4: “What Does Your Mom Do?”

4: “What Does Your Mom Do?”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

“What Does Your Mom Do?”

The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.

~Dalai Lama

When you’re a kid, you come to expect a basic series of questions every time you are introduced to a non-relative. Most were easy: “How old are you?” “What grade are you in?” “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But there was one question that stumped me: “What do your parents do?” Clueless as to the specifics of my parents’ jobs, I did my best to fake it.

Dad was a computer programmer, so that one was easy enough. “My dad works on computers,” I would say. But mom’s job was trickier to explain. She called herself a “nurse practitioner,” a term that rolled around in my mouth like marbles. Mom simplified it for me. “Just tell them I teach nursing,” she said. “My mom teaches nurses,” I would parrot.

When that led to even more questions, I shortened my response to, “My mom’s a nurse,” though I was ultimately left wondering what it was she actually did. It definitely demanded a lot of time and energy and, between her office at a community college and her long days of “clinicals” (whatever that meant), it seemed her work was important to a lot of people. But it was during a late-night trip with Mom to a hospital in Central Phoenix that I got my first clue as to what she actually did, and what that meant to the many people she referred to as her “patience.”

Mom was called in to make rounds unexpectedly that night. It was dark out, near my bedtime, so I was shocked when she asked if I wanted to come along.

I loved the way the light from the streetlamps passed through the car as if on a track whenever I had the privilege of riding after sundown. Anxious to please and in awe of the view from the front seat, I didn’t say much. The radio was on low, tuned to some soft rock station, and I didn’t touch the dial.

Mom was tense as she guided me through the parking garage and led me to a small emergency waiting room. There were no windows — only a row of white and teal chairs along each wall, a single gray circular end table made of cheap coated plywood, and a mounted TV, the kind that was three feet deep and weighed roughly three hundred pounds.

My mom, her jaw clenched, handed me a bag of peanut M&M’s and told me to be good before disappearing to tend to her students and those they cared for in the emergency wing of the hospital. I was a naturally loquacious child and, since this was before ADD diagnosis was common, I was simply deemed “easily bored” by most adults.

My feet swung about a half-inch above the floor as I sat eating candies in the over-lit waiting room. It was cold so I tucked my arms into my shirt and pulled my knees to my chest to keep warm. I studied the only other person in the waiting room, a young black man, out of the corner of my eye, doing my best to make it look like I was watching the news, though the volume was nearly off and I was obviously more of the Nickelodeon cartoons-type.

He wore a dark T-shirt, jeans, and pristine red and white sneakers. Though he had just a sprinkling of facial hair, he looked like a grown man, someone who could teach me a thing or two about the world I lived in, or at least the world I lived adjacent to. In retrospect, the guy couldn’t have been a day over twenty-one — a kid, really — but to a grade school white boy from the suburbs who thought of MTV as a sort of cool older sibling, this lone black fellow in that Central Phoenix hospital was a hip-hop enigma. Naturally, I engaged him.

“Hi, my name’s Craig, what’s yours?” I said — my tried and true childhood icebreaker. He told me his name.

“Why are you at the hospital, is someone sick?”

“Yeah,” he said, his head hanging.

“Who?”

“My buddy.”

“What happened?”

There was some hesitation this time. My new friend rubbed his hands together and tapped his heels against the white tile floor. “Somebody shot him.” As he spoke he rubbed the back of his head with one hand. I nearly bit off my own tongue I was so surprised. I had been pretty sure that getting shot only happened to people on TV or in the movies.

“I’m really sorry,” I said. “I hope he’s okay.”

“Me too. Thanks.”

I nodded. There was a moment of silence before I changed the subject. It turned out we liked a lot of the same music, which seemed to tickle him a little. He smiled at me for the first time. He mentioned he was hungry, that he had been waiting for a long time, and I tried to share my candy with him, but he declined.

Now, two decades later, I can’t remember how it all played out, but I seem to recall my mother trying to give him a five-dollar bill after I introduced them. I think he politely refused, but I know he reached out to shake my hand before I left that night, and he made me feel pretty cool.

On the drive home I asked my mom if she had seen a man who had been shot. She was vague in her response. Then I thought about that young man, possibly dying from a gunshot wound. I said a silent prayer for him and for our mutual friend in the waiting room, and I felt a burst of pride when I realized that when — if — he ever did wake up, my mom would be there. And if not her, then one of her students. He would be okay, I thought; with a little luck, he would be fine.

Then, in a flash, I realized that I was the lucky one. My mom was a real-life superhero in scrubs. She was a nurse practitioner — an educator and a caretaker. A healer. She was a nurse, and what she did made a difference that even a kid could see.

~Craig S. Baker

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