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Quote of the Day
Friday, January 27, 2006
Mother Work
Like every other kid in my second grade glass, I caught the chicken pox. I don't remember much about being sick, except that the worst and itchiest pox were on my back, in that one place you can't scratch yourself. I would wake up in the middle of the night and get my Mom up to ask her to put some calamine lotion on my back, and every time she would get up for me, apply the milky, peach-colored calamine lotion, and then sit with me on the living room couch. I would drape myself across her lap so my back was right in front of her, and she would gently, through my pajamas, run her fingers across my itchy back. The motion of her fingers swirling on my back was just enough to satisfy my urge to scratch, but light enough not to do any further damage. I would eventually drift off to sleep and she'd slip off the couch, cover me with a soft blanket, and return to bed herself.

As her fingers moved across my back, I distinctly remember thinking, "Gosh, she must be so bored." I remember wondering how she could stand it, how she could just sit there and make that repetitive motion with her hands. Wasn't she tired? Didn't she have anything else to do?

ST does not have the chickenpox -- he isn't sick at all. Quite the contrary, actually. Tonight, we had "Movie and Popcorn Night," where ST got to pick out the movie at the video store (Madagascar, even though he's already seen it once) and T popped fresh popcorn on the stove and ST, who usually is not allowed juice, had a glass of juice. ST was in paradise, dancing along to the songs in the movie and piling handfuls of popcorn into his little mouth, savoring every drop of juice. By the time the movie was over at 8:00pm, ST was pretty wound up. Although I read him two stories before I put him to bed, and although he kept rubbing his little eyes, he was not tired. He kept getting out of bed and wandering around the house to find me.

While he was supposed to be in bed I got a phone call from my aunt, who is less than ten years older than me and who had her first baby, a girl, on Monday morning. I loved chatting with my aunt, talking about breastfeeding and caring for a newborn, and I told her that, for the next few weeks at least, everything (e.g., housework) can be set aside -- the only thing that mattered was a happy baby and a happy mother. I told her that she should learn from her new baby girl and just take the time to give her what she needs. For the next few weeks (months?), it is ALL about the baby.

When I got off the phone I went to check on ST. He was still awake, tossing and turning in his bed, arm tucked characteristically behind his head. I asked him if he wanted to rock in his chair, and he said that he did. I set up a pillow for him on the arm of the chair and he draped himself across my lap while I covered him with his favorite napping blanket. We chatted for a bit and then I could see his little eyes start to flutter. I stroked his cheek and then ran my finger along his forehead, down his cheeks, around his chin, and up the other side of his face. When I stopped for a second, he opened his eyes and said, "No, Mom, keep doing that." So I did. I caressed his little face for a long time until I was certain he was fast asleep.

I wasn't bored at all. I didn't think about anything else. For those moments, it was ALL about the toddler. These are the times I enjoy being a mom the most, when I can see elements of my own mother coming out in me, when I'm taking the advice I give to other mothers. This is the work mothers do. It is quiet, it is repetitive, it is soft. And sometimes, for me at least, it is the only work worth doing.
Posted with care by Prof. Me @ 1/27/2006 10:35:00 PM  
4 Words of Wisdom:
  • At 1:22 AM, Blogger Demetri said…

    Cool. For me, it was my mom rubbing my neck, just very lightly with her nails and finger tips.

  • At 10:51 PM, Blogger Lilian said…

    That's exactly it, you described it so precisely! I feel the same way when I spend time caring for my sons...

  • At 11:37 AM, Blogger MusicalMom said…

    That's so sweet! Isn't it the truth, though? You did such a great job of describing it. :)

  • At 9:50 PM, Blogger ArticulateDad said…

    Being a dad is perhaps the hardest thing I've every tried to do well. It's far harder than writing a dissertation I warrant. There are times when the joy is so exquisite (like you described) that all the world's worries melt away.

    But being a dad is in ways different from being a mom. One thing that stays with me, at times haunts me, at others simply reminds me, is my father, in the last weeks of his life (while I was tending to him day and night, and to my three year old, and my very pregnant wife, all the while trying to complete the dissertation), saying firmly, with labored tones, and pain in his eyes unrelated to the metasteses of cancer in his bones, perhaps more related to his own regrets: "no yelling... don't yell at your son."

    Even now it brings tears to my eyes, that I have, yes I admit, made mistakes in parenting. It is one thing to be accomplished as a scholar, to have written a dissertation, to have garnered grants and acclaim, and written articles, to look ahead to numerous projects, and courses. It is quite another to sometimes look into your boy's eyes, seeing his sadness, and feeling that sadness deep within yourself, so personally that it burns far more than all of one's own life's sadness.

    I know that I am not perfect. But it is something difficult to remember. And perhaps it is best that way, because it makes me more chary of my actions. We learn and grow, but not so fast as our children.

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