Her voice splits the night and jolts me from bed.
“I’m right here, Kara mia, I’m right here.”
Karoline is sick and needy these days. She is clinging to me constantly, pressing a hot, limp body against mine and holding on as if for dear life. Now, I sing her back to sleep and I don’t dare move. Instead, I think about that well-worn phrase.
I’m right here.
I’ve said it a million times if I’ve said it once. For 18 years, it’s been the standard response to the calls of my children. Here I am, in the “teen week of August,” holding a toddler and remembering how the phrase came to be. Eighteen years ago, I spent a hellish week in a hospital on the oncology floor. Mid-August; I watched the nurse tear the calendar pages every day and I wondered if I’d go home.
While I was there, the doctors told the woman in the bed next to mine that there was nothing more they could do for her. She was dying. She had a daughter about to begin high school and a son in the sixth grade. I never saw her face. The curtain between us remained pulled across the room for the entire week. But I heard the most painful conversations of her life. There was no avoiding them. I was tethered to IV poles and too weak to move. I heard her tell her family that she would not be there.
And I prayed. I prayed for her and her husband and her children. And I prayed for me. I prayed for my child, my first golden-haired blue-eyed child who was exactly the age Karoline is now. I prayed that every time he’d call out, I’d be able to go to him. I’d be able to say, “I’m right here.” It was such a simple want, such a simple need, yet it was a formidable challenge as I fought in that hospital bed so many years ago.
So much of motherhood is really just about being there. Being there when the ball leaves the foot of your 12-year-old and goes just wide of the goal, losing the tournament. Being there when your 8-year-old dances Clara in the “Nutcracker” and the audience is mesmerized. Being there when your high school graduate is honored with a scholarship. Being there when your 9-year-old struggles to read. Being there when your deserving 13-year-old doesn’t see his name on the team list. Indeed, motherhood is about those big moments when you wrap them in your mantle, when it’s your mere physical presence that brings comfort and love to their lives.
But it’s about the ordinary daily moments, too.
And it was really the daily moments I longed for in that hospital. I wanted to be awakened in the morning to the stinky breath of my toddler and insistence for breakfast now. I wanted to be there for the long walks to the park. I wanted to have the strength to carry him home. I wanted to cook a simple dinner and take a walk down by the creek. I did and I do want to hear the plaintive cry of a feverish toddler and to step on a Lego in the dark on the way to her bed, all the while calling out the familiar refrain to reassure her. I want to hold her all night long.
I’m right here.
God willing, here is where I’ll always be.