What Do We Do?

We were exhausted. The weekend turned out lovely but was long and filled with hours of swimming and holiday excess. At about 5:00 last night my left lid began to twitch, and another wild-eyed mom approached me to say, “That was me last night. It means you’re tired.” And if I were done, you should have seen the kids. Purple under their eyes, green chlorine in their hair and a half-hearted “where’s the party?” followed semi-desperately by “where’s my bed?” on their lips.


We kicked off July with a visit to the San Diego Fair, which teemed with colorful people and crackling noise. We pushed from booth to booth, elbow to elbow, foot on foot, sweat gland on sweat gland. The kids loved it. Fried Twinkies, ice cream cones, ferris wheels, elephant rides (don’t get me started on how my heart broke at those sad animal eyes), and ticket after ticket of roly-poly amusement attractions. We made it all day, too. But after the Big Time Rush concert I dragged us out of the fray and we all limped knobby-kneed out of the park, grateful to finally locate our car, roll down the windows and lay our heads against something soft.


Saturday dawned brighter and earlier than we were prepared to face. But a few quick harumpfs and we were off once again, sprinting down the greenbelt of summer, heeding its siren call of bright blue and searing yellow. We started with swimming and a BBQ, then rinsed and repeated on Sunday and Monday. By the end of it, the girls lay tummy up in the water, barely able to move arms and legs to stay afloat. For the first time since their births, both my girls willingly closed their eyes when it was time for bed.


Most of us slept the sleep of the sunburned and beer before noon, but around midnight, my youngest crawled into bed next to me with a robust case of the sniffles. She flipped and rolled for many long minutes before crying she couldn’t breathe through her nose. I tickled her back and whispered soothing words in her ear, but she grew increasingly panicked and sniffly. I told her to breathe through her mouth. To relax. To not worry. To…sleep. Then she looked me right in the eye and pleaded, “Mommy, can’t you do something?”


She asked fervently, hopefully, faithfully. As if she knew I could so something to help, she just knew it. I’m her mommy. Mommies make it all better. Help is our noble calling. She asked again, holding my cheek in her candy-coated baby girl fingers, saying the words carefully into my ear as if maybe I didn’t hear the first time.


I thought of the days leading up to that night. How The Rock and I wanted to give the girls the kind of Fourth of July weekend they could remember. The one they wistfully recall in their 40s, a memory full of pools and friends and burned hot dogs. It all came back to me as I stepped outside Monday evening and smelled the thick sulfur of illegally ignited neighborhood firecrackers and watched the glittery billow of twinkling silver in the vast distance. Childhood in a bottle. I want my kids to have one to tuck in their own pocket and set to sea when they’re ready, then have it wash back to them when they call it from the rocky shore of adulthood and responsibility.


My husband and I, despite what we know about growing up and its triumphs and near-misses, wanted our children to have that silver twinkle of when it was simple and light and easy.


“Mommy, can’t you do something?”


It was only a question I know. But its fervent faith drew tears to my eyes. I wanted to do something. Something beyond medicine and a wet cloth. I want to erase your sniffles, lull you to sleep, relax you into my arms, tell you it will be OK.


But all I could think was of the times I couldn’t, wouldn’t be able to, do something. Couldn’t plan the weekend just so, protect you from when it’s not so easy, keep you from when the sky doesn’t ignite in silver, draw covers over your shoulders, tickle your back to make it all go away. I fast-fowarded to the mean girls in middle school, to the college rejection letter, to the phone call at 4AM. What do I do? How do I do something? Keep her from it all? While knowing it’s not mine to keep, can’t I do something?


Eventually she nestled into that mom space between my neck and shoulder and blew her baby breath into my hair, back and forth, back and forth. It was midnight, July 5, the four of us lay crammed together, breathing in tandem, and for now, that is enough.


13 Responses to “What Do We Do?”

  1. Ginger says:

    You perfectly summed up my worst fear. I have no idea how I’ll handle not being able to help in those moments. Heck, I got teary-eyed over my son’s disappointment in a churro (long story)… how will I handle the girls that break his heart? Not making the team? I guess it is living in the now and saving the worrying for later. :)

  2. Trish says:

    Ugh. It just kills me to think of my girls’ future heartbreaks and disappointments. Now I understand why my mom seemed to hurt as much as I did when those things happened to me.

  3. Yeah, I know how you feel. As moms, we do as much as we can for them; and even when they’re out of school and have homes of their own, you will still get that request for help. And you’ll be grateful they want the help from YOU, cuz by then you’ll just be grateful you still matter. Remember these days.

  4. Ali says:

    Beautifully worded, Deb. It’s such a natural desire to protect them and soothe them.

  5. Shary says:

    So poignant. Thanks for sharing the ups and downs of your unforgettable holiday weekend.

  6. Dearest Deb, Wow! So well expressed! More often than not that cuddle time, the safe feeling of being in mom’s arms, is enough for our kids, I think.

    And, sigh… I’m the half-empty nester and hating it, as you well know. I will forever hang on to the notion that I can make it all better for my kids. I’ll fool my adult children into thinking Mamarazzi Knows Best forever… or die trying:)

  7. Michelle says:

    I think about those every thoughts…all…the…time. And it pains me now to know that someday/oneday maybe even today I might not have the answer or remedy to everything.

  8. It is impossible to NOT have those thoughts, but focusing on the present … the now … is all you can control. *HUGS*

  9. When I envisioned becoming a parent, I never thought about all the ways I would fail my children. Even if it’s in ways that are out of my control, like curing a cold. I feel so responsible for every heart break my kids experience! All I can do is try to make the rest of life as wonderful as possible. Like having ice cream for breakfast every once in a while.

  10. Beautifully written. I have moments like this all the time. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. My husband and I feel the same way, about giving out children the best memories that they can look back on and remember for a lifetime. I try not to think of the time(s) I won’t be able to be there for her, but as a mother, we can’t help it. Sooner or later, we just have to trust that we raised them the right way. But for now, when they are little and helpless…we will protect them and hold them in our arms for as long as we can ;)

  11. green girl in wisconsin says:

    Your daughters are so lucky. I wish my kids needed me a little more on the hugging end of it.

  12. Ferd says:

    I LOVE the maternal devotion to our children’s protection. Deb, you voiced it BEAUTIFULLY!
    As a dad, I shared that feeling to a degree. But, of course, it is impossible to defend the kids from the hurts of regular life. It is just as important to help them negotiate their way through those moments. They are the result of living. And I have always promoted that.
    My oldest is in China right now, a 12 hour time difference half way around the world. She is living life. It comes with inherent risks. Things will probably turn out wonderfully, but if she somehow gets hurt, none of us will be surprised and we will all know what to do. There’s a lot of good in that.

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