quite as elegantly, through me and to my daughter, who clearly Has It. You may want to show up for the 9:30 service in Peru, Vermont tomorrow morning to see what else the wee one has to say about the angels of the earth: Mammas (which, as we know, come in all shapes, sizes, colors and genders). Happy Mothering Day.