She’s gone. My mother finally went home yesterday.
The wind shifted to the west and blew her right back to Texas. Via Southwest airlines. Not an umbrella.
I was alone in the house for 15 minutes before the kids arrived from school. Just Becky and me. Becky’s godmother drove Mom to the airport. Becky has some difficulties with reflux and sporadically chokes, struggling to cough and catch her breath. These episodes are frightening and someone needs to be near her, especially after feedings. I consider myself a fairly capable mother but I can’t drive and watch Becky as she faces backwards in car. But I would like that super power.
I should have run through the house picking up the trail of shoes and cups and toys. I should have written a few thank you notes for all of the food and gifts we have received. I should have thought about Thanksgiving plans and prepared for my college girls arrival.
But I couldn’t. For those brief moments, I just let myself feel. So many emotions. Mostly gratitude with some fear sprinkled in. Because this is quite a ship to keep on course. And Mom is a fantastic First Mate.
I remember the first time she left me with a baby. We were living in a small apartment in Austin and Mom had been with us for two weeks. I had never cared for a baby before and desperately needed all the help that she gave me. When she left, I called Dad and told him that Mom had started the drive home. My composure only held to this point. I began to ugly cry and blubbered, “Dad, she le-eft m-m-me with this b-b-b-ba-b-by-y!” It’s good we didn’t have cell phones then. I probably would have asked her to turn around.
We repeated this routine with each baby. In 1999. 2000. 2003. 2005. 2007. 2009. 2014. And 2020. Mom stayed with me post partum in the hospital and then for several weeks at home. Each time, I was a little more confident and capable caring for a newborn. But no less in need of my mom.
This time around, Mom has been gone from home for 57 days. She spent the first 19 days at my sister’s home, cooking meals for our family and making sure she was quarantined for a potential stay at the hospital or Ronald McDonald House. My Dad wrote up a list of their efforts to stick on the freezer.
Let me clarify. When this list says 5 Chicken Tetrazzini, it means 5 trays that could each serve the 5th infantry. I plan to begin cooking again next summer.
When my siblings and I were born, my Mommo came from Atlanta and helped my mother. While I don’t remember this, I am grateful for the example.
Somehow knowing that my mom needed help gave me permission to ask for the same. This was my model growing up and my children have seen Mom help me. I hope I can help with my grandchildren in a similar way. It seems like a great tradition to continue into the future.
Mom has come to help when all 8 of our children have been born. In 4 different hospitals and 4 different cities. Piles of laundry. Loads of dishes, Countless games of Candy Land and Go Fish. And through it all, Mom’s hair remains a perfectly coiffed brown football helmet. Which is a testament to her style and trusty Witch Hazel hair spray.
She even missed her 50th wedding anniversary as Johnny was born on that day. Mom and Dad didn’t think twice about delaying their celebration.
For Becky, we spent 24 days in the Ronald McDonald House. Mom was allowed in the NICU 3 times. The Covid rules were strange, allowing Sam to freely move from home to work to the NICU, if he chose. But Sam and Mom were not allowed to swap bands on a one-time, permanent basis. Not deterred by this disappointment, Mom simply stayed at RMH and waited for me.
Over dinner one night, Mom and I were talking about Becky and the various unknowns going into the future. She reminded me of a speech given at my brother Dennis’s rehearsal dinner. Dennis’s good friend Todd relayed a conversation they had many years before.
Todd was down on his life situation and Dennis firmly told him that, good or bad, it was time he played the hand he had been dealt. You can’t control the cards, you can only control how you play them. Dennis told Todd that he couldn’t play someone else’s cards but his happiness depended on how he dealt with his own hand. That was the only thing in his control.
This conversation stuck with me. As I walked back to the NICU that night, I listened to Kenny Roger’s famous song The Gambler. A particular line stuck out.
Every hand’s a winner
And every hand’s a loser
I suppose some might look at our situation with a late-in-life, special needs child and see a losing hand. But it really depends how we how we play it. We continue to accept the situation and look for all of God’s graces in the midst of the challenges. My mother’s presence these last 57 days was one of those graces. It was like having my own burning bush. With gratitude and lots of outside support, we see our children as a winning hand.
I don’t know much about poker. But it’s clear we’ve been dealt a full house.
And Mom is my ace in the hole.