When I was a very little girl, we had the Little Golden Book story of the Little Red Hen.
I liked the story well enough. In fact if all the children in all the world could be as blessed as I was to have a mother who read stories to them, giving the characters special voices and being as surprised at the story’s outcome as Mom was, despite the fact she’d read the same book 2006 times – and at least once in the last 24 hours – our world might be a better place altogether.
I suppose our home library of children’s books was average for the 1950s. We had our favorites, “The Saggy, Baggy Elephant,” “Mrs. Ticklefeather” and “The Tawny Scrawny Lion,” which Mom was happy enough to read when asked. But her favorites were “The Happy Man and His Dump Truck” and, above all, “The Little Red Hen.”
Mom never (that my siblings and I can remember) refused an invitation to read aloud to us. She always read as if she were on some grand stage, performing for a fine, sophisticated audience. At naptime or bedtime, she kicked off her shoes, laid back on the pillows beside us, and read, wiggling her big toe back and forth and otherwise pretending she had not another thing to do on God’s green earth.
That kind of love sticks with a child.
Far into our adult lives, and even into our children’s lives growing up, there would be the occasion where Mom would announce – sometimes as a mutter, sometimes quite merrily and always with dramatic expression – “‘Then I will,’ said the Little Red Hen, and she did.”
I didn’t grasp the full meaning of the phrase until I became a mother. Children – newborn through adults – do increase the work load exponentially, to say the least. But that’s such a contradiction to say, because having a child, or children, gives such purpose to our lives, such reasoning for our efforts. And honestly, moms don’t always get the help we need; never mind the fact we fail to ask for it when we need it the most.
When I became a mom almost 38 years ago, I thought I had the answers. I am next to the oldest of six siblings, and since the younger three were born after my age was in the double digits and I’d helped with them, I thought I knew. I’d watched Mom rock, read, check for fevers with a forehead kiss, snap her fingers and threaten the threat “of too wet to plow” if we didn’t do what we’d been asked.
I guess I did know the mechanics, to a point. But I was loose on some important whys and wherefores. It’s not the planning as much as it’s the reacting well. It’s not even the doing as much as it is the stepping back and insisting a child do for himself – and witnessing their struggle. It’s the staying with, the grueling, hair-pulling times when there’s trouble at school, or not getting chosen for the team, or the refusal to allow what “all the other moms” are letting their kids do, when you feel so inadequate with the whole mom thing and you just wish it were easier.
But there are those moments of inexplicable joy, heart-swelling pride and pure delight at their accomplishments, their success and their unique styles of life management.
It’s realizing in retrospect how quickly those good times and those troubles pass, and you wake up one day, when they’re broken-hearted by big world problems and wish times were as easy as they used to be.
And you do the mom thing. You want to fix what can’t be fixed, so you try and accept. And you put your hands on your hips and your faith in your God, and offer advice, which they’re finally are willing to listen to. And you listen and encourage them until they come up with their own plan for doing what they have and must do.
It’s Mother’s Day, meant to be celebrated for many reasons. We, the most fortunate, have reconciled all the “what ifs” and “might-have-beens,” counted our joys and reviewed our blessings. We’ll appreciate the cards, phone calls, flowers and visits, if they come our way. We’ll assure our children we love them now, we loved them when and, if given the choice would do it all again.
We’ll thank them for the purpose and pressure they’ve given our lives, along with the chance to be.
Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at email@example.com.