Becoming Mama’s Little Helper

Playing House

The milk separator was spinning and loudly clanking in the corner of the room doing its magic: separating the rich, delicious cream from the milk. The watery substance left behind (sold in today’s market as skim milk) was tossed out to the pigs.

Vickie and I were playing house. I was six or seven and she was about ten or eleven. We pretended the dusty milk house was our very own home. I played the mama and Vickie was my baby. A bed, covered with a quilt-like blanket, was pushed up against the wall next to the separator.

It was naptime. I wanted to place my baby into bed. I knew I shouldn’t bother my mother. With her back turned to us, she was busy sweating at the separator. She wouldn’t hear me anyway above the rattling of the contraption.

So, I did what I have tended to do throughout my whole life – I did it myself.

We giggled and struggled together, Vickie and I.  She tried to help. I did the lifting and she did the wriggling. She was a tiny little thing, smaller than me. But we did it!

With determination on my part, I placed my live baby doll on the bed and tucked her in for her nap. I didn’t drop her on the hard wooden floor or hit her head on the metal headboard. I was pretty happy with myself!

Words of Praise

The noisy separator finished its task. Quietness filled the room. Mom wiped her brow with the corner of her blouse and turned our way.

She paused. After looking around the room and seeing no one else present, she looked straight at me and asked, “How did Vickie get up into the bed?” I stood up tall, proud of my accomplishment, and boasted, “I did it all by myself!”

“You actually picked her up,” she quizzed me! Oh, dear I worried. Was she going to be upset?

I hesitated before confessing, that yes, that was exactly what I had done, ready to defend myself.

“We were playing house, mommy. Vickie is my baby. It was naptime. So I had to put her to bed,” I whined, shrinking away in anticipation of a reprimand or a slap.

I waited. Now it was my turn to be surprised.

Confused, I tried to interpret the expression on her face as she began to speak. Was she pleased? Dare I hope?

“Oh, my!! This is wonderful,” her voice sang! Words of praise!

I moved closer now, gazing into her face. There was more. “You can help me so much now!”

Just one short phrase, filled with so much meaning. There was no pat on the head, no embrace of thank you. But I knew she approved.

As her words spilled forth I stood taller. She was pleased with me. Her words of praise made me happy. Like a dry sponge I soaked it all in.

I grew up that day!

I stored this away in my memory. I wonder now if she did the same. In my mind, this was a rare moment we two shared, a young mother and her small daughter.

Neither of us knew what the future would bring. That was a good thing. I believe now she was as naïve as I was. Neither of us were prepared for what was ahead.

Redeeming the Pain

In writing our stories – those of Vickie’s and mine – I’ve discovered how years of experience give the two of us opportunities to re-interpret our past. Oh, the facts are still there, they don’t change. She is yet confined to a wheelchair.

I’m speaking more about how we interpret those moments, those tiny, incidental facts – some trivial, some monumental – throughout our life.

In one stage of life the memories of those events are debilitating. I drop to the floor in a heap. In another moment I see how they were the very vessels that brought me into maturity. And I rise to my full height, elated to have endured them.

Can the excruciating pain and great emotional turmoil of the past be redeemed in the future? Or should we be satisfied to accept the simple notion that time heals all things – that given time, pain and memories just simply fade and lose their power?

The words of Joseph – betrayed by his brothers and sold as a slave into a foreign land – always come to mind when I’m sorting out my childhood.

Oh, I know, the text was written for an Hebrew audience far removed from me. But I relate and weep every time I read about Joseph’s reunion with his family. His words choke me up every time:

“You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.”

Genesis 50:20a

Perhaps …

Perhaps at that precise moment in time in the milk house my mother’s words were genuine words of praise and affirmation.

Perhaps she looked forward to the two of us caring together for her family – me, mother’s little helper at her side, caring for her disabled daughter, her darling son, and my two toddling sisters.

Perhaps over the years she never meant evil against me!

Perhaps, like any mother whose dreams are shattered, she did her best with the broken pieces.

Perhaps it took becoming a bonafide mother of four myself to see the countless struggles she faced.

If anyone needed a mother’s helper, my mother did!

Perhaps the years of marriage to a wonderful man helped me realize the impossible obstacles she could not overcome.

Perhaps reconciliation would take place, with genuine embracing of love and acceptance. One can always dream.

A Loss and A Gain

Things did not go well between me and my mama, that is the truth. If she were alive today I doubt it would be any different. Although I cringe at the thought of being in her presence, I yet oddly sense a hope springing forth. Could this be healing? Could this be forgiveness?

Nonetheless, our relationship radically affected how I did my work of mothering. I know now, that my loss of a mother’s love has been a gain for my family – four gifts for a future generation.

So, yes, in a way, what may have been meant for evil, has been redeemed for good.

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