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One by one I lifted the cans of green beans and corn from her shopping cart and placed them in ours, my mother's hands working alongside mine. The transfer completed, my mother leaned over, held the woman's gray bobbing head still and kissed her thin cheek. "Love you. Have a good day," she whispered in the shrunken woman's ear just loud enough for the three of us to hear. Then, wiping tears from her own smile dimpled cheeks, my mother stepped behind what had been the elderly shopper's cart and continued down the cereal aisle, fighting it's stuck front wheel all the way.

I looked back at the old woman, now pushing our former cart with ease, with the kind of awe reserved for last second wins in Super Bowls or a cheerleader entering a prom on the arm of the chess team president. This was miraculous. I knew it.

But that's the business my mother has always been in - the small miracle business - the business of rescuing aging damsels in distress from busted shopping carts and children from loneliness and fear. If actions are a parent's greatest lessons then the lesson she taught me best was mercy: See the weak and be their strength.

Like the time a mentally and physically retarded classmate of mine, weeping and wandering our crowded mall one Saturday in search of his mother, was lifted onto a concrete bench by mine. She held him against her, comforting him, scanning the passing faces for a frantic mother's, rocking him and saying, "Everything will be alright. We'll find your mother. I bet she misses you and she's looking for you too."

She asked his name. "Michael," he said slowly and wetly. I'd only known him as "Rambo", the name we all called him at school on account of his almost always wearing camouflage. I didn't now he had another.

As she consoled Michael she sent me off to find a security guard who could broadcast his name to the herd of shoppers, but before I could Michael spotted his mother, unfazed by his disappearance, buying ice cream for herself in the Food Court. The reunion was an angry one with loud scolding about wandering off, without thanks you's, his mother far more embarrassed by him than concerned for him.

From that day on, no matter how well camouflaged, I noticed Michael at school. I smiled. I carried his books a time or two. I saw him like my mother did.

My mother, I'm afraid, sometimes worries that she made too many mistakes in raising me. It's that worry I think that may have made her such a careful and wise parent. She lamented not being able to stay home and take care of me, for example. She mourned putting me into a day care with a couple hundred kids when I was three. But she didn't need to worry and she shouldn't regret. I had the best of two worlds. An odd situation. The friendship and play that only fifty or so kids my age could have given me and constant access to her as if it were just the two of us together every day.

She was the principal, the director of the day care. She ran the hectic place but always broke away to rub my back at nap time. She made sure I ate my peas at lunch time. She disciplined me when I needed it. She put band aids on my skins and scrapes. She dried my tears. And then sent me back to my friends and teachers and went on with her work just a few yards from my classroom.

Not only did she get to keep an eye on me at the day care but I got to keep an eye on her too. I never saw impatience, never a raised voice, never a cross word with any of her employees or customers. Never.

I did notice though that her lap almost always had another child on it. Her hands put band aids on their knees. She made them eat their peas. She sometimes rubbed their backs at nap time. I Guess I got jealous of all this attention meant for me being handed out so freely to everyone else. I remember her explaining, "These boys and girls don't have a mommy here to take care of them. You do. You can always come see me whenever you want. And I'll always be your mommy. But at school you need to share your mommy with these boys and girls who don't have one here." I got it. I shared. This was my mother's job: loving other people's kids while they were away. And she did it well.

She still does. She retired from the day care business a couple years ago, after twenty seven years of band aids and nap times. After raising thousands of children two hundred at a time. Retirement lasted a few weeks, until she found another group of kids needing what she could give. The elementary school brought her on, with all her experience and education, as an assistant in a class of students with special needs.

She's not as nimble as she once was. She's not as strong as she once was. But children who can't see, or can't walk or can't speak don't need speed and agility. They need what a woman with a broken shopping cart needed. They need what a lost confused unnoticed boy needed. They need what all my friends and I in day care needed. They need love: time, listening, whispers of encouragement, laughter, a belonging squeeze.

So every day my mother, far from out of mercy, slides with a boy who can't walk. She reads to a child who can't see. And she loves those who have nothing much to give back. But what they have she lives for, she runs on: hugs and kisses and smiles.

My mother was my first Sunday School teacher. She wanted to be there on Sunday morning to tell me about God's love. What she didn't realize at the time was just how much I was learning about the subject every other day of the week - just by watching her. She's the best teacher I've ever had.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Thanks for teaching thousands of children, not just your own, about love.


Blogger Amy said...

That was beautiful. I'm so thankful we have people like your mother in this world. If wasn't for her, we wouldn't have you.

Anonymous jonathan said...

Thank you for sharing the stories.... Like many mothers, she is a beautifully loving woman.

Blogger GrovesFan said...

Thanks for sharing Shaun. I hope you sent her a wonderful card, called her if you weren't with her and gave her extra hugs too. My mother passed away almost 15 years ago and I still miss her very much. She was also a wonderful teacher, mentor, friend and confidant. She was my port in many a teenage storm and my husband and children never fail to eat well because of all she passed on in the kitchen. Most of all, she passed on a rich heritage of faith, inner joy and contentment with whatever God carries me through. Thankfully I was able to tell her how wonderful she was before she died. A grand lady to be sure.


Blogger Davidge said...

Thank You so Much Shaun, I spent my mother's day with my mother befoe she went to see one of her boyfriends. This is a hard time of year for me because I spent 3 or 4 mother's Days without a mother around to share them with. I spent this one with her, took her out to eat, went and saw the house she'll be moving into once she divorces her soon to be 2nd exhusband. Thanks for showing me an image of a good mother.

Blogger operamama said...

whoa. I am blown away, and I am very encouraged to be a woman of God the way your mother is. What an incredible example of Christ. Thankyou for sharing. I needed to hear that.

Anonymous marianne said...

What a very sweet tribute to your Mom. She was so wise for working in a place where she also could be with you. She must have been so thankful for that. Your mom's story reminds me that what I do for other people is just as important as the things I do for my kids. I frequently forget that. I hope your Mom had a great Mother's Day!

Blogger Kathryn said...

she sounds so lovely.

all mothers teach. . some good lessons like yours, others -- well, they teach us how not to live.

Blogger Kathy said...

This was awesome. Your mother should be proud. Can I adopt you?

Anonymous Miss Munky said...

That's the kind of mom I want to be when I grow up...says the girl with 5 kids....LOL!
You know all I can think of reading this is the verse about how "her children will rise up and call her blessed". Probably a gross misquote, but you get the picture.
In Him-


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