Mom’s long-lost friend from the old neighborhood let out an ear-piercing scream as they both did a crazy little dance at the entrance of the grocery store. It had been a long time since they’d seen one another – apparently. I quickly scanned the vicinity for anyone I might know, taking a few steps forward to distance myself from the swirling hug that had ensued.
My hope for a quick trip to the store was dashed as they launched into an extended discussion about the whereabouts of Ranelle who used to live on the corner and Joseph from down the street. I strolled over to the magazine rack and started scanning Teen Beat for recent photos of Leif Garrett.
Coming out of the chat-frenzy, mom remembered my presence and vigorously signaled for me to come over to meet Helen. “This is Marissa,” said my mother with overflowing mom-pride. “Marissa is my baby!” she announced to Helen and everyone in the checkout lines with megaphone level volume.
Alright, I wasn’t really her “baby.” That’s just what mom called me in order to establish my birth order in our family of three kids. I’m petty sure it would be just as easy to say that I was the “youngest” or “this is my third child,” but for whatever reason, mom liked to call me her “baby” despite my objections. So, there I was, the 17-year-old baby captured in a head lock by long-lost Helen. No worries. I figured I’d only have to suffer the embarrassment one more year. At age 18, I would be a bonafide adult and things would change.
My magical 18th birthday was not so magical after all. There was no overnight transformation. I was still under mom’s watchful eye and was responsible for no one other than myself. At age 21, I was taking care of a house, a husband and a stack of bills. Still the world seemed very manageable. I had life under control.
At age 27, we welcomed our first son into the world and adulthood came swiftly in the night. A second son arrived a few years later. Things that I once selfishly clung to – like sleep, money and “me” time – were suppressed and denied on a daily basis. These life-altering shifts in priority were permanent and the adult–sized pressures cumulative.
The lethal combination of a lack of sleep, a colic infant and a cranky toddler created the perfect storm one day in my adult life. Pacing up and down our tiny hallway, bouncing Damon back and forth, the crying simply would not cease.
“It’s Marissa,” I blurted out before mom could finish saying hello on the other side of the phone.
“What’s wrong?” she gasped as her mind raced through worst case scenarios.
“He won’t stop crying again…” I said working into a colic fit of my own.
“I’ll be there ASAP,” declared mom.
Within minutes of arriving mom effectively produced a burp that had eluded me and the colic-one all afternoon and rocked him into a calm and happy state.
“You get some rest now,” said mom with no judgment whatsoever. “I’ll take care of Nick and Damon. Go on…” she insisted. I drifted off to sleep before my head settled into my pillow.
What was it about mom that could bring such instant peace? In a world that demanded so much of me, she was only interested in giving – giving me rest, giving me assurance, giving me love on the toughest of days.
The clock in the bedroom said it was 4:30 p.m. when I awoke. My head seemed clearer and the world appeared less daunting with five hours of straight sleep deposited into my mind, body and soul.
All was calm as I strolled into the living room like a toddler waking from an afternoon nap. Mom was in the kitchen making chili while a load of dirty laundry spun violently in the washer.
“There’s Marissa…there’s my baby,” said mom with a twinkle in her eye. My heart swelled with appreciation for this selfless woman who had called me baby for more than three decades, as I finally understood that the term of endearment described so much more than my birth order in our family of three kids.
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