I have been this thing called mother for over twenty-nine years.
Nine days before Christmas, my husband Mark and I packed up weekend necessities along with a few of our fanciest clothes. The destination was Washington DC to meet up with our son and his wife as well as celebrate the marriage of my closest childhood friend’s son. We left our two middle school daughters in the competent care of their grandmom and granddad.
As I transferred essential items from my oversized “everything a woman and mom might need handbag” into a more practical travel purse, I paused as I touched the insurance cards. A small tingle, akin to spidey sense, whispered to put those cards on top of the weekend instructions awaiting my parents on the kitchen island.
The 275-mile trip from our home to the nation’s capitol is always a bit of smooth sailing along interstate highways mixed with stop and go traffic. This day was no exception. Though my husband most often enjoys driving, he needed to work on the way, so I was the designated driver for a good portion of the trip. We arrived at our destination in about five and a half hours.
We connected with our boy and he showed us around Georgetown University. We had a lovely afternoon as we wandered up and down the quaint streets of Georgetown. I enjoyed sipping chai tea latte in a warm and friendly coffee shop. We headed out to pick up our daughter-in-law from work and anticipated a nice long leisurely dinner together. My cell phone rang, and my mom’s name popped up on the screen.
My stomach lurched. My mama sense went into medium alert mode. My mom very rarely calls when she is in charge of her grandchildren. It seems to be a principle that when we are away, she can handle things at home. She has done so for twenty-nine years… “Trish, we think H has broken her arm. We are heading to the emergency room. We will need to get insurance information.” I took a deep breath and responded, “Mom, I left the girls insurance cards on the kitchen island.”
I filled my husband in, and we quickly decided that after eating dinner, we would head back toward home. Part of having good mama sense includes knowing when dad sense is needed. Despite mild protests to wait and see from my mom, we knew we should head back toward home. We found a restaurant and sat down to eat. There were many phone calls as I relayed medical history and answered all the emergency room questions required to treat our girl. My mom stayed right by her side through it all. The elbow injury required the cutting away of a beloved Under Armour sweatshirt. “Do you know how much that sweatshirt cost?” said my spunky girl who kept her sense of humor throughout a stressful and painful situation.
Comforting words were spoken that it appeared to be a fairly simple fracture of the elbow that would require a cast once swelling reduced. We set out for home. Mark was not entering this weekend well rested, so we decided he would start out and then I would take over when needed. There was an impending forecast for freezing rain, but it seemed that we might be able to beat the system. We agreed that we would stop if the roads got dicey, or if we were too tired to drive safely.
We headed south on I-95, and Mark hit a wall about an hour into our travel. He knew he couldn’t safely drive. The mama bear within roared, and I declared, “Here is what we are going to do. We will stop and get gas, and I will grab some caffeine and snacks. You try to sleep, and I promise I will stop if I get too tired.” I had my first coca cola in ten years, grabbed some trail mix and chocolate, and loaded up several OnBeing podcasts. Krista Tippett and friends kept me company as we rolled down the highway. I was on a mission, and thankfully the caffeine kicked in.
My mom called a few times along the way. She had to access her own mom sense as she communicated with us. Since we were committed to stopping for the night if necessary, they didn’t want to sway that decision. But there was news from the ER doctors that pointed to the fact that this was more complex than a simple break. At one point, as we were about an hour away, she called to say that there were some complications that might lead to a return trip to the ER. I said, “Mom, we are going to drive right by the hospital, so we can meet you there if necessary.” She said she would follow the doctor’s suggestions, use her nursing skills, and do a few things to see if troublesome symptoms could be relieved.
About ten miles from home just as we crossed the county line, freezing rain began to fall from the sky. As we looked toward the other side of the divided highway, we saw vehicles slipping and sliding all over the bridges. I immediately slowed to a crawl. Rolling through red lights and doing all I could to avoid sliding, we crept toward home. I told Mark, “Call my mom and tell her not to move.” Visions of my parents heading out in this crazy weather danced through my head.
I don’t think I have ever been so relieved to arrive at a destination. I checked in with my girl, hugged my mom as I received all of the instructions and concerns of the previous nine hours, and sent my mom off to bed. I then had the privilege of caring for my girl during a difficult night. She got to tell me her story of seventh grade boys chasing girls and girls chasing boys in pursuit of a snatched cell phone that led to her fall. I held her and repositioned the painful arm over and over throughout the night. Finally, sleep descended for a few hours upon each of us.
The next morning my father spoke words of encouragement. “You and Mark sure do have good instincts about your kids.” I think that was his way of saying, “Thank God you got back when you did!” I have pondered his comment, and the truth is that the road to good instincts is complicated.
This week I find myself pulling from the kitchen cabinet a mug that was gifted to me almost thirty years ago by a dear friend. A bit chipped and scratched up, it displays the words, “new mommy.” My friend and I have grown our mama sense alongside each other over many years. I believe that a portion of good instincts was granted to me at the birth of our first child. But at the same time, my mom sense requires cultivation and attention as it continues to develop through hard work and over many years.
As I navigated the five days since this crazy Friday evening, my mama sense has directed me to be intentional in one particular matter. Self-care. Sleep, healthy food, exercise, and relaxation rituals have risen to the top of my priorities even though this is typically one of the busiest weeks of the year. Many holiday traditions have given way to phone calls, research, forms filled out, surgeon consultations, and second opinions. In the midst of such tasks, I have also done my best to be mindful of the emotional needs of the two children that reside in our home. All of this only happens as I take good care of myself. For me, a self-care focus did not arrive at the birth of my first child. It made itself known after failure and much hard work..
For my daughter, this is not her first surgery rodeo. In many ways, this led to increased anxiety since she knows the drill. We have had many moments of talking, reassuring, and reflecting of feelings big and small. I am invited to be intentional in relationship in the midst of a myriad of details and decisions. This is possible only because I prioritize self-care in the midst of craziness and chaos.
Early this morning, surgery day, sleep eluded me. I got up, turned on the gas fire, curled up in a blanket, and began writing. I then headed to an early morning yoga class. Setting an intention is a critical act when on the yoga mat. Today’s intention was to be a mom who is present to her children. It was coupled with a prayer for peace of mind and healing for my daughter. Then I came home to accompany my girl and my husband to the hospital.
In days ahead as Christmas comes and goes and my girl begins a long recovery, both mama sense and intention are in order. I will do all in my power to make space to care for myself so that I can offer the same to those who are counting on me. I have learned the hard way that this is the only way I want to move through all of the ups and downs of life.
PS We are happy that brother and sister-in-law reinforcements arrive tomorrow morning. We will all be very happy to see them. Blessings to you and your family during this holiday season.