From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul

Mother’s Helper

The year I came to Dallas, I learned that true mothering isn’t reserved for mothers. I had just moved into my new job as the female prime-time news anchor for the NBC affiliate in the Dallas-Fort Worth television market. As a former Miss America, I knew the risk of being stereotyped as a beauty queen, so I was determined to work doubly hard to prove myself. I didn’t mind that because I loved the work—but I also loved my family. The pressures of the job, a new home, four kids and a Texas heat wave were proving too much to handle.

My hardest challenge was finding day care for Tyler, my three-year-old. In Oklahoma City, he’d had three years of baby-sitting with the most wonderful family right in my neighborhood, who had treated him like an adopted member of the clan. If I was to have peace of mind in Dallas, I needed to find an arrangement as ideal. But checking out one institutional day care option after the next was getting to be a nightmare, and with my new job needing my attention, I needed some ideas fast.

Just when I thought things were hopeless, my friend Carmen came to the rescue. She had an aunt in San Antonio who might be willing to come to Dallas on a trial basis. A personal referral was just what I needed, and I was ready. So I sent for Mary right away, and my hopes soared as I waited for her arrival.

The woman who appeared on my doorstep did not match my preconceived image of the ideal nanny. She was tiny and quite old. Her clothes were ragged, mismatched, and held together with safety pins. Painfully shy, speaking broken English, she barely spoke a word, even when I asked her a question. And when she smiled, her teeth revealed a life of hardship and poverty. How could I hire her? How would I be able to give her instructions or trust her to make decisions? Did I want to take care of yet another person?

Tyler settled those questions from the first moment, dismissing my unspoken reservations. He took her hand, led her into the house, and spent the next few hours jabbering happily as Mary listened and smiled. They sat in the same small chair and watched television, then colored together on the floor. She kept saying that Tyler was “so smart,” but I could see that they were learning equally from each other.

The clothes we bought Mary stayed tucked away in her closet for special occasions. But Tyler didn’t notice—or even care—that Mary always looked different from most people. He was just proud of her friendship. Every afternoon, without fail, she walked to his school, sat on a little bench in the hall, and watched the children. When the final school bell rang, Tyler would find her for the journey home. The first time it rained hard, I scurried around to arrange a ride home for Tyler, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He wanted to walk home with Mary so he could play in the puddles with her. After that, regardless of rain, wind or snow, Mary and Tyler walked home together, wrapped in a loving friendship that most people can only imagine.

My favorite example of their devoted partnership is the trip to the ophthalmologist. Mary was timid and shy in public places, and the prospect of visiting a big eye institute made her nervous. But I insisted that her eyes needed checking, and off we went. She looked especially dwarfed and vulnerable in the big examination chair, and Tyler must have sensed her uneasiness, too. I saw him move an inch or two closer to her when the lights went off. As the doctor flashed letters on the wall, Mary hesitantly whispered the top line and struggled as the letters got smaller. Then I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. Tyler had managed to sneak up right beside her chair and was leaning over the arm with a big grin on his face—telling her the answers!

Thank God mothering isn’t reserved only for mothers. Thank God for women and men in the world who have the capacity to give and nurture and love others. How wonderful when children have access to several adults who love them—child care workers, Girl Scout leaders, Little League coaches, teachers, nurses, neighbors, aunts and uncles. Thank God for people like Mary, one of his special angels.

Jane Jayroe

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