Terry Marotta: Holding My Child's Hand Once More

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Columns / May. 3, 2001 12:00am EDT

Terry Marotta: Holding My Child's Hand Once More

By the time Mother's Day is over, many gifts will have been bought and many flowers sent. The nation's primary school teachers will have commandeered many "Dear Mom" letters—mostly as an excuse to teach margins—and the columnists will have written many columns.

I would like to do that too, not so much to say how grateful I am to have had a mother, but how grateful I am to have been one.

I have to smile thinking how uncertain I felt going into the whole enterprise. ("What about my career?" I remember fretting before that first baby came. "What about my freedom?")

And sure, it was an adjustment at first. I went from fulltime teaching to fulltime mothering in the space of seven days, and treated that first child as if she were a whole schoolroom full of captive pupils. By the time she was two, I had taught her every last Sesame Street song and Mother Goose verse. I lavished attention on her by day, and dreamed about her by night.

And when, in her third year of life, a second child came, I lavished attention on her, though it hurt poor Number One to be thus supplanted. I remember the day I was softly closing the nursery door, having finally settled that new baby in for a nap. "Time to play with your other little sweetheart ?" Number One asked, in such sweet and hopeful tones, I felt my heart nearly squeeze shut with love, and gratitude, and amazement that my simple attention should matter so much to another living being.

It was only the first time my heart did that in my years as a mother.

It happened again as I sat preparing to nurse another new baby, then two months old and wretched with colic: That second child was then five years old and approached me in my chair. She crawled up in my lap and took my tired face in her two small hands. "Little Beauty Cheeks!" she said. "I call you Little Beauty Cheeks."

And it happened too when that last baby was in Fourth Grade and wrote a composition on "My Most Interesting Person," which turned out to be about all the fun he had with his mom, on account of how she was always willing to do things for fun, like putting raw eggs in the microwave, shell and all, just to see what would happen. "She's my most interesting person because she's fun, and always nice to people too."

I guess the moment that stands out most in my mind, though, took place two summers ago when our whole family packed a picnic supper and drove, at twilight to an outdoor concert in the woods.

We thought of everything but the traffic, and ended up arriving much later than we'd intended. We bolted our food and began walking quickly toward the gate.

Because I see less well at night than I once did, I fell behind, and was picking my way tentatively over rough terrain through the now-thick dusk. Throngs of other latecomers pushed and jostled past me. Suddenly up ahead I saw my oldest, she of the sweet and hopeful question asked long ago by a nursery door.

"Come, mamma!" she said, smiling, and reached back and took my hand.

As parents, we spent much time reaching our big hands to our children's small ones, or turning to wait while they catch up. Then one day, if we're lucky, they do that for us.

In my life I taught school, and wrote for the paper, and loved both jobs immensely. But it was my work as a mother that most keenly bruised, and most wholly opened, my heart.

You may contact Terry at tmarotta@ mediaone.net

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