They troop in two by two, the mothers and their children. Mom's stride is always purposeful, even a little hurried, the child's reluctant, slow. When they reach the Reference Desk, the differences multiply. Oh you can tell they're related, something about the eyes, something about the shape of the head, but their demeanor could not be more dissimilar.
Mom struggles to overcome the mood established in the car-ride over. Adopting a hard-won cheerfulness, she smiles at you, says, “We would like to have a study room.” Meanwhile, daughter or son studiously contemplates the floor, their expression hangdog, mortified; they cannot believe they have to follow their mother around like this in public, as if they were babies! If you make the mistake of asking one of these adolescents a direct question, they will look at you as if you were mad. “Can't you tell she's in charge?” their eyes demand. “I'm just the slave here, the lackey forced to acquiesce without demur.”
It's that time of year again. Report cards are out and this one didn't come up to snuff. Now mother and child are looking forward to an hour or two of enforced intimacy with the irregular verbs of Spain, or, perhaps, Pythagoras and his famous theorem.
At other times, the child-mother duet is played to a different tune. Now it is the child, most often a daughter, who is in charge, the mother who plays second fiddle. The looks remain similar, something about the eyes, the shape of the head, but now both parent and child have aged. The daughter's become a woman, perhaps with children of her own, the first signs of gray have appeared in her hair, and her face, at least for today, wears an expression that is a little severe, even careworn. For she is serious, intent upon finding the services she believes her aging mother both requires and (unquestioningly) deserves. Large print books perhaps, maybe a tutor to help the poor woman fathom the mysteries of Gmail.
Mom, on the other hand, appears slightly embarrassed by all this attention. She has long since grown accustomed to her body's weaknesses—the failing eyesight, the halting walk—it is only her daughter who, paying her annual visit, has found her mother's condition surprising, unacceptable, has determined that all must be immediately rectified. The love that generated this impatience is obvious. “This is the woman who walked me to school when I was six,” the daughter's eyes now say, “the woman who nursed me when I was ill, comforted me when I was afraid in the night. You will take her—and her concerns—seriously.” And of course we do. That's our job; we take all our patrons seriously. But there are times when doing so can't help but touch a portion of your heart.
On a Sunday in church this past August, I noticed a little girl about halfway down the pew in front of me crayoning diligently in a large notebook. She was sitting next to her little brother, who was sitting next to their mother, and I was impressed by the intensity with which the little girl worked, utterly oblivious to Father's sermon, the people seated around her, and the saints looking down at her from their niches on the wall. Abruptly, she lifted her notebook from her lap, turned it face-forward, and held it up over her head as if showing what she had drawn to the entire congregation. The summer Olympics were then in full swing and I was reminded of the way the judges held their scorecards up at the diving competitions. Like the judges, the little girl now turned her drawing to and fro, and, eventually, I too could see what she had created. In large block letters, surrounded by a border of flowers, she had written: “We love Mommy.”
I think that pretty much says it all.