Motherhood: In Sickness and In Health (A Mother’s Day Tribute)

May 3, 2013 | 18 comments

Every day is a day to celebrate Moms. But in one week, it’s the official day,  right there on the calendar: Mother’s Day. Some of my best memories of my own mother — Mama D., as most folks know her — unfolded when I was a sick girl on the living-room couch.

And then, one day, my Mom got sick….

I lay in a feverish curl, dressed in footie pajamas while Mom watched mercury rise in a thin glass tube.

With one hand, she held a thermometer under my tongue, and with the other, she stroked terrycloth – damp and cool – across my throbbing brow.

Today – nine days from Mother’s Day – this is the place where my memory of mother-love burns strongest: right in the middle of my childhood sick days at home.

It was nothing serious, just the flu or a cold. But mother-love felt like this: arms cradling a bent body. Love smelled like Vicks VapoRub and calamine lotion and liquid amoxicillin. Love sparkled fizzy, like 7-Up in a tall Daffy Duck glass, sweating onto a metal TV tray. Mother-love looked like the tiny Snoopy figurine that she set down by the cartoon glass while I was sleeping.

Mother-love sounded like feet, padding double-time on creaky oak-planked floors, to help a whimpering child reach the bucket in time.

That’s why I never minded being sick as a kid. Because it meant that love was about to come dancing into the room, popping its head through the doorway and wearing a crazy Halloween mask, or singing a silly song in exaggerated vibrato.

It’s not that Mom didn’t love me on the days when I bounded through the house healthy and happy. But the sick days? Those were the best because she stroked my cheeks and tucked stray strands of hair behind my ears.

Mom would wrap me in an afghan cocoon on the couch – she called it a davenport — and turn on the Zenith color console. I watched through half-open eyelids as Big Bird tried to convince his friends thatMr. Snuffleupagus was real.

And Mom would love the sick right out of me.

By the time I traded in Muppets for Maybelline, our relationship skidded a bit. I don’t know how it happened, really, but we started to argue. I became Queen of the Eye Roll. Which paired nicely with my favorite word: Whatever.

Sure, I still loved Mom, but I didn’t act like it. I deserved a big, fat time-out, that’s what.

The things that seemed to charm everyone else – her silly pranks and her tendency to be the very last person out of church – were the things that annoyed me most.  She once chased my friends through the house while wielding a cow tongue. They, of course, found her hilarious. I think I did, too, though I hid my laugh behind my eye-roll.

I was eager to leave home for college, away from rules.

But even college girls catch colds. I remember dialing her from the dorm, wishing she would bring me 7-Up, with ice clinking against a cartoon glass.

Now I’m all grown up. I’m the mom, and I’m pretty sure that time is turning over on itself.  I stroke sweaty foreheads and deliver carbonated drinks with straws and silly songs. I am also the last one out of church, and I have begun to publicly embarrass my children whenever those delicious opportunities present themselves.

One spring, Mom fell ill. She lost weight and energy and, sadly, some of her zippy humor. We waited and waited for a diagnosis.*

A few days before Mother’s Day, Dad called: Pray hard, he said. Mom’s getting sicker by the day.

Our youngest daughter, Anna, came in the room and saw me crying as I stuffed clothes in a duffel bag.

“I know why you’re going to see Mema,” she said. “It’s because when you were little, she always helped you when you were sick. And now you want to help her when she’s sick. Right, Mommy?”

Anna was right. I had to go home. I just had to. There was a long overdue favor to repay and a sick mama who needed to hear a silly love song.

*Mom was sick for many months with a mysterious illness that was never fully diagnosed. But later that year, she was healed physically. Today, Mom is doing great, and believe me, she is as rambunctious as ever. I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day. Thanks for taking such good care of me, and teaching me what it means to be a mom, and how to love the least of these, and show grace to my neighbor … and also to myself.


Looking for a sweet Mother’s Day gift? My friend Laura Lynn Brown, a copy editor at a newspaper in Arkansas, has written a book full of stories and interactive questions for and about moms. “All those years of advice, of her words of wisdom, of loving, of scolding, of laughing…You are you because she is your mom. Celebrate every memory.”

You can find her book by clicking here:

by | May 3, 2013 | 18 comments


  1. lorisprayercloset

    Ohhhh, Jennifer: you are making my throat to that weird thing where tears get back up because I am at work and can’t cry! Your Mama sounds like mine, that’s why I was tearing up. What a wonderful tribute to her. Mine was also great when I was sick (or any other time for that matter) but I learned early that she would bring me whatever I wanted as long as I didn’t moan or whine 🙂 I am so thankful I still have my Mom, so many of my friends don’t 🙁

  2. Evi Wusk

    I’ve got a one-year-old and this perspective helps me think about what kind of mom I want to be when little Charli gets sick.

    Such an opportunity to live out love.

    “And Mom would love the sick right out of me” and “Muppets for Maybelline” just plain sing. Thanks for your words.

  3. Lyla Willingham Lindquist

    Love hearing about the rambunctious Mama D. She’s a rock star. (You’re reading this, right Mrs. Dukes?)

  4. debyholtschlag

    “And Mom would love the sick right out of me.”

    The “silver lining” of our children being sick. I can remember our Adam, becoming sick with the flu in High School. One of the things he requested, for me to read to him the books from when he was little. Blessings in loving the sick and the healthy!

    Again, thankful for His words through you! Pray you are enjoying your Friday.

  5. sheiladailie

    “I have begun to publicly embarrass my children whenever those delicious opportunities present themselves.” Ah, when I finally realized that this was part of the job of a mom, I could finally see my mom for her special uniqueness. And it freed me to be myself, rather than the image that I thought I needed to be for my daughters.

    Besides, those crazy “embarrassing” moments are some of the BEST stories we share around precious family times!

    Thanks, Jennifer, for a wonderful journey in my own memories.

  6. Laura Rath

    Oh, if I could take back all the teenage eye rolls and dial the attitude down about 50 notches!
    This is beautiful Jennifer. Thank you for sharing the memories!

  7. Sandra Heska King

    Sniffling. Love you to the moon and back, Mama D.

    I don’t remember my mom doing anything special except piling me into bed with books, but I do remember wanting her when I was adultly ill.

    Beautiful tribute, friend. To know you is to know your mom. 🙂

  8. Jillie

    Oh Jennifer, what a moving tribute to your sweet Mama. I love the ‘Cruella DeVille’ look! She sounds like so much fun! That must be where you learned it!
    I wish I’d learned ‘fun’ from my Mom, but I didn’t. I wish my Mom had doted over me when I was sick, but she didn’t. I wish she’d spent one-on-one time with me, but she didn’t. I wish she’d said she loved me, but she didn’t. Her own problems consumed her, and she had little time or thought for me or my siblings. Being the older daughter, it often fell to me to care for the ‘brood’. I learned some of how to be a Mom by caring for them. And I determined, someday, I would love my children better. And I did. I do. But I do not hate my Mom. I love her. She has been gone now for 34 years, and I still miss her. I think I’ve gained understanding and compassion for her and what she endured in life. Hers was not an easy road and she was just not strong enough. I’m so glad your Mom received healing and that you still have her. I know you cherish her, by your words. Thank you for this, Jennifer.
    (I have others that I send Mother’s Day cards to–the other wonderful women who built into my life when my Mom passed on. I am grateful for them…their love and guidance.)

  9. Lynn Morrissey

    This is beyond wonderful, Jennifer–so tenderly written. Your mother must be so proud of you, and you are so incredibly blessed that she recovered. I know she is such a gift of joy to you, and she has paved the way for the wonderful mother you are. I had to laugh about those endearing eye-rolls! My mother says I was a perfect child (I can assure you these are HER words and not mine! Oh!). But she did say that when I was a teen, while I always obeyed her, I would roll my eyes, and “if looks could kill,” well that would be it for her! I am so very blessed to have the mother I do, and she and I are very close. She does crazy things too, even at 83! And as a mother, my favorite thing to do to Sheridan in public is to sing *at* her. That’s how she puts it. It doesn’t bother me in the least, and she has dubbed me the Hyacinth Bucket of America! Please tell your mother we think she is wonderful….even in her Cruella outfit. She must be a good sport to let you publish that on the Internet!

  10. Laura Brown

    Wow, Jennifer. I love that you took a question from my Facebook event and turned into this great story. And that you got to repay the favor. Love that Snoopy figurine. Thanks for sharing this side of your mom with us, and confessing to the eye-roll years, and also for the link.

  11. Kelly Greer

    Jennifer I so related to this story. You got a snoopy nurse? How cool is this. Besides all the familiar things here, I think I got a lot of popsicles and banana baby food (my fav!). I remember a time my mom also fell very ill. I was 16 and not at all interested in taking care of my mom, I just wanted my own life. How selfish I was! Time does help us see with such clarity the gift our moms are and always were. One more thing, I don’t think we had Big Bird on the TV back then, I think I watched Romper Room, Leave It To Beaver, Andy Griffith and the like. Brings back so many fond memories. Thanks for the story.

  12. Hazel Irene Moon

    Your story brought back memories of days long past. During the day when I was sick as a child Mom allowed me to be in her bed so she could wait on me. No TV in those days, but she placed our small radio on the bed so I could listen to all the soap operas of that day. Measles, chicken pox – – we caught them all. At night I must have taken the stairs up to my own bed. I can remember one spring when I was sick and was upstairs. Mother brought me one daffodil in a small glass and sat it near my bed so I could look at it. I remember viewing each petal and the trumpet of this lovely flower. I had never seen anything so beautiful before – – or at least it seemed so. Thanks Jennifer for your awesome story about your mom and I am happy she will be with you on Mother’s day.

  13. Donna

    What a wonderful tribute to your mother. I love the picture of her as Cruella DeVille! That is wonderful.

  14. Angie Ryg

    Oh, what a beautiful way to honor your Mama and what a legacy for your girls. Your eye rolls have turned into your Father’s eyes seeking ways to glorify Him by loving and honoring your Mother. What a picture of grace. Thank you for this and I love how with every post, I get a chance to see deeper into your heart!


    I’m grateful you have your mama today, Jennifer. I so ache for mine and every Mother’s Day feels almost like a punch in stomach because not only is she gone but she never lived to see me become a stepmother. I know she is in Heaven and I will see her again but I’m not sure the grief allows me to really KNOW that. But it was good to read this. I get frustrated with women who complain about their mothers. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I think to myself, “you are so fortunate to have her, even if she says or does things that annoy you.” I am so grateful to see YOU write this tribute to her and I am so grateful to see the love in your heart, no matter what tough times may have been in the past. You and your family have my love this Mother’s Day and as I mother my stepkids without my own mother here…I thank you because your blog has been one of my go-to resources on how to truly love my kids.

  16. barbara mahany

    simply beautiful. thank you for stirring so many memories as i heard the ice clinking against the glass, inhale the vapor-rub and felt healed as your words washed over me….


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