“In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.”
A little after four AM I hear my son’s voice like a pebble tossed in a still pool. “Mama. Would you be willing to comfort me in some way?” His voice is calm but sad. I realize, surfacing from sleep, he’s been under the covers, shifting silently, his body giving off heat like fresh-baked bread, frightened and trying to cope on his own for several hours. I hold him close and as I wake up more I collect myself to care for him. First I bring him to the bathroom to pee, then wash his hands and have a drink of cool water and then I feed him a little cereal. His body in his little underpants reminds me of my childhood books, Mowgli the “little brown frog”, legs and arms and a little fragile neck. His hair is long and tangled and every color of blonde, the smell of a dusty sunshine, a special heaven made just for me.
We return to bed and like a stone sinking in a pond he sinks into sleep, gradually over minutes but the minutes feel like much longer, laying beside him and in a state of half-sleep as I’m ready and willing to rise with him again should he need it; should his sleeplessness be the beginnings of a flu or fever. I stroke his back; smooth as velvet, living ribs rise and fall beneath my hand. It is quiet and the earth is spinning and soon I spin down to join him.
In the morning I hear my son telling Ralph about his restless night. He tells his father I’d held him, and got up with him. “And I got a glass of lemonade and I didn’t even have to rush because she was waiting for me. She was very kind.” I am tired, but I am content with being tired. I am learning how to rest, sometimes. And now I hold his hair gently off his neck and kiss him at the nape of his neck; his body folds up against me and his dusky little voice tells us both about his plans for the day, which include swimming and showing off his “fort” (at the bay side) to his father.
Later in the day my daughter arrives home from a beach trip and does not go in the house, but instead finds Ralph and I in the garage where we are doing the dusty work of cleaning. “Mom, a little assistance?” she asks now, unwilling to track sand through the house. Good, my four hundred thousand exasperated remonstrations over the years have made some effect. I gently whack the sand off her as best I can and with her cooperation tug off one of her t-shirts; we travel into the shower where she stands while I bag up her sand-laden clothes. I leave her there, treading to the laundry room to wash her things, and she turns on the tap. I remember how good a shower feels after a beach date.
My children show the evidence of the season’s change; they are outside immediately when the weather improves and they stay out for months. It is a cheerful ritual I have almost nothing to do with, but that helps me immensely. Even cooking hot meals in the kitchen while the family is out, even pouring scalding water and suds into the sink, there is a privacy I experience in keeping the home while they are out, that is much-appreciated after the winter months being cooped-up. I cook beans with chiles and pour strawberry lemonade for my husband; before I go out in the evening I change into a thin white shirt and step out into the sunshine, a bit cooled from earlier in the day.