Growing up, I never realized just how much my Mama probably worried.
I knew she was overprotective; I was her only child after all. But I never realized just how much a mother had to worry about until I became a mother myself.
The minute I held that little swaddled lump, I instantly knew life was no longer the same.
Things that I didn’t even give a second thought were suddenly terrifying and anxiety producing.
I did all the child-proofing imagined, crawling around on my hands and knees, looking at things from not just the eyes of a curious child, but from the perspective of a mother seeing possible dangers.
I had to make sure food was cut into pieces that would not choke, the laundry detergent I used on his clothes had to be dye-and allergen free, and I worried about the ingredients in the baby food.
I worried about everything. I still do.
Mama understood; she has lived a life of worry since I was born.
Granny, however, had no sympathy for me.
“You think you are the first mother that ever worried?” she asked me one day. “You ain’t. You don’t know worry.”
“I do know worry,” I said. “How can you possibly know the depths of my worry?”
I was in for an earful.
“How can I know anything about worry?” she began. “I will tell you what I know about worry. I gave birth to a child that didn’t live to his first birth day. That’s a pain you never get over.
Then, your uncle was in Viet Nam.” She shook her head, remembering that time period. “My child, my baby, was over in a foreign country fighting. And in the middle of that, your mama nearly died. She has only one functioning kidney, and it shut down on her when she was pregnant with you.
The doctors told me she had a 1 in 100 chance of making it through the surgery, and your chances depended on if she made it,” she said, her voice solemn as she lost some of her normal constant anger as she relived these previous experiences. “And that’s just a small fraction of what I have worried about. You think you are the only mother that worries? You don’t know the half of it.”
I was quiet as I digested all of this. I had heard all of this before, countless times, over the course of growing up. This was just the first time I had heard it in the framework of being a parent myself and how that must have felt.
“How did you do it?” I asked. “How did you get through all of that?”
She let out a deep breath, as if releasing the weight of the world. “I prayed. I think I prayed from the time I found out I was pregnant with my first child and I haven’t stopped. And I won’t stop until my last breath, either.
When Bobby was in Viet Nam, all I could do was pray. I couldn’t go over there with him – if they would have let me, I would have. Believe me. But I prayed all the time. Some people’s kids didn’t come home.”
Her voice caught a little and she paused to re-center herself. “When your mama nearly died, I had to make a decision no parent should have to make. For the doctor to try to save one of you. I told him you both would make it.”
“How did you know?” I asked.
“I just did. I had to remember that God doesn’t put more on us than we can handle. And I figured the good Lord knew I couldn’t handle me losing either one of you.”
Granny had always been honest with everything she said; a trait that was a blessing and a curse, depending on which way she was driving her message home. But this was the most vulnerable she had ever been.
“It’s just part of being a mother,” she said.
“That,” she said. “And finding your faith. You may think you’ve got it before, but you spend more time in prayer when you become a mother than you ever thought possible.”
She was right. I think I have spent the majority of the last 13 plus years praying, with just about everything I say being some form of prayer.
I seemed to remember Granny praying as she took me to school. It wasn’t a big production, it was just something she did as we made our way through town. I didn’t think anything of it when I was little but have found myself doing it now.
Granny wasn’t the only one who prayed. Mama did, too, and, still does.
It wasn’t something I heard her do until I was a teenager, and then in the stillness of the night, I heard her prayers when she thought I was asleep.
That first time I heard her pray was before I had back surgery. I was scared but can’t even imagine how scared she was.
She was terrified but didn’t want me to know. Hearing her prayers made me wonder if I needed to be more scared than I was.
“Mama, am I going to be OK?” I asked.
She smiled as she rubbed my head. “Yes, Kitten, you are going to be just fine.”
“I’m scared,” I told her. “Are you scared, Mama?”
She smiled again. “No, Kitten. I know you will be fine.”
She was lying, of course.
Another thing I have learned about being a mama is, you lie like crazy when you are frantic with fear because you want to spare your child from a second of worry.
From that point on, her prayers only seemed to increase. She prayed I never got hurt, she prayed when I was commuting in college, she prayed when I started working in Athens.
She prayed when I moved away from home and prayed when I didn’t move back.
One of her texts the other day, she just simply wrote, “Praying for you today.”
Somehow, in the middle of my anxiety, that gave me peace and comfort.
I think sometimes, as our children get older, we pray more because the problems get bigger.
As mothers, it’s hard to let go, even the tiniest bit. Sometimes, it feels like we are giving up any control we may have.
It also feels like the scariest thing to do, especially in the world we live in now.
I think that is what all mothers do at some point.
We just take that deep breath and pray.