Mother and Child

Mother and Child by Mary Cassatt

Mother and Child by Mary Cassatt

As a newborn, the back of Margaret’s neck was rosy with what her pediatrician called a stork bite. Nothing to worry about, he assured me. It was just a blush of blood vessels close to the skin and would most likely fade as she left toddlerhood. The little birth mark never worried me. When she was tiny, I would kiss it and breathe in her baby smell. As she got older, her hair grew down the nape of her neck and that new baby smell went the way of the wind.

I forgot about the stork bite and the promise of its disappearance.

The day before her first foray into preschool I took her for a haircut. When the curls fell away from Margaret’s neck and shoulders, I gasped a little. There peeking out from her little bob was that first blush of babyhood. The temporary birthmark hadn’t gone away. And for just a moment, I could smell that baby smell and feel how she felt in the crook of my arm. It was an odd thing – the ache to hold a different version of a person still within reach.

Last week, I sat in church surrounded by women I know and hope to know. The sister sitting in front of me was what the politically correct call “well advanced in age”.  Her arms were covered in fine lines. Her hair was bright white, a few red strands where the color had forgotten to forget itself. And there, on the nape of her slightly bent neck was a blush of blood vessels close to the skin. A mark that hadn’t managed to fade in her toddlerhood.

And for just a moment, I could see her as a baby and I could breathe in her baby smell. I could feel her mother’s love, a love that remains despite the years and loss.

I could feel that as she is, my daughter’s one day will be. And I rejoiced in their white hair I won’t live to see and the fine lines they’ll gather in the places I won’t get to go. And I marveled at the sameness of our sisterhood.

And the differences.

And I thanked God for the things that stay with us and wept for the things that leave us.

And then I breathed deeply, not for the last time.