Queen for a Day

Harper's CornerMom and roses
By Jessica Harper
May 2009

"As I write this, we are just on the other side of Mother's Day, which is one of my favorite holidays, mostly because I get to be Queen For A Day..."

... and, unlike what happens on my birthday, I don't suffer from anxiety about being a year closer to ancient.

This Mother's Day I was reminded of a story that was in the news some months ago that concerned a baby in Albany who tumbled out of a second-story window (while her mother was momentarily distracted) and fell into the arms of a postal worker who stood below.

Talk about being in the right place at the right time! This story gives new meaning to the term, ‘postal service,´ which most people regard as an oxymoron.

If you were that postal worker, wouldn´t you think you'd been designated an angel, at least temporarily? How else could you have been so miraculously positioned? And even if that ended up being your only angelic act ever, you´d get to go through the day and the year and your life knowing that you´d saved a tiny child. You might figure that you no longer had to work to get to heaven, that this event bought you a golden ticket. But hopefully you´d go on looking for opportunities to be angelic, in spite of your elevated status.

How about the child? What will she think, many years from now, when she comes to understand the divine intervention that allowed her to live past the age of eighteen months? Will she meet the postal worker, get to know her angel? Hopefully, at the very least, she will carry around a little shock and awe and gratitude that will serve her well in life. Maybe she will keep her eye on high windowsills, checking for adventurous babies.

Now let´s consider the third party in this miraculous triangle: the mother.

I know that, although I´ve always had minor anxiety, when my first child was born, I began to worry in earnest. My imagination exploded with possible baby-threatening scenarios: SIDS, drowning in one of L.A.´s omnipresent swimming pools, kidnapping. Even now that she´s a teenager, I inhale when she hops in the Honda and exhale only when she returns safely from the madness of our city´s freeways.

Most parents feel this way, to varying degrees, and I´m sure the mother of the Albany baby is no exception. So how was it for her as she ran down the stairs to recover her child after the fall, all her maternal anxiety finally justified? She must have been gripped by devastation, guilt, hysteria and grief; she must have been insane. Then, when she burst through the door to find a postal worker holding her cooing baby, it´s hard to imagine her transition to ecstatic disbelief.

Now, some months later, how does the mother feel after her worst fears were realized and then so quickly dispelled? Aside from putting new locks on the windows, how did she respond? My guess is she got the gift near-disaster gives: a greatly expanded sense of her daughter´s preciousness.

While this mother´s emotional rollercoaster ride was way beyond anything I´ve personally known, I feel the impact of her story. When my older daughter, Elizabeth, came home from college a few days ago, I worried while she was in the cab to the airport, worried more while she was in the air, and worried again until she rang the doorbell. She got home safely; angels watched her every step of the way. And when she fell into my arms, it was not from a high window, but I flashed back to the baby in Albany, and I hugged her a little harder.

While Elizabeth had been at college on Mother's Day (she sent good flowers), her younger sister, Nora, was here and she and my husband and I visited the 20th Century Fox lot. There's something sweet going on at Fox, and I'm not referring to the grosses from "Wolverine."

Maybe she lost her way in mid-migration, or maybe she's hoping to snag Hugh Jackman's autograph, but a duck recently took up residence in the fountain right smack outside the offices of Fox's top executives, and then promptly became the mother of eight.

We visited the ducks on Mother's Day, and they are certainly the cutest family on Pico Boulevard. Sadly, their numbers have been reduced by two; some predator made off with a couple of ducklings. (If ducks are capable of maternal anxiety, this mama must be a wreck.) Most likely it was a crow like the one that almost grazed my forehead while I watched Mama Duck teach her kids a trick. She climbed up the ivy beside the fountain, ducklings waddling behind her, to the top of a retaining wall, and jumped into the water, followed by six happy splashes.

Yes, the ducks were sweet, but an even sweeter thing happened later that day. My daughter and I went shoe shopping. (Wait, it gets better.) Nora did something that she does sometimes, even though she is eighteen, an age when self-absorption seems to be the rule: she asked me how I was.

I don't talk a whole lot about my PXE or my deteriorating vision. Being silent about it keeps it at bay, in a way; not speaking about it allows me to slip into denial. But actually, Nora wants and needs to know: am I okay? She, too, is anxious about how my PXE might progress; in the mother/child relationship, the mother is not the only one who worries.

I told her exactly. I tracked it for her, revisiting the scene two years ago in the doctor's office at Johns Hopkins, when I was told I was right at the precipice, about to lose what was left of my central vision. I brought her up to the present: with the help of supplements (and maybe a couple of angels) I think I may have slowed this thing down. I told her about the hope that stem cell research offers. I told her I was sometimes depressed, sometimes frustrated, and sometimes grateful to have PXE and not something far worse.

Nora got it. I thanked her for asking, for being interested, for worrying and for listening, and it was profound thanks. A little empathy goes a long way; it can make you feel like Queen For A Day.


For more articles by Jessica Harper, visit http://www.jessicaharper.com and http://www.thecrabbycook.com.