To New York, with love
First published in the Christian Science Sentinel
Mothering. Doesn't the term call up images of adoring one's young? Of nudging them gently in the right direction? And also perhaps of gripping fear? That up-all-night fear of what might happen to them when they're out of our reach. Thankfully, I have found comfort for that aspect of mothering.
Ever since she could walk, our daughter, Ellie, has had one foot out the door - always ready to go on a trip. So just before eighth grade, when a family friend invited her to spend a week in New York City for a children's theater workshop, she was packed in minutes. We'd been to New York once before, so she felt she had the city thing down pretty well.
As her mother, however, I had some trepidation. We'd been living in the country since she was little, and although we'd visited cities now and then, delighting in the sights and various subway systems, it felt to me that our "little girl" was not really equipped to navigate the complexities of New York. So I requested that our friend please escort Ellie in the subway to and from the workshop - not realizing that this meant an hour-and-a-half round trip, twice daily.
After the first day of the workshop, we eagerly called to hear all about it. Our friend reported that Ellie had had a wonderful day. She'd had a little adventure on the subway, but she was fine and could tell us about it herself.
As Ellie babbled on about her excellent day, all I could think was "WHAT LITTLE ADVENTURE ON THE SUBWAY?!? How does an escorted child have an "adventure" on the subway?!?
What had happened was that our friend had found it impossible to pick up Ellie that afternoon, so she had responsibly arranged for another family from the workshop, who took the same train, to escort her back. They had gotten off a couple of stops before Ellie's, giving her instructions on when to get off. But you know how it is when you're a little anxious - did they mean two stops including this one? Or two stops after this one? And then, she couldn't read the station names through all the people. So she stayed on the train, riding farther and farther from her destination, afraid to speak to the strangers who surrounded her.
Finally, she asked a kind-looking lady what to do. She told her that she needed to get out, go under the tracks to the other side, and return several stops. When she got to the return platform, it was deserted, except for one man, and he was drunk. She felt she had to ask him if she was in the right place. She was. Nothing bad happened. She got on the next train and got home just fine after that. "No big deal, Mom."
When I hung up, I was quaking with fear. For the next couple of hours, all I could think of was driving to New York to snatch my baby back to safety. Except I knew they were having a wonderful time there - I was the only one freaking out.
In desperate need of comforting, I begged God for help. And immediately, a logical progression of spiritual reasoning developed in my thinking.
• God is the Father and Mother of all creation - "and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:3).
• Our Father-Mother God lovingly, confidently views His entire creation, and is never, ever afraid about it. He sees its complete spiritual perfection, expressing only Him.
• Motherhood is actually the expression of God as Mother, and this concept of motherhood does not include fear.
And suddenly, mine didn't. I felt no fear. Instead, I felt God's calm, tender love for His creation. I was completely confident of His infinite goodness. This was to be a life-changing revelation.
Back in New York, our friend took Ellie to class every day, and she returned with the other family. She was delighted with her new independence, and came back home radiant and confident.
These days, when she takes off with her boyfriend on his motorcycle, or calls from her urban college a thousand miles away, I'm still confronted with maternal fears sometimes. But when I return to that vivid experience in New York and the understanding it brought me, I'm comforted all over again. Mother-God is not afraid, and my best role is expressing that.