Thursday, May 3, 2007

"You needed me..."

"I cried a tear
You wiped it dry
I was confused
You cleared my mind
I sold my soul
You bought it back for me
And held me up and gave me dignity
Somehow you needed me.."

Anne Murray's "You Needed Me," released in March of 1978, is considered a classic love song…and I agree.  But for me this song is not about that romantic, stars-in-your-eyes kind of love…it is all about motherhood.

The year of its release was a tumultuous one for my mother, brothers, sisters and me.  My dad had passed on five years earlier.   Through Mother's humble prayers and her momma-tiger-like grit in caring for her kit of eight, we had navigated those very rough waters without drowning.    Yet it looked like we were approaching another waterfall in an overcrowded canoe.

I was living in New Jersey, working and going to school.  Mom and the six children that were still living at home had moved to Connecticut.  It looked like we were finally able to take a deep breath and rest a bit.  For years it had felt like just paying the rent and putting food on the table took everything each of us had to give of ourselves.  Mom worked as many jobs as she could handle while still staying connected to her very young children's lives, and each of us had taken on one or more jobs to help make ends meet. 

I was so proud of my little brothers as they roused themselves from sleep before dawn to deliver newspapers in the dead of winter, and in the summer, walked back and forth across suburban lawns each afternoon in the hot humid air mowing lawns for their friends' parents while those same friends splashed in pools nearby.

I was brought to my knees by the way that my younger sisters would do homework at the end of a restaurant counter between filling orders for coffee or pie, and then hand over a hard-earned paycheck each week, so that we could pay the electric bill rather than buy a new dress for the spring formal or save for a car. 

We learned most about our mother's love by the way she allowed us to be needed.  She let us grow into a family through a shared desire to care for one another. 

We were so close during those years that I was sure I could still feel the tug of my bedcovers in the middle of the night whenever my sister rolled over in her bed three hundred miles away…I still do.

1978 looked like the end of the
really hard struggles…the not-knowing-if-we-would-be-able-to-pay-the-rent-and-have-money-for-the-gas-to-get-to-work days that seemed to include 28 hours of hard labor.  I was now teaching school full time and waitressing in the evenings and on weekends…down to two jobs from three, and I felt like a lady of leisure.  I could go to a movie and not feel guilty.  I thought this was a good thing…the best thing, but something felt missing.

I realized that what I was missing were the demands of caring for others.  I missed emptying the pockets of my apron on the kitchen table at two in the morning and counting the change before putting it away for the electric bill.   I missed the feeling of peace I felt when I looked into the children's room on my way to bed and realized that we could still afford to have a nightlight on in the middle of the night rather than having them wake up to the darkness of a house without power.

"…You gave me strength
To stand alone again
To face the world
Out on my own again
You put me high upon a pedestal
So high that I could almost see eternity
You needed me
You needed me…"

But Mom must have known how much I needed to be needed because she called one afternoon that summer and asked me if two of my siblings could come for a visit.  Her situation had changed abruptly and she needed to take rather drastic steps forward.  These steps would require finding the courage and humility to let two her children spend time away from her. 

Although I know that these were very demanding times for her emotionally and financially, she did it with grace…and most importantly with her hand in God's.  The steps she took led to a situation that was perfect for her and her young family, and getting there gave me a wonderful opportunity to revisit the joy of being needed….of being able to give in a way that I had grown to love…to see myself in a light that brought with it the greater gifts of self-respect and inner peace. 

I would look back on those days with great fondness and longing as over the courses of my life I would detour into the land of selfishness and wander aimlessly searching for freedom.  Returning to the path of helping others was always a roadmap towards home.  Mom not only gave me the map, but notated it with her own living example of how to best follow its directions.

I am a mother now and I wonder how often I remember to say thank you to my children for the privilege of being needed by them.  I wonder how often I allow myself to need their help, their cooperation, their generosity.  Do I allow them to surrender a personal want for the greater family good?  Do I share with them the privilege of being a partner in caring for one another?

It takes courage, humility and love to share with our children the opportunities we, as parents, are given for growth in grace.  It requires the surrender of wanting to be the one who heroically saves the day to allow them to see that we, too, don't have all the answers and that we are reaching out to God for direction and guidance on bended knee. 

You know, today as I think of some of the things I learned from my mother about being a family…sharing the "wealth" of opportunities that come along to care for one another, surrendering our wants in deference to a greater need, and most importantly how to pray holding hands, I now realize that these really are the greatest gifts she
ever gave me.  In fact, I think sometimes these are the gifts that saved me from myself…from the self that would have indulged in…well, self.

Thank you Mom…for needing me.

"…You held my hand
When it was cold
When I was lost
You took me home
You gave me hope
When I was at the end
And turned my lies
Back into truth again
You even called me friend

You needed me
You needed me."

Happy Mother's Day Mama,


  1. Anonymous10:26 AM

    My song of my mom is "Because you loved me." Every moment of my day is informed by how she was, how she encouraged me to be.

    How grateful I am for her adages, which still come back to me at odd times.

    Here's one of my favorite:

    Always wave to babies. They need to know the world is a wonderful place.

    Thank you too Kate, for your stories.


  2. moms are awesome.

    and I love that song (and all the songs you ever mention).

    smooches from this still neophyte mom....