My parents recently came down with serious colds. I found myself at the grocery store late in the evening buying them a round of feel-better-soon foods: a roasted chicken, orange juice, whole fruit, Gatorade and a quart of soup. As I filled the cart, I started thinking about how often my mother had taken care of me when I was little. I would lie in bed and watch the trees outside my window, feel the gentle weight of a cat near my feet and wait for the tray. The tray had everything I would need to get better: saltine crackers, medicine and chicken broth. Now, finally, I’m in a position to offer my mom and dad the same kind of care. As I loaded the groceries in the car and pulled down my hat to ward off the rain, I felt deeply comfortable with my place in the world. I also found myself hoping that somehow I could pass that feeling along to Caroline, my own little girl.
I realized, driving the soup across the dark, wet roads, how I want to invest in Caroline – to nurture her when she is sick and when she is well, to show my love for her through everyday acts of caring – so that in the years to come, she can take pleasure from loving those in her life, whether it is me and her dad, her own babies, or a circle of friends so close they feel like family. I hope Caroline will know the sweet, secure pleasure of being the person who delivers the chicken soup, not only the person who receives it. I want to love her in such a way that she becomes an affirming, stable presence for those around her and for herself.
When I think of what my mom gave me through all those sick days when I was little, I often can only see the memory through the eyes of a little child, hot with fever, waiting for her mother. But from my mother’s perspective, I see more: a sustaining, capable presence giving out tangible love. Surely my mother felt pleasure as she nurtured me back to health on those days, likely the same kind of pleasure I felt purchasing her groceries this week. Such everyday acts carry with them larger, and more wonderful, implications. They help us carry forward a tradition of love and remind us of who we are in the world. They sustain us, whether we are the giver or the receiver.