It was gray and cold today, a day that followed yesterday’s 12 straight hours of chill-you-to-the-bone rain. Stepping out the door to let the dog out earlier this morning, I shivered at the damp cold in the air and rubbed my hands over goosebumps on my way back inside. Later, as I put my kids in the car, I recoiled at a few chilly gusts of wind, pulling my face into my coat’s collar.
That’s why, as I drove my kids to preschool, my eyebrows furrowed and my lips pursed when I saw a mom in a T-shirt walking down the street with her small son. No higher than her hips, her son was yanking his long sleeve T-shirt down around his fists, attempting to pull his arms inside the rest of his shirt while shuffling to keep up with his mom. He was cold.
“Why don’t you have a coat?” I exclaimed to myself aloud. “It’s thirty-nine degrees outside!”
In the back seat, my two year old daughter questioned, “Ah wong, Mom?” (What’s wrong, Mom?)
I turned onto a side road and explained what I’d seen, ultimately promising, “No matter what, I will always keep you warm.”
After some brief self-reflection, I added with a drip of humor, “And that’s because I have a constant worry that you are cold.”
My daughter replied a not very convincing “oh” of understanding, and I quietly laughed to myself, knowing I’d inherited that constant worry from my own mother.
Growing up, there were many mornings that I’d awaken to find a blanket spread across my comforter, one that hadn’t been there when I’d gone to sleep the night before. And it wasn’t just any blanket, it was wool. Industrial. Carefully selected from some company located in the tundra, which focused on keeping Eskimos warm before they turned their attention to the children of concerned moms in the Midwestern United States.
Mom had slipped in during the night, with her ninja-like footsteps, smoothed a blanket over me, and left undetected. You might think this happened only when I was little, but no, Mom’s desire to keep her children warm didn’t discriminate based on age. She was an equal-opportunity coverer. I found mysteriously laid blankets on top of me as a child, a teenager, a twenty-something, and even as a 32-year-old adult, sleeping in my parents’ guest room while my baby slept down the hall and my husband was deployed. (That time she didn’t go undetected, though. I woke up as she entered the room at 2 a.m. and wondered who’d died. Nobody, but here’s a wool blanket.)
Our winter coats were always of the same nature: Lands’ End, a classic Navy blue or hunter green, with a lining made of “black watch” flannel or military-strength fleece, and several handily concealed pockets for our winter gloves. I can’t say they were especially stylish, but we never froze. Ever.
Turtlenecks, wool sweaters, blankets made for Eskimos… Mom had us set.
Growing up, Mom no doubt received too many eye-rollings from me. But she always reminded me that I’d understand when I had kids myself. “Whatever!” I probably retorted. Good one.
But, you know, I do understand now… so much so that that instinct, that worry, stretches even to unknown children walking coatless on a cold day. Why is that? Why do I feel the need to toss a coat from the floor of my car out the window? (And let’s face it, about a dozen small white socks, a pair of shoes, a handful of goldfish, and an almost-empty sippy cup… oh, and some lipstick. Does your mom need lipstick?)
I guess we moms feel like we must be prepared at any given moment. If worse comes to worst, do I — do my kids — have what we need to get through it? If it’s cold, do they have their coats and mittens? If they’re hungry, do I have a snack in my purse? If there’s a disaster, will I be able – did I do everything – to protect them?
And that’s what I think it is. It’s a universal maternal instinct that can sometimes be confused as paranoia: protection. And Mom had protection mastered in all of its forms.
She never ever bought us sugar cereal or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or Skippy peanut butter; this we had to drum up ourselves. Our bodies would be fed healthy food and nothing else in her kitchen. She would keep us healthy. She held our heads over toilets, spent long hours in the night keeping cold compresses on our feverish foreheads and tracking our temperatures so she could report in detail to the doctor the next morning. She would keep us well. When our neighborhood was getting repaved, and we had to park our cars on the road outside the entrance, she removed my car’s parking permit. No crazy person passing by would learn where I went to high school. She would see to that. Walking along a sidewalk, Mom deliberately walked on the side closer to the street. If a car were to hop the curb, she would take the impact first. She would keep us safe.
Safe, well, healthy, and warm.
Mom didn’t deserve the eye-rolling. She was doing what she was supposed to, and not only that, but she was also giving me a glimpse into my own future. Do any of us ever realize that watching our moms mother us, was in fact witnessing a prophecy? Because oh yes, we do become our moms.
I got back home later in the day and let these reflections meander and percolate in my head. And I guess what it all boils down to, is that on a windy, damp, cold day, 1,100 miles away from her, I am thankful for my mother… and for her wool blankets.
I love you, Mom.
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