Poems & Essays

17 May

Shuffling Her Way Through the Darkness

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Plant roots maneuver through soil in much the same way as mothers feel their way around in darkness. If they encounter an obstacle, they instinctively reach for a clearing in a new direction in efforts to anchor their seedlings.

“Mama, my breathing is bad,” my youngest daughter, now 11, has said to me countless times over the years. Her asthma flare-ups are particularly pronounced at the change of seasons.

During these times, I sleep with one ear awake. I listen for the cough from down the hallway. When the cough is loose, I know it’s okay for now. When it’s tight, I know it’s time to pull on my fuzzy socks and shuffle through the darkness.

I know the route and obstacles to avoid from my bedside to hers by heart. Except when she changes her room around, like she did this week.

Although I was the one, earlier in the day, who helped push the desk to the corner and swap her bed with the dresser on the other side of the room, I forgot about the new layout in my sleepy stupor.

I bump my hip on the dresser, stub my toe on her desk chair and painted ceramic dolphin that’s for some reason on the floor, and find myself on the wrong side of the room flailing my arms in search of my daughter.

Finally, I focus and follow the subtle whistling and wheezing coming from deep within her chest until I reach her bedside where she is still mostly asleep. Once there, carrying on in the dark, I know exactly what to do. I pull out a vial of medication from its foil pouch on the nightstand. I twist off the top and squeeze the liquid into the reservoir of the nebulizer we keep beside her bed. I pull loose strands of her blond hair slightly covering her face to the sides like lace curtains and tuck them behind her ears, and wrap the connected mouthpiece around her head.

I turn on the machine and lie down on the other side of her double bed. Butterscotch, her stuffed dog, and Peek-a-Boo, the monkey, are nestled between us. The familiar hum and soothing mist calms me. I imagine the vapors expanding her airways like roots stretching out into the soil, and fresh air bursting into her lungs like a new bloom sprouting oxygen into the atmosphere.

That’s how it is with motherhood. Sometimes we’re in the dark bumping into things, flailing our arms, not knowing which way to turn. Other times, we’re in a clearing reveling with inexpressible relief and joy.

Many natural wonders can be decoded by science, such as the remarkable cycle of plant roots, powered first and foremost by light energy of the sun. A mother, on the other hand, taps into a mysterious, undefinable light discovered deep within herself. A light so burning and infinite, she’ll shuffle through the darkness, triumphing the most unruly barriers to safeguard and fortify her young.


Julie Jo Severson is a mother of three, freelance writer, and co-curator/co-editor of HERE IN THE MIDDLE: Stories of Love, Loss, and Connection from the Ones Sandwiched in Between. She doodles about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace at her storytelling blog www.carvingsonadesk.com.

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