I stopped “growing up” years ago. Now I’m in the process of shrinking toward my 40’s. However, I still remember growing pains. Not the emotional pain of growing up – the BFFs who barely lasted a week or the boy who didn’t like you back because you were too tall.
I’m talking about the real, physical pain of cells reproducing so fast that you outgrew your beloved pink jelly shoes even before the snow melted.
“Momma, my legs hurt,” Ava said to me sometime after midnight, blurry-eyed and disheveled from sleep.
I got her some ibuprofen (a bad habit I started back when she was teething in lieu of sleeping) and then I rubbed her legs. I massaged her little calves, her quads, her knees and even her feet, reveling at how big my baby had grown in almost six years. I felt the muscles that gymnastics, tennis and wrestling with Dad had formed. I felt the tiny calluses on her big toes she acquired from ill-fitting shoes, a testament to her emerging womanliness. She was so quiet for those few minutes, I didn’t know if she liked it or not. Then, she tooted.
“That’s my toot saying how much I like this,” she explained.
Whatever. I’ll take the compliment regardless of who – or what – said it.
When I was growing up, my mom spent hours rubbing my aching legs. I can remember peeling off my sweaty cotton socks after tennis practice, my skin hot and stingy where blisters were beginning to form. My legs throbbed from pounding on pavement (yes, our courts were blacktop and the school was public). And to make matters worse, I was growing “like a weed” as Mom would say. But Mom loved me so much she didn’t care about my “weediness.” She didn’t care that I stunk to high Heaven. She let me lay my ripe, sweaty, pre-teen body on her bed as she lovingly rubbed the aches away.
At the time I didn’t understand why Mom seemed to enjoy this so much. It took years to realize that few people would ever provide a massage without payment and even fewer would enjoy doing it. My husband, for example, thinks a neck massage means scraping the back of my spine with his index finger until he falls asleep or I bleed. Worse yet, this sad attempt at massage only happens if my request coincides with an episode of some geeked-out television show. (He actually refers to massage as the “Star Trek rubs.”)
Or he thinks that my request for a massage is actually code for something more. It is not. Ever.
The problem is that Ray hates massage, which is a sure sign of an antisocial disorder. He would rather be doused with gasoline and set on fire than doused with lotion and touched lovingly. He thinks a back scratch feels like “dead bird feet” scraping across his flesh. I do not understand this, nor do I accept it. I’ve repeatedly tried to ambush him, but it always ends the same: he curls up his nose and squirms out of my grasp asking, “Why would you do that?” Because it feels good, you freak.
I want to prevent Ava from going down Ray’s pathological path. In addition to rubbing her, I’m trying to get Ava to massage my back in my mom’s absence. There is nothing like her sweet, pudgy hands drifting over my tired spine like she’s delicately painting a fence. It instantly puts me to sleep. However, two minutes later she wakes me with a frantic, double-handed percussion, as if she’s trying to revive a heart attack victim.
“I just fell asleep, Honey.”
She breaks into relieved laughter, but continues the beating because now she thinks it’s funny. My husband encourages her. (They have other gifts, I swear.) As I lay there getting pummeled into the bed, I try to image that I’m receiving a massage and not abuse.
Mom’s rubs were as much for herself as they were for me. Like her and so many other moms, I have become a giver of rubs, and less likely to ever get them in return. Which makes me think one thing: I want my mommy.