Grace in a Mother’s Hands

A virus has come to visit our house. It’s ferocious and mean and seems to be jumping from one person to the next like a grasshopper. I’m in day three of nursing sick children. It’s made me think about how vital physical contact is to the job of motherhood. Nobody ever really mentioned that, when I was pregnant with my first. I heard all about sleepless nights, temper tantrums, nursing problems, potty training, when to start solid foods…I even heard all about the emotionally draining years of the teens. But, nobody ever talked about how much I was going to use physical touch in order to be a good mom.

My two year old is very sick. Call the doctor kind of sick. The nurse on the phone said take him to the emergency room. I asked what I could do at home first before I took that step. She suggested Pedialyte. If it worked, I should be ok at home, if it didn’t work, go to the hospital for dehydration. Good news, the Pedialyte has been working so far. I’m keeping a close count on wet diapers, keeping track of how many ounces of fluid he takes, what time he last drank something. The problem is that everything just keeps coming out, both ends. Let’s be honest here. That’s gross. Throw-up is disgusting. It makes me want to sympathy-throw-up. Nasty diapers that smell like toxic waste are also disgusting. It also makes me want to run away. But what does a mother do? She picks up the sick child, bathes him, dresses him. Holds him in her arms, rocks him, murmurs comforting words. Lays down on her bed with him till he can go back to sleep. He snuggles up against his mama, taking comfort in her physical presence.

My four year old was also sick, though not with the same intensity as the younger one. I put him on my bed in the afternoon and he slept. Occasionally I would go in and touch his head to see how hot he felt. Kiss his hair, rub his little back. He was still sleeping at bedtime so I made a pallet on the floor next to my bed and laid him there so I could help him in the night if he needed it. He woke up once, restless, achy. I rolled over, put my hand on him and he settled down and went back to sleep.

The eight year old got sick too. I put her to bed in her own bed, but told her that if she needed me in the night she could come lay on the pallet that was still next to my bed. She showed up around midnight. I reached my arm out and patted her on the back to let her know I was there if she needed me. She went back to sleep, comforted at being close to her mom.

Usually, sickness is an indicator that we need to stay away from someone. Oh, you’re sick? Here, let me move about five feet away…how contagious are you?? I tell this to my other children. Your brother is sick, please don’t go near him. The baby is sick, don’t kiss or hug him. But Moms have different rules. Your son is sick. Pick him up and hold him. The baby is sick. Cuddle him close, murmur love words against his head while he sleeps in your arms.

How do mother’s learn to do this? I’m going to guess it’s partly instinct and, if you were fortunate, partly remembering what your mom did for you. I remember my mom’s cool hand on my hot head, placing wet washcloths on my forehead while I struggled through some harsh tropical sickness. I remember her making potato soup for me, her hands stroking my hair while I tried to eat a couple bites. I remember, as a child in Haiti, when I was very, very sick, we were far away from any hospitals and the medicine wasn’t working. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, my mom’s hand on my head while she quietly, fervently prayed that God would heal me. Healing from a mother’s touch.

And I carry it on to the next generation. You’re crying? Come sit on my lap. You hurt yourself? Let me kiss it. You’re sad? Let me hug you. You’re sick? Come, climb in my bed, I will take care of you.

May this urge to use our hands, arms, bodies to administer love and care, may this never cease. May it pass on to the next generation of mothers, and the next, and the next. Full-body mothering. Grace in a tangible form.  

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Generation to Generation

I was in the kitchen this evening cooking supper. My phone chimed, I checked and my Mom had just texted me. I quickly responded and told her that I had received the “Happy Light” that she had sent me in the mail (since she knew I had been struggling with depression)  and I had used it. It had seemed to help me with my bad mood. She quickly texted me back to give me some quick tips on how to use it. I smiled to myself. Yes Mom. You already told me this. 🙂 Then my phone chimed, my daughter who is off at college was texting me. I had texted her about some mail she had received at our house, asking her whether she needed it or not. And suddenly I felt like I was in a time loop. My mom was texting me because she wanted to help me out, I was texting my daughter because I wanted to help her out, and I suddenly had this Great Understanding. Oh. I get it Mom. This is why you still try to give me advice. This is why you buy special little things for me. In your mind, I’m still your little girl.

I have this overwhelming desire to help my own grown-up daughter in whatever way I can and I am trying to learn as fast as I can how to give her the space she needs to be a grown-up and be her own person and learn how to be independent, but that desire to Mother her is always there. Sometimes I step over the line and I can tell by the tenseness in her face that I need to back down and shut up. But that desire never goes away. I still want her to be well-fed, well-rested, have enough clean clothes to wear, have some good Real friends, be getting satisfaction from her work, know that she is walking after God. I don’t think that desire ever goes away. She’s my little girl, even if she’s 18 years old. And I’m still my Mom’s little girl. Even if I’m 40.

Later this evening I was tucking my four year old son into bed. He was laying on his bunk bed, smiling at me in the lamplight, laughing and telling me a funny story. And I thought about generations again. This particular child looks uncannily like his father’s childhood photos. And I suddenly wondered, is this what my husband was like when he was little? That adorable face and shining eyes and mischievous smile? Was I getting a glimpse into the past? Is this what my mother-in-law saw every evening when she put my child-aged husband to bed every night? I suddenly felt like a door had swung open and given me a peek at my husband’s childhood.

It’s interesting that God created us in this way. Each generation raising up the next. It’s a strange cycle. As a child I remember the urgency, the longing to be a grownup. Why? So that I could marry and have kids of my own, and those kids have a longing to grow up and have kids of their own, and so we perpetuate the human race. Each generation doing whatever they can to help the next generation along.

I am thankful for my parents. Thankful that I still have them close by. Thankful that they still care about me and want to know that everything is going well for me. I am also thankful that I have children that I can carry on the tradition with. Children who I can text on the phone, You doing ok? Want to come home for the weekend? And I am hopeful, so hopeful that one day my children will have children of their own who they will be checking up on even when they are all grown.

This whole generations thing…It feels like the goodness of God. As I sit in my chair, late at night, writing on my computer, all my children are upstairs in their bedrooms, the younger ones fast asleep, the older ones puttering around, trying to not give in to sleepiness till the last moment possible. Soon I will go climb into bed, snuggled warm against my husband. This is life. The life God created and gave to us. A gift.

Psalm 145 vs 4 says,

“One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”

So, I declare to my children who read this, to the younger generations that have come up after me… God is good. This life he has given us is good. Marrying, having children, raising families, it is good. Maybe this is why:

“For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100 vs 5