I lay on the couch, one eye open and one shut. An ice cube wrapped inside a damp washcloth balanced on my eyebrow.
“I weally sorry, Momma,” he said.
His face was level with mine, his eye brows bent into a frown. He peered into my face and focused on my wound. He stood so close his breath blew little puffs on my cheeks. With grown-up baby-worry concern he examined me. A bright yellow and red plastic gun hung from his little fingers. The offending foam dart was clenched tight in his other pudgy fist.
I sensed his fear, felt his sorrow, and my sharp anger melted.
I reached to steady the cloth with one hand and stretched my other arm awkwardly around him, pulling him close to my prone side. His miniature warm body felt like heaven. I gave him a squeeze and a weak smile, dispelling his shadow and bringing sunshine back to his face.
“It’s OK,” I said.
Because that’s what moms do. We rise up from the battle, pat our scars and move on to piles of laundry and dirty dishes.
Sunday lunch at Grandpa and Grandma’s my radar picked up the odor of cauliflower before it was served. I glanced at my oldest daughter’s face filled with the dread and panic of it. I saw her attempt to pass the vegetable by, but Grandma’s ladle landed it next to the ham layered on her plate, where it swam through the meal, untouched in a puddle of melted butter. When Grandma left the room, I forked the detested cauliflower off my daughter’s plate, and chewed like a chipmunk.
She shuddered and whispered, “Thanks, Mom.”
Because that’s what moms do. We protect by making the bad stuff disappear even when it sits in our throats and it takes all our willpower to swallow it gone.
In that almost teen stage, when boys stink but girls walk in a cloud of perfume, my daughter pushed her bare arm into my face. “Smell my arm, Mom,” she said. It had become a daily request, this smell my arm bit, and I shook my head at its ludicrousness.
“No,” I set my face. “Seriously, I’m not going to smell your arm.” I waved my hand in dismissal hurrying to walk past. Chicken in the pan sizzled needing to be turned and she was blocking my runway.
“Oh, come on, smell it, it smells so good,” and with those words she put her nose to her outstretched arm and closed her eyes in pleasure.
It came at me again, fresh delicate pale skin, held up at eye level, pushing toward me. A waft of smell, sweet and spicy surrounded her forearm.
“Nope,” I planted my hands against each side of her waist, urging her aside.
When did she get so big, I wondered, frozen unexpectedly my hands framing the curve of her midriff?
Big blue eyes begged inches from mine. A smile twitched the corners of her lips. My heart twisted just a little. Through her frustrating youthful demand, I glimpsed my baby. She was still in there, under the pink lip gloss and black fingernail polish. I bent over her arm and inhaled.
Because that’s what moms do. We accomplish the difficult, we chose the ridiculous, and we opt for the exhausting.
Then I remembered another mother. Mary, Jesus’ mother took in the culmination of years of mothering in what must have been the most difficult scene a mother could witness.
From the cross, Christ saw his mother and the disciple John. “Behold, your mother!” Jesus said in his last moments. After that day, John cared for Mary in his home.
At the pinnacle of the Son’s earthly mission and the crux of eternity, Jesus’ final thoughts were for His mother’s care, like sweet perfume to remember all her days. Mary didn’t have to be there to witness the gruesome death of her firstborn, but she was.
Because that’s what moms do.
We grasp moments like vapor. We sigh because we are weary, and we fall short, oh, so short. Then we stand again, breathe deeply and savor because we must. It’s in our DNA.
It’s what moms do.