It is a story I tell often. A few years back a woman in her seventies had a massive stroke. Taken to the hospital, there was little hope of recovery. It was one of those visits that you make where you don’t expect much. Her husband had died a few years earlier and her children were a distance away. You don’t know if she had the foggiest clue of what was happening around her. All one expected to find was an empty hospital room. You go, because that is what you do.
So, it was a shock to see her elderly mother, who must have been in her late nineties, next to the bed in a chair holding her hand. This fragile, elderly woman looked up and in a voice withered with age and exhaustion said, “You never stop worrying about them.” The whole time she never released her daughter’s hand.
The dirty little secret of parenthood is, the moment your child is born and placed in your arms you will never have another care free day for the rest of your life. No one tells you this, but it is true.
It's why the words Simeon says to a pregnant Mary in Scripture, “And sword shall pierce your own heart too,” are so painful. It is the truth of every mother.
There is such love for this helpless being that looks to you for their every need. They cry and cry. A mother operates on almost no sleep. There comes that moment where a mother knows she has to let the baby cry. She stands outside the room, wanting to rush in, but knowing that it is for the best that she doesn’t. Still, each cry is a dagger to the heart.
Then come the firsts. The first time baby starts to walk. Now they are a toddler! The first time the child rides a bike or climbs a tree. There is that joy, but also that moment where a mother holds her breath.
Ear infections, scrapes, falls and fevers become a part of your life. The late decisions regarding when you take the child to the doctor. There is not a mother who has escaped that dark night where she listens to her child breathe, ragged and painful breaths. Then the child stops breathing for a second. At that moment, a mother discovers the only thing that hurts more is the silence until the next breath begins.
The first day of school. The letting go of the hand. That anxiety. Will it be a good day or not? There is that day your child comes home in tears because they have been teased or bullied. As you hold them in your arms, it is a hundred times worse for you than it is for them. You feel each slight and sting more than they will ever know until they have a child of their own.
There comes that strike out. That long walk back to the dugout. A teacher telling you that they don’t measure up or are struggling. They don’t fit in with the other kids. Each is a sword that pierces a mother’s heart.
The first time behind the wheel of a car on their own. You watch the taillights vanish. The missed curfew. The first girlfriend or boyfriend. The first heartbreak. A child’s scream that you will never understand what they are going through, even though you do. The wars and shouting matches. The misbehavior that come with a child thinking they are more mature than they really are. That late night phone call that wakes a mother from her sleep. It is never good. Those rocky moments where all you can do as a parent is bluff and hold on.
Even with the best children, there are a thousand cuts and a thousand stabs. A thousand words a mother wishes she could take back and a thousand things that she wishes she would have done different. As well as a thousand different ways mothers forgive and offer second chances.
There is that day where a mother has to let her child go out into the world. It is the right thing to do. They need their wings. Yet, the house feels so much bigger, empty. A mother has to rediscover a world without Sesame Street, play dates, driving the child to practices and friends' houses, sitting in the stands watching too many games and meets to even remember, higher insurance, and ensuring homework gets done. And even after all that, you still worry about them.
Being a mother is an art, not a science. Some mothers are better than others and some have the amazing ability to create magic out of nothing. I think back to that old woman in the hospital room holding her daughter’s hand. It is such a little thing, almost seemingly meaningless, the holding of a hand. A smaller gesture than a hug. That is why we celebrate Mother’s Day, for that hug, those holding of hands during those painful moments of childhood. When the final sentence of our story is written and the book closed, it is most often those moments that made all the difference in the world.