They tell you these stories, and you start to realize that there is this whole body of information about people you thought you knew well, stories that somehow they'd never thought to tell you before. You learn that your husband didn't sleep well until he found his thumb and his Humpty-Dumpty doll. You learn that your grandmother breastfed her babies even when it was discouraged. You learn that your best friend's baby only took 30 minute naps.
* * *
When he heard that Ellie had acid reflux, my Dad recalled a story I'd never heard before, a story about himself as a baby - his own fussyness, spitting up, and the miracle solution my grandmother came up with to cure him. "I think it had something to do with giving me cow's milk at an early age," he said, "but I"m not sure."
My grandfather couldn't remember either. "I remember Eva being rather proud of herself for figuring it out," he said, "but I can't tell you what it was."
For the first time since my grandmother's death over ten years ago, I realized that there were many stories that had died with her, stories only she could tell. My Dad and grandfather are both masterful storytellers who can recall in vivid detail adventure after adventure on the farm where my Dad and his four brothers grew up. They have stories to tell about bums sleeping in the barn, stories about chasing rats in a chicken coop, stories about my uncle falling down into a well and almost drowning. But neither of them can remember what it was that helped my Dad as a baby. That story, a story that might have helped me care for my own baby, was my grandmother's, and it, like her, is gone, never to return.
* * *
To be a mother, I am learning, is to be, among many other things, a keeper of stories, the caretaker of a vast body of information that no one else in the world is likely to pay particular attention to or to remember.
Of course, fathers remember many things, and I am sure there are some fathers who remember more stories and more details than mothers. But it does seem that mothers have a unique capacity to store up and hold on to the stories of their children's lives.
We see this in Luke Chapter 2 where twice Luke notes that "Mary treasured up all these things in her heart," referring to the many unusual particulars surrounding Jesus' birth and early years - visiting shepherds, angel choirs, prophetic utterances, and of course, Jesus as a preteen teaching His elders. Surely Joseph noted these things too, would have thought them remarkable and significant, but what Luke tells us is that Mary treasured them. She is the one who valued these stories, held onto them, took care of them.
I don't yet know who she will become, but I am grateful that God has appointed me to be her mother, to carry her story close to my heart, to pay close attention to each chapter, to walk with her through every page.