If you can’t pay it back, pay it forward. Catherine Ryan Hyde

I’m on another solo road trip. Many hours of driving on Interstate 80, across Pennsylvania and Ohio, then turning north to my sister’s in Michigan. After 48 hours of big-sister love and pampering, I’m heading up to the Thumb this afternoon to be with my mother-in-law who is having surgery on Thursday. I’ll hang around for awhile for her to rest and get back on her feet.

In my never ending stream of consciousness way of thinking, musing about my mother-in-law led me to reflect on my own mother. My relationship with her was challenging at best. I was her sixth child and the novelty of caring for yet another little one had long worn off. But at age 63, I believe I have grown as a person and gained some vision and perspective. She had a very sad childhood, losing her own mother when she was two years old. Her early life was filled with hardship and loneliness, leaving her ill-prepared for the demands and challenges of motherhood.

One of my mother’s truths was that she had to take a taxi home from the hospital with her newborn baby because her first husband was nowhere around. When I contrast this with the birth of my own sons and the treatment I received from my husband, it makes my heart ache for her. While I received flowers, tender attention and special meals, she was left to fend for herself at a time she must have been feeling vulnerable and anxious.

My mother with her first born child in 1941.

So while I can’t “pay it back” and drive my mother home from the hospital with her new baby and make her feel special, I can “pay it forward” and attend to my widowed mother-in-law at a time she must be feeling vulnerable and anxious.

The women of the world tend to be the caretakers of the family, starting with making sure everyone is bathed, clothed and fed. My mother raised seven children, my mother-in-law raised eight. While I can no longer help my late mother, I’m grateful to be able to do a small act of kindness for a woman who has done so much for others.

C’est la vie.

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