In Praise of Proxy

Yesterday I had cause to celebrate “motherhood by proxy.” I’m not talking about surrogate mothering in the “I’ll incubate your baby for you” mode, but having someone else administer TLC to my ailing daughter when I was a thousand miles away.

Christina, my brilliant, clever, talented eldest child, lives in Belmont, MA. I’m in Evanston, IL. She’s been moaning for the last few months about an aching tooth. In the last few weeks her neck, jaw, and cheek swelled up. The endodontist took one look at her and said she needed a root canal, but she was too infected for them to be able to do it then without spreading the infection everywhere.

They put her on serious antibiotics and pain meds. The pain meds gave her some loopy relief, but the antibiotics did nothing, and her jaw continued to swell. When she went again to the endodontist, the entire staff jumped into M.A.S.H. mode and yanked out her tooth completely with no time to waste – and no Novocain to the right spot.

She called me traumatized and trembling from the front steps of the endodontist’s office. She said she felt like she’d been in an historical reenactment of 19th century dentistry. I felt so wrenched since there was nothing I could do at such a distance. Or was there? I suggested to her that I could call one of my friends out there and see if they could attend to her in some way. She declined the offer thinking it would be a little too weird.

A few minutes later she called back and said, “Well, if one of your friends could stop by with some ‘Chocolate Soy Dream’ faux ice cream, I wouldn’t mind.”

I called my friend Kimberly Carlisle, a busy mom of 4 who I knew from our time in the Belmont Ward. She’s a wonderful woman, and in my opinion, a mighty angel in the flesh. She wasn’t home and I left an odd message with specifics – particular flavor of ice cream, Christina’s address, phone number, etc – without even knowing whether Kimberly was in town. It was such an out of the blue message to record and must have seemed even odder to receive.

When I returned from my afternoon obligations I got a call from Kimberly telling me, essentially, “mission accomplished.” Not only did she deliver Chocolate Soy Dream, she delivered the BIG container – and some orzo soup as well! Christina, while looking like a one-sided chipmunk with her still-swollen chops, was put together and doing as well as could be expected. That report meant so much to a worried mom far away.

I love this principle of proxy. I’m not sure people recognize how grateful the person who can’t do it themselves can be.
Blessings on Kimberly’s head.
Blessings on the family who took my son in so he could finish high school in Massachusetts when he couldn’t adjust to our move to Illinois.
Blessings on everyone who feeds a missionary anywhere because I have two missionary sons in Europe who also get hungry.
Blessings on everyone who does temple work, however complicated that process may be for them.
Blessings on the ladies who were willing to dress a body for burial last December when I, as Relief Society President, was too freaked to get my mind around that. (As it turned out, I had an opportunity two months later to dress the body of one of my best friends. I was no longer freaked, but happy and honored to participate. Go figure.)
Blessings on visiting teachers who “get it” that this, too, is the power to act in the name of God.
Blessings on everyone who walks with a name on their back at Breast Cancer walks and runs.
Blessings on everyone who substitute teaches for any class anywhere but especially in middle schools.
Blessings on good hosts who welcome me and make we want to reciprocate to them or at least to others.
Blessings on anyone who widens the network of love and care so that those of us too far away to be practically helpful can have an impact anyway.

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  1. Deborah says:

    Thanks, Linda. Beautifully said. I’d add blessings to good friends far away who send e-mails, somehow, at just the right time. I think we are each others angels — and that thought in itself makes me want to keep an ear open for pragmatic inspiration.

  2. ChrisK says:

    As the daughter in question, I am honored to be so loved. Privileged to read this story as an “insider”, and still a little queasy!

    I am also extemely grateful to my mother, to Kimberly, and to this great circle of women who are able to support and hold up one another, sometimes outside the bounds of geopraphy, sometimes outside the bonds even of time and mortality.

    It is a great, humble, honest thing to be able to participate in the circles and cycles of caring and being cared for.

    At this point, I am feeling puny and grateful for caring, but I am also aware of my own gratitude and planning to be able to return the favor in my way, when it’s my turn.

  3. Caroline says:

    Linda,
    I think you hit on one of the things I like most about the church. The network of caring people who are so willing to serve others. I’m glad that your old friend was able to help Christina like that.

    I also like your blessings. There’s something powerful to me when I hear women pronouncing blessing on people. Probably because the word is so firmly associated with male priesthood in Mormon lingo.

    Christina, thanks for contributing. I think it’s very cool that you have a mom who is willing to stick her neck out and ask someone to deliver ice cream to you. 🙂

  4. AmyB says:

    Blessings on women who share their not-always-orthodox views on a blog so that I know I am not alone.

    Your post is exquisite, Linda. Many thanks.

  5. EmilyCC says:

    I echo Deborah’s sentiments. I think one of the greatest ways Heavenly Father has answered my prayers in my life is through other people. And now, as a mother, I’m doubly grateful for friends who I can ask for help and friends who get inspired to help my family.

    Christina, glad to hear you’re feeling better. My jaw aches just reading your mom’s description!

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