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  • Jan Flynn

How Mothers Time Travel

I’m on the phone with my older son when I get a call from my younger son’s fiancé. I mention this to my older son. “Weird,” he says, “she just tried to call me too.”

Abruptly the present, calm water of my comfortable Mom of Adult Children persona churns, surfacing every past calamity from my son’s childhood while simultaneously sluicing over a progression of possible future catastrophes. In less than a second, I am whirling in time while focused on the moment, a Mom On Alert maelstrom. When I reach my younger son’s fiancé, she tells me she is with him in the ER. He’s fallen while carrying a heavy glass bottle and cut his hand. Badly. Very badly, in fact. He’s in a lot of pain. He’s frightened.

The maelstrom threatens to become a tsunami, but I keep my voice level. Life has so arranged itself that I now live four states away from my sons, and while the distance is usually abolished through calls and texts, the frustration of not being able to instantly, physically transport myself washes through me like a storm surge. But I can’t make that her problem right now. I address her gently, myself sternly: This is survivable. It’s a setback, but he will recover. A

Forty-eight hours later, having caught several planes and trains, I wait with her while my son has surgery to repair three severed tendons and three sliced nerves. I stay upbeat for her; she stays upbeat for me. The two hours we wait together is a concentrated, bonding eternity.

When the surgeon approaches us to give us a favorable report, we exhale relief together. In the recovery room, her devotion to my son infuses everything she does: gently spooning ice chips into his mouth to relieve his nausea, listening with total focus to the instructions of the discharge nurse. I watch from just beyond their charmed circle, awash in gratitude.

He’s working hard to come out of his anesthesia haze, but he’s still very woozy. My heart squeezes as I kiss the top of his head, something I rarely do now that he’s got half a foot and nearly a hundred pounds on me. As I do, thirty one years instantly collapse. For a moment, I once again nuzzle my baby’s scalp.

By the next day, he’s doing remarkably well, and better the day after that. A long period of healing and inconvenience await him, but he’ll be okay. We all take a morning stroll to a coffee house, he and she walking ahead, me behind with the dog. They’re shaken, especially tender, but resilient.

From back here with the dog, I regard the petite figure of my DIL-to-be. She’s expressed trepidation about having kids, although she’d like to have a family one day. You’re not wrong to be wary, I want to tell her. Once you cross the threshold of motherhood, there is no going back. But you are up to it.

And, I’d like to tell her, should you choose to go through that door, you will be tested again and again. Yet you will be equipped with certain powers, among them time travel. And as long as you are a mother, which is as long as you live, it will never leave you.

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