“She was a mother. One who is mother only to her own children is not a mother; she is only a woman who has borne children. But here was one of God's mothers.” ― George MacDonald, Sir Gibbie
I’ll call him Wilbur because that is a good name for a tiny thing that comes into the world only to find himself in a peril not of his making. And that is how Wilbur began his life: born addicted, his mother an addict, his father unknown, immediately seized by the State.
I first met little Wilbur when his foster mother brought him to our home. My daughter [who, for privacy reasons, I cannot name] had been caring for him at the daycare center where she works, and now she would be watching him on weekends as well. Wilbur settled comfortably into my daughter’s lap, where he had spent so many hours already. No longer tiny or sick, his big brown eyes beamed at her out of a chubby little face, the perfect picture of baby-ness. Dimpled fingers reached for her mouth or wrapped around her thumb. He was absolutely adorable.
But what struck me more than Wilbur was my daughter. The ease with which she scooped him up and balanced him on her lap. The warmth in her eyes as she looked at him with the sheer delight of motherhood.
Here is what I’ve learned about my daughter.
She is a natural mother, though she is just twenty-two and has no children of her own. Children flock to her, babies comfort with her, toddlers follow her like ducklings. She exudes effortlessly something that cannot be learned or taught. I can only call it maternal love.
As I ponder this quality in my daughter, I realize she has always had it. It was at the root of all of her friendships, even as a child. An undercurrent of loyalty and protectiveness gave each of her childhood friendships a disproportionate weight of significance. It made her different. Vulnerable. The normal ebb and flow of elementary school pairings, the shifting dynamic so common among young girls, where best friends are swapped out and replaced, penetrated her tender heart and made it bleed. I didn’t understand it at the time. I wish I had so I could have helped her navigate her feelings better, but she was always so private. Like God’s own mother, she kept her own counsel, pondering these things in her heart.
My daughter experienced more than her share of rejection, mostly because she was not like girls her age. When elementary school gave way to middle school, she was left behind. She had no interest in clothes, hair, makeup, or boys. While those around her were mere puddles of fickleness and silliness, she was what she had always been: an artesian well of love.
She was quite young when she started babysitting, first for nieces and nephews and then for others outside the family. It gave her people to love, who were also more than eager to love her in return. They drew her pictures, which she hung on our fridge. They wrote her letters, which only she could decipher. They cried when she left and ran to her when she returned.
I have watched her with children. She runs around the yard with them, plays games with them, not like one who has to amuse them because it’s her job, but as though she is truly entering in. And she is, entering in. She has a vibrant, childlike spirit that can turn anything into a game. Children love her because they know, with that instinct children have, that she is not humoring them. She is enjoying them, really and truly. And children, as my daughter well knows, need to be loved and enjoyed.
I ache for the ways in which this capacity for love has opened her up to pain, but I am so grateful she has leaned into the pain and not let it harden her. Hers is a heart with scars, but no callouses. And those scars, still tender and pink, are what make her a haven to babies like Wilbur.
It is natural for a woman to love her own baby, but to love a stranger so completely? That is super-natural. That, as George MacDonald so aptly states, makes her “one of God’s mothers.”