This I Believe

Elisabeth - Elkins Park, Pennsylvania
Entered on April 19, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: parenthood

If you met me today, you’d never call me gregarious — I’m a quiet person. In 1964 when I was 10 years old, I was a extremely shy young girl, the new kid in town, having great difficulty making new friends. My mom knew this, and decided to take action.

We lived in suburban Philadelphia, and I attended the neighborhood Catholic elementary school. One day after school I confessed my misery to Mom. “I’m so shy, and I can’t seem to make friends,” I cried. As the tears flowed, Mom secretly devised a plan: she’d ask the nuns to help find me a friend.

If you think this plan was destined for failure, you would be right. At lunchtime in the schoolyard a few days later, I caught sight of my mother sneaking up the steps to the convent. “Mom, what are you doing here?” I asked her, and her mumbled reply was vague and altogether unconvincing. I quickly grew suspicious.

At recess the next day, Mom’s friend-finding mission was launched. The most popular girl in my class casually approached me, and tried, valiantly though unsuccessfully, to start a conversation. All of a sudden, Mom’s stealth visit to the nuns made sense! I may have been shy, but I could put two and two together: Mom and the Sisters had “found” me a friend. I was embarrassed and also angry, and when I got home, I let Mom know it.

I’ve thought about this childhood incident often over the years, especially when my own children were young and felt the sting of social snubs or exclusions. What I didn’t understand as a ten year-old, but do now, is the fiercely protective mother-love that emerges when my children face one of life’s many challenges. At times I, too, have acted impulsively in my wish to “make it all better” for my children.

When Mom was alive, I did, of course, manage to forgive her, knowing she saw my problem and tried to fix it (with a little help from the good Sisters). But her actions revealed something else to me — that a mother’s love is the foundation, but a child must learn to build on it. As much as I may want to, I can’t shield my children from life’s earthquakes. All I can do is give them my love, which I hope will be a rejuvenating shelter they can count on in a storm — welcoming, warm, always open. And always eager for the new day, and their new journey.