I’ve started doing this weird thing. When I hug someone, I don’t just do the hug and the pat on the back–I put my hand on top of their head and give a gentle pat. It’s such a mothery thing to do, the pat on the head. As if I am hugging them horizontally and vertically at the same time. OK that sounds weird. You know, the way you cradle a baby’s head when you’re holding them close.
I did it a few weeks ago to a total stranger. Heading down the hallway at Vivi’s school, I passed a young woman who was wiping tears behind her sunglasses. She was ducking her head and sobbing. I could have given her the head-tilt-sad-face combo and kept walking, but I stopped a few steps in front of her and asked, “Are you OK?”
“I just got some really bad news. These girls I went to school with were killed in a really bad wreck.” I wrapped her up in a hug and started mother-clucking.
“Oh, honey! That’s awful! Oh my goodness!” I patted her on the back of the head and let her cry for a few moments before letting go. “Are you OK to drive? Can I get you anything?”
She waved off the offer and said she just needed to get home. I told her to be careful then went on my way. Found out that night about the horrible wreck on I-16 that killed five nursing students from Georgia Southern.
Earlier that same day, I had sat in the sunshine with a friend whose life has been blown up in the last six months. I listened to him and told him what I knew about getting through hard times. When it was time to go, I hugged him and rested my hand on the back of his head. Held him close.
That instinct towards mothering the hurting–it put me in mind of a story my college sister Sally told about a moment she had at the school where she works:
“So yesterday I accidentally stabbed myself with a tiny screwdriver while changing the battery in my watch. (pretty par for Miss Graceful, here) I had to ask the school nurse for a band aid. Last night, as I was taking the bandage off, I flashed back to the moment with Mrs. F, the school nurse. She didn’t just hand the band aid to me. She opened it and carefully placed it on my wrist. Like a Mom. Then patted my arm and smiled. Like a Mom. And it struck me that as little girls we get “mothered-on” a lot. But when little girls grow up, we become mothers or mother figures to others and, for many of us, miss out on being “mothered-on.” Little boys get this attention as well, AND it continues into their adulthood. (If you don’t understand this point, you aren’t’ married or haven’t been long enough!) I think we can do better, my grownup girlfriends. Now go get a band aid and find a woman to “mother-on!” We all deserve this kind of love.”
Amen, Sally, amen. Maybe my kids are so crazy about those Doc McStuffins bandages because they aren’t just a cool sticky thing with a picture–they’re visible reminders of how much they are loved. How their boo-boos will always be patted and kissed and fixed right up.
It’s the subtle difference in meaning between “loving someone” and “loving on someone.” One takes heart and the other takes heart and hands. One is an intransitive verb and one is very very transitive.
For Mothers Day this year? Let’s mother each other. Go find someone who’s hurting and love on them a little bit.