It dawned on me recently that I am the only person in my family who doesn’t benefit from having a mother in the house.
This unfortunate fact of life is no more apparent than when I am curled up in the fetal position with postnasal drip running down the back of my throat and sweat curdling behind my knees — when I am sick with the lingering February crud, in other words.
This was not only the case recently for me, but for an inordinate number of compatriots, including one friend who felt so bad one night that she got out of bed and cleaned her house in case the coroner had to come. (He didn’t.)
“I want my mommy” indeed could be read throughout the cold, snowy annals of winter’s Facebook where feverish middle-aged women are known to go for comfort.
This translates: “I want a constant supply of homemade soup without asking for it.”
Also: “I want someone who can put her hand on my forehead and know within a degree what my temperature is.”
More than anything, the desire for mommy translates into a longing for selfless constancy, for the omniscient, omnipresent mother archetype with a cold cloth in her hand who never leaves the bedside except to go to the bathroom.
The image of mother nurse at the sick bed — think “Gone With the Wind’s” Melanie in the Civil War hospitals — is one of a consummate, compassionate wisdom warrior-saint and medicine woman, a la Joan of Arc, Mother Teresa and Pocahontas rolled into one. She is a supernatural being who knows without Google when her patient should go to the doctor and when she should stay in bed, which illness needs a warm bath and which needs a warm shower, when to administer ginger and honey and when to ladle up the chicken noodle. A mommy tending a sick child even moves in a mystically attuned way — not too fast, lest the patient fear she’s dying; nor too slow, lest her ward throw up in bed.
I know this mother because I am her, because I once spent three days, stripped down in bed, breast-feeding around the clock an infant with rotavirus until finally the intake was more than the output.
I know this mother because I once had such a woman in my life, who was at her best when she was holding a bucket under my 8-year-old chin.
I also watched enough old movies and reruns while I was sick to remind me.
It didn’t help my longing at all, in fact, to watch Marmee bring Beth back from the brink in “Little Women.” Or to binge-watch episodes of “The Waltons,” where there was not only Ma but Grandma to make soup, take temperatures without thermometers and generally sit vigil all night while family members recovered from bear attacks, appendicitis and broken hearts.
Now, to be fair, let me say that my good friend made soup for me — twice — while I was ailing. My goddaughter, a nurse practitioner, texted every day, several times a day, from several states away. My husband often came home from work in the middle of the day to check on me. One night, which so happened to be Mardi Gras, when I was at my most miserable and convinced it was time for the emergency room, my family gathered around me on the bed with beads and red beans and rice.
Still, let’s all call a Florence Nightingale a Florence Nightingale.
There’s nothing quite like a mother in situations like these. Literature knows it. History knows it. Even current studies show that mothers are still 10 times more likely than their male counterparts to leave work to tend to sick children and five times more likely to take the sick child to the doctor, says the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Alas, there is no mother in the house for me — unless you count the mama cat. And she’s more like a toddler than a mother these days, incessantly circling my sick bed, meowing for Friskies while I languish in a pile of Kleenex and elderberry cough drop wrappers.
There is hope: I asked my primary care provider, who is a woman and a mother, at my office visit midway through my illness, if she would be my mommy.
She threw her head back and laughed.
I think she’s considering it.
Debra-Lynn B. Hook, of Kent, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join her column’s Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.