Mary Oves
Mary Oves Danny Drake

Saturday morning found me a-scrubbing.

On Friday night all three of my boys took part in a twelve-hour stomach flu marathon. And as anyone who has gone to college knows, morning is a great teacher to the mistakes made at night. (My worst night: "Does anyone know where I parked my car? What do you mean, I don't own a car?")

The upstairs was in ruins. Bedspreads askew, Gatorade bottles tipped over, the bathroom a visual and nasal affront. The bedroom and accompanying bathroom looked as if they had joined forces in committing Gatorade hari-kari. The carpet was trashed.

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(I still remember proudly picking out that carpet. I chose the color just for such an occasion. "When three boys at the same time get violently ill all over it after eating General Tsao's chicken, will it blend?" I think the salesperson agreed with me to get me out of the store.)

So it was a rough night, but they made it through. In the morning they emerged, smiling weakly, three weary soldiers from a foxhole, bonded together in trust, complicity and bile. I made them tea, tucked them in, and turned on SpongeBob. It snowed heavily, and I went back to my scrubbing.

As I scrubbed, I felt myself being watched. I turned to see my sons, still in their PJ's, watching me in a contemplative way.

Mothers know this look. It's the look kids get when you hand them their favorite clothes, washed and pressed. It's the look they get when they walk out of school, and you're there to pick them up from practice. It's the look they have when you place a homemade waffle in front of them on Saturday morning. It's the look they MUST have when they open their lunch boxes to favorite sandwiches, fresh chips and crisp fruit.

It's a look of...satisfaction. Of knowing.

The look of being mothered.

"Why are you guys off the couch?" I said. I sat back on my heels and pushed my hair out of my eyes with a rubber gloved hand. "Get back under the covers."

"Sorry Mom," they said. "It's just that you're really good at that."

As they walked out of the room, I realized my sons complimented me on my ability to scrub vomit off the floor.

I can't believe it never occurred to me before, but knew I must have known all along. To hell with degrees, promotions, cars, trips, houses. None of it matters. What children want is very simple.

Us. On our hands and knees. Scrubbing up their spit. Ah, the irony of life.

As I sat back on my heels, feeling woozy from the disinfectant fumes, I contemplated my life as a mother, and wondered if being a mom was the one thing that Curley referred to as he raised his finger to Billy Crystal in the movie "City Slickers."

"The meaning to life is just one thing," Curley said. It's up to each person to decide what that is, he said.

Is motherhood the I-Ching?

As I rinsed rags and buckets, I knew I needed answers. I needed a shaman. I needed a place to contemplate, to reflect, to meditate on the simplicities (or complexities) of life.

So I went to the grocery store.

I walked through the aisles and picked foods for tender stomachs. Soups, applesauce, bread, ginger ale. My confidence rose as I picked items that I knew they would enjoy, and my reign as Queen of Momdom was at an all-time high. I looked forward to getting home and continuing my role as Nurturer.

But the checkout lines were long. The snow had forced Saturday sloths out into the world. I looked left. I looked right. I tried to sneak into an Express Lane, but the sour-pussed checkout woman would not have it.

"Sorry," she squawked, as she looked into my cart. "This is Express. Fifteen items only."

I was helpless. "But I only have 18. And you have no one in your line. You're not counting each individual egg, right?"

No go. But still flying high, I came to a decision. I could do it. If I can scrub spit off the floor, I can do this, I thought.

Self checkout.

It didn't go well. I put the items on too fast. Then I put them on too slow. I needed to bag halfway through, then I got the apple variety wrong. I didn't have my savers' card, then I didn't have coupons. I had to wait three separate times for an associate to assist me.

My ego was taking a beating. People in back of me were rolling their eyes, then switching lanes. The computer voice kept saying things like, "You obviously don't know what you're doing," and "Please make room for those people who have a clue."

But I got home. From the warmth and safety of a picture window, my sons watched me struggle to bring in the groceries amidst the heavily falling snow. As I came into the house, they smiled and said,

"Way to bring the groceries in, Mom. You're really good at that."

Easy, now. A little of that goes a long way.

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