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That Look of Understanding

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When I was in the 7th grade, right in the midst of that weird, in-between time that defines middle school, there came a day when I thought I’d lost my best friend. I was awkward and stammering, with a ponytail I expertly slicked back with water every morning. Somehow, for all my gawkiness, I’d managed to make one really solid best friend. We walked into school on the first day together wearing matching outfits, down to our all-white Adidas tennis shoes with the laces tucked in just so. We rode our bikes the two miles from her house to mine almost every day and spent hours pouring over Seventeen magazine though we were barely 13.

Then one day, girl drama ensued, as it usually does at this age. For some reason or another, we left school in a tizzy. It would turn out to be just a minor setback in an otherwise decades-long friendship that our daughters are carrying on to this day. Still, on that day, it was earth-shattering.

Mom picked me up in the car rider line that afternoon. What is it about seeing your mom that suddenly makes every emotion you’ve tried so hard to push deep down inside come bubbling up to the top in a single second? I’d put on a brave face the whole day at school. It was totally cool, I was totally fine, didn’t need a best friend anyway.

Then, I saw her face from afar, behind the wheel of our old red Honda van. I ran up, slammed the door behind me, got in the seat and burst into tears before either of us had time to say anything. She didn’t know what was going on, but she kept on driving as I spilled the entire day to her. Then, I noticed we were passing our house.

We didn’t go straight home. Instead, mom took me to the local mall. We got ice cream and walked around the entire place before the sun started to set and retailers were lowering those big metal cages over their storefronts to close up shop. We bought a little teal tank top that said “Ciao” and didn’t mention my ordeal the entire time. When I got home, I called my friend and we made amends. It was over just like that, and life resumed, just like mama knew it would.

Because moms know. They just know. They know when we need to sit in the bathtub for hours alone with the lights off and process a really hard decision. They know when we need to talk for an hour and just get out whatever’s eating us up inside. They know when we’re faking a smile and forcing a conversation because something’s bugging us but we don’t know how to say it. They know that a work-from-home mom can spend way too much time behind a screen, so they sneak away to the local bookstore and use their savings that they’ve squirreled away to buy you a real novel with pages and spine, that you can devour when the kids go to sleep.

They know that sometimes sisters, even grown ones, fight, and that enforcing a mid-week coffee date is just the ticket to work past it. They know that sometimes husbands and kids and work can be a lot to juggle and we just need a few hours by ourselves to clean the house, catch up on emails or just take a really long hot shower. So they show up without calling, take the kids, and say they’ll see you at noon.

We don’t have to utter a word, because they share our heart. They share our wishes and our worries, and they know when we need something, sometimes even before we do.

It’s a superpower, really, this incredible intuition. This innate ability to discern the next best move at all times, even when it’s not entirely practical or feasible. We should have just gone home that day in middle school. I could have sulked in my bedroom, barely touched my dinner, and gone to bed still angry. Instead? I window shopped, and laughed, and made a memory with my sweet mama. And I was better equipped to handle the issue later. I pray that as my own daughter grows, I’m equally capable of realizing and understanding her needs.

When I grab her to pull her close after she falls and I see the tears well up in her eyes as she buries her head into my chest, I know I’m well on my way. I feel it when we’re lying in her big girl bed at night and she falls asleep to me tucking her hair behind her ears. I’m slowly but surely becoming my mama, and what a beautiful legacy to carry on.

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