Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Magic of Mothers

“Why do they always want only me?” complains my exhausted daughter after yet another sleepless night. Her toddler and his infant brother have come down with one of the debilitating viruses sweeping across California during this dreaded flu season.

“They're sick and you’re their mother,” I reply, a response that belies my helplessness in the face of evidence so obvious, so universal, so inexplicably true despite my lack of understanding the why. Why do children long to build towers, play cards and stack blocks with Daddy only to whine miserably for Mommy when their throats are sore and their tummies hurt?

Why indeed? More often now that retirement allows me the time to reflect, I look back on my own childhood for answers.  Typically, my preferred parent was my father. He was reasonable, soft-spoken, humorous and open-minded. My mother, although an interesting, independent woman in her own right, shared few of those qualities and, yet, when my stomach revolted and my forehead burned, I wanted Mom. Her hands were cool, she smelled like flowers, she turned my pillow regularly and she knew to feed me dry toast and ginger ale, instead of the chili and peanuts that invariably were my dad’s contribution. My mother was the parent who worked miracles. She made me well again. 

I’m not alone in my latent appreciation of my mother’s special talent. Wounded soldiers call out for mom. Olympic medalists and academy award winners credit mothers with their success more often than any other family member. It makes sense. The bond that begins in the womb and extends through every milestone in life is a strong one. 

A mother may not be the more reasonable parent or the funnier or even the more patient or preferred, but when it comes to her children, she has extra-sensory perception. She sleeps lightly, hears every cough, every cry, and knows when to take action and when to ride it out. She has staying power and she bends with mood swings. She practices spelling lists and math facts, supervises reading logs and explains how to use research without plagiarizing. Mom, even when she works outside the home, is the parent more frequently called when a child is sick. She is the master of forgiving and, something interesting I came across recently, more often than not, a mother determines her children's level of education, regardless of her own. It doesn't matter whether or not she is educated herself, only that her children know she believes it is important. And when a mother becomes a grandmother, she is first on the emergency call list, quite an impressive job description.

“Of course, they want only you,” I tell my weary, sleep-challenged daughter. “They have only one mother. You are their miracle worker.”