When I was nine with freckles and braids, I remember staring through the slats of my bunkbed railing watching my Mama rock my sister to sleep. It was long past midnight, and she rocked and sang so softly with an exhaustion I recognize now because I’ve been there-done that a thousand times myself.
As the infant in her arms finally nodded off, she tiptoed to the crib then silently began the parent-steal toward the open door. The yellow light through the hall shimmied off her nightgown.
I did not know that the swift movements to my bed, legs swishing in the satin of her gown, were in part to hush my voice, rushing from that frantic belly-feeling a mama gets: don’t wake the baby. Please, please, please, don’t wake the baby. No, I just felt my Mama come.
I asked if she could rock me, too.
Can you rock all nine years of me, your firstborn, all lanky legs and waist-length hair, all independence and oh-so-big, and can we fit, can I still squeeze there, can you still sing me those songs in the night?
I think about this memory when my children ask for one more drink, one more back rub, one more midnight holding on their beds. When that second born went through two years of nightmares, and I dragged myself from nursing his sister to gripping his hand, singing scriptures and massaging his skin, I thought of it. When my firstborn plunged his little fingers through the slats of his crib and I passed out on the hardwood floor, sorely pregnant, to reach my own fingers to him, I thought of it. When my fifth born sings his little heart out at 3 am, it still comes to mind.
Yes, now I know how hard it can be to answer rightly, how soft answers can play elusive in the middle of the night, and how harsh tones can so quickly bubble forth. But it never seemed that way with my Mama. Perhaps she was some sort of magic, some sort of star-faring grace, because in my memory, my Mama always responded gently in the dark.
This may be the last time she held me this way, the last time I asked. In my memory, it was the last time I buried my nose in her neck and breathed in her skin, my mouth to the silky-smoothness of her lacy sleeves, my ear to the beat-beat-beat of her chest and the low vibration of voice above heart. I asked for my favorite songs, a child growing old, a quickly drying cement needing her mother’s prints this one time more. We rocked back and forward, back and forward, and she sang.
Nancy Wilson, in her book Praise Her In The Gates, compares motherhood to building a house. She describes a master builder as one who never scorns the nails, who knows that he cannot despise the small things or the house will never stand. Each nail must go in its place, however tempting it is to skip 1 or 2 or a 105; the builder keeps the end goal in mind.
My Mama taught me that the little things in motherhood, the small tasks and trials which go unrecognized, the large nighttime sacrifices and unending daytime cares, these are the parts that make up the splendid, beautiful whole.
A thousand acts of love may go unnoticed, but then unbeknownst to us one will remain, and this one can shine forth in memory because of the thousand that went before.
Mother on, you mothers. We’re none of us perfect, but we all can be good. We can be excellent, even, and one day our children will rise up and call us blessed.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mama. “Many women have done excellently, but you have surpassed them all. Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
I love you.