“Jules has some kind of virus and is very sad,” her mama texted me earlier. She needed some things from the grocery store. “I could use a bit of help.”
Katy doesn’t ask for backup very often and Jules hardly ever cries when she hurts. It was an SOS if ever I heard one. Calling my daughter for details, I could hear her little four-year-old sobbing in the background. On Sunday she spiked a fever and for the next two days she had a pounding headache. They’d had a long week and it was only Tuesday.
I know I went through it—the whole sleepless, clueless, endless mothering thing. And when I got Katy’s text, I thought something empathetic like, “Poor thing. It’s so hard to be a mommy.” But until I walked through the door and saw Jules’ swollen eyes and took in the whole weary scene, I forgot what it’s like to be in the trenches with your children.
I read once that becoming a mother is “to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” You’re permanently vulnerable—it doesn’t matter if it’s a limp weed-blossom bouquet offered by sticky fingers or your own frightened imagination stirred by childhood illness, every gift is priceless and every attack on your babies targets you, as well.
That goes for grandmas, too.
So I hung with the other two kids, giving me a chance to read and cuddle with them while my daughter took Jules to the doctor—who ran some tests, scratched her head, and sent Katy home with no final diagnosis. Maybe they can’t be certain until the patient gets well. A few times when my kids were small and got sick, the doctor actually wrote “F.U.O.” on the billing, followed by the amount I owed him for that professional opinion. I’m not sure “Fever of Unknown Origin” was worth the co-pay.
Katy knew what to do, though. By the time the night was over, she had comforted her little one with warm baths, head rubs, pizza, meds and an impromptu tea party. They don’t teach that kind of care in medical school.
Lost in thought on the sofa, I waited while she ran through the bedtime routine with her kiddos. Suddenly Juliet stood next to me. “I have a present for you, YaYa,” she said, and put a purple unicorn in my hand. It was one of her treasures, handpainted and marked with a “J”. What do you say to a four-year-old who forgets how much her head hurts and gives her favorite unicorn to you just because she loves you?
She hugged me and ran off to bed, while a six-year-old breeze filled the void. Her older sister, Allie, always running at high speed through life, sprinted past me into the living room, grabbed a forgotten book, and spun around to run the other way. Abruptly, her arms were wrapped around my neck and she gave me a second good night kiss.
“Please come again soon, YaYa,” she pleaded with big, expressive blue eyes. “I love it when you’re here!” And then she was gone, papers ruffling on a shelf as she flew past.
For a few minutes I was alone, my hands filled with a ceramic unicorn and my eyes full of tears. Quietly, serenely, my daughter’s soprano voice floated down the hall. I sat in the shadows while she sang a lullaby to her babies, comforting and reassuring them again that she would be there to protect them.
A priceless drama had played out before me for the last four hours, culminating now in the soothing acapella which soaked into my own worried heart. I’d been there before, playing the lead role in my own family’s mini-dramas, and still my heart beat outside my chest as though for the first time.
It was just me and that unicorn, listening to the lullaby, and pleading for mercy before an audience of One. The One Who heals, the One Who laughs, the One Who created music.
And the One Who held us all in His arms that night, His heart beating on the outside, too.