It’s the look of your face that startles me when I first open the door. A college freshman, too young to carry such wear, your skin glows pale under raindrops that reflect the tired moon. A strand of hair sticks to your forehead. Your youth is a Post-it note reminder of my own daughter, too far away.
I’ve encouraged my college-age children to bring home friends who are stuck at school for a holiday or a lonely weekend. During our children’s college years, we’ve surrounded many a student with our family bustle, softening the pull they feel toward their own families too far away to reach.
So today, when you miss your flight home and my son brings you to us for the weekend, my heart is ready. I want to reach out and pull you in, but you don’t know me. Instead, I am cautious with my mothering. I hold open the door and invite you inside. I will find a way to let you know that you’re safe for now, that your tiresome journey ended when you landed on our front porch.
Stepping inside, you slide off your shoes and remove your coat, releasing a sigh. Some of the day’s rubble falls away. Still, you seem cautious, surprised by the brightness of our light. Turmoil combusts inside you, worries that you need to share with someone who will listen. I can be that ear.
We grab your suitcase and lead you to the kitchen. You sit at our counter and scramble through the horrors of your day—the canceled flights, the missed trains, the broken-down buses, the slippery roads. I shudder at the glimpse of you alone in the train station, big city, small girl in the dark. Exhaustion seeps from your pores.
I make you soup, hoping the warm chicken broth and vegetables will strengthen you. As the smell of rosemary and thyme drift from the stovetop, your worry, beside you at the table, moves farther away.
I take you upstairs to my daughter’s room. Here are fresh towels, soap and shampoo. Take a long, hot shower. You can borrow her robe. It’s about your size. I’ll wash and dry your clothes for you.
Gently I move around my daughter’s room, out of respect for her things and responsibility for handing them over to a stranger. I know she would want to have you rest here. I know she would understand.
A half hour later you come downstairs. Your eyes shine brighter. Your clean hair and dry clothes make you look refreshed, but still you worry about tomorrow. How will you get where you need to go through this storm that has shut down a region? Will you miss scant time with your family?
We sit around you, encouraging you to tell us more of the mishaps of your day. We remind you that you are home for now, safe among us—your stranger family. We lead you to sunnier ground with questions about your dreams for the future.
Your cellphone rings. It’s your mom. I watch the makeshift walls crumble around you as you begin to tell her your troubles. You struggle to disguise the cry in your voice. Inside, I feel your mother’s worry as she, too, pictures you alone in the city dark. I am drawn to my own daughter.
I want to tell your mother, “Don’t worry, Momma, we have her now. We’ll treat her as our own until she can return to you.” The quiver of your voice signals that you need some time alone with her.
While your mom settles you as only your mom can do, I find myself drifting back to my daughter’s room. I lift the shades, smooth her flowered bedspread. The rain taps a small reminder against the windowsill. As I scan the accidental things she left behind—a pair of beaded earrings, a broken cellphone case, her collection of shells—I wonder whether my daughter ever feels this kind of alone. Has she ever been this tired, hungry, or cold? Has a storm ever left her drifting, a small girl in the dark?
Should that time come, I pray that there is a mother somewhere near her, who will open her door and pull my daughter in. I picture that momma brewing my daughter a cup of tea and then tucking her in, under the covers in her own daughter’s room, safe until I can get to her. Bless her for absorbing my daughter’s troubles as only a mother can.
Motherhood is like that, you know. We have each other’s backs.
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