When I was small, I often woke up in the middle of the night with joint pain, especially in my knees. If I could get warm enough by piling on extra blankets, the pain sometimes diminished so that I could fall asleep again. Many times my best efforts failed; the pain increased until I couldn’t bear it any longer, and I began the weary trek downstairs to find my mama.
Creeping out of my bed, I padded through a dark hallway and down a long flight of wooden steps. The third-to-last step groaned, and the door at the bottom of the stairs creaked. Did my mom hear me coming? I’ll never know.
Finding my way into the soft nightlight-glow of her room, I woke my mom and whispered, “I need a pain pill.” Her gentle face turned toward me, and a reassuring hand reached for mine. Mom got up without complaint and led me to the bathroom where she rummaged through the medicine cabinet until she found the aspirin bottle. She popped the lid, pulled out the cotton, and shook out a small white pill. I swallowed the pill with a big gulp of water then padded off to bed again. Within half an hour, the pain was gone, and I was asleep.
Now I am grown, and if I wake with aching joints, I get up and find my own pill. More often, I am sleeping soundly until I feel a wee hand patting my arm. “Mama,” my daughter whispers, “I’m having bad dreams.” I pull her in beside me and she nestles down with a relieved sigh and goes to sleep.
She sleeps, while I lie awake and think about the little girls on my street. I think about girls in my town and girls around the world. My heart tells me that somewhere lies another little girl who has knee-pains and heart-pains, and no mama to comfort her. Somewhere is a little girl who needs a mama at midnight.
And then I wonder if that mama could be me.