Changes in Rhythm, by Jane Sustar

I have a little boy in my suite. When he first learned how to talk, he would ask me every day throughout the day, “Where is Mama?” Sometimes he would ask me where Dada was, but mostly he asked me about Mama. I would then ask him, “Where is Mama? Is Mama at work?”


                “No.” He would answer with a definitive shake of his head.

                “Is Mama at home?”

                Same shake of the head.

“Is Mama hang gliding in the Swiss Alps?” Or “Kayaking down the Colorado River?” Or “Riding a camel in the Saudi Arabian Desert?” Or “Rock climbing in the Rockies?” Or “Hiking the Appalachian Trail?” Sometimes I had to be quite creative before I would finally get an enthusiastic and resounding, ”Yes!” Mama got to do all sorts of amazing adventures while her son waited patiently at Lifeways for her return and she always got back by closing! Then one day he asked me, “Where’s Mama?” And as children do sometimes, without waiting for my answer, he answered his own question, matter of factly, “Mama’s at work!” That was it. Something had become real and fixed for him. He never asked again.

It is interesting, isn’t it, to be witness to a milestone of that nature?  Will you remember the last time your son picks up a stick and makes it into a gun? Or the last time your daughter has a tea party with her stuffed animals? Probably not. 

I am in such an amazing place as a caregiver. My own children are suddenly, slowly, subtly, surprisingly becoming friends. When I look at the children in my suite, I see them through a prism of what is before me as well as the future. I can see the forest and the trees at the same time. I know that my twenty three year old son, who was the worst biter in the world, has not bitten anyone in a long, long time. Of course there was that time two weeks ago when they were horsing around in the kitchen and he bit the hair on his seventeen year old brother’s head! My daughter, who would not wipe her own bottom at four, is now nineteen. It has been years since she has asked for a wipe. In the moment, I thought it would never end and that there was a good chance that one of us would not survive the ordeal. I was not sure who.

Now, when one of the children in the suite seems to be going through a phase, and they all seem to be going through something at any given time, I can recognize it for what it is, something that will pass. I also know that when the passing comes, whether I recognize it immediately or realize it three weeks later, “Wow, Samson hasn’t thrown his plate on the floor in three weeks!” I will be flooded instantly with all those thousands of emotions I felt with, “Mama’s at work”—pride, sorrow, love, warmth, excitement, fear- all of it felt in a nanosecond.

            The great rhythm of life has moved on.

            How good that is to know.

Jane Sustar is a caregiver at LifeWays Milwaukee and teaches with the Wisconsin LifeWays Training program. She is also a busy mother to six.

We thank you for stopping by to enjoy this article. If you would like to share your experiences working with children in a LifeWays home or center, please feel free to contact Mara Spiropoulos at spiropoulosm@yahoo.com. She would be thrilled to work with you to share your wisdom and experiences on the LifeWays blog.



3 thoughts on “Changes in Rhythm, by Jane Sustar”

  1. so true
    I love this. I have a 23 year old son and a 2 year old son. Neither of them planned but both loved immensely! I have the benefit of raising my second son with hindsight and I really think this makes a huge difference. I do not wish away all the difficult things in the false hopes that once they get out of a hard phase another won’t manifest. Each day I celebrate his growth while at the same time mourning the loss of his babyhood. It goes so fast, and I don’t think we can really understand that during the toddler years. I am so grateful to be able witness these things with a mind that understands how fleeting it is. It’s so much more precious! Thanks for this post.

  2. Where’s Mama?
    I also love seeing both the forest and the trees (one of the blessings of having been there, done that). Our “litany” at Rainbow Bridge always went like this:
    CHILD: “Where’s Mama?”
    US: “Mama’s at work (or “Mama’s at home.”) Where’s daddy? (pause) Daddy’s at work. (Pause) Who’s here with you? (Pause) Oma is here with you. And Miss Jasmine is here with you.”

  3. Changes in Rhythm
    Jane, I love the way you write, even when I may have different ideas about the topic. Such honesty! I am privileged to know you and also to know your children, so I can really picture what you are writing about! I, too, am grateful to have adult children now and recognize that things that seemed worrisome when they were little did not manifest into lifelong habits! Whew!

    Typically, with a child as young as the little guy you mention in the beginning of your article, one could simply answer with the assuring, “Mama’s at work, and she always comes back”, offering a tender touch. Usually asking a young child questions pulls them out of that sweet dreamy state we want to support and encourage. When they are sad and asking about their parent, I think they are usually seeking tender assurances from us moreso than answers.

    Knowing you I can picture the lighthearted exchange you were having with this little one – I can even hear your voice and see the light in your eyes. I am sure he felt very safe with you.

    I thought it might also be helpful for caregivers and parents to hear that sometimes the best way to meet the incessant questioning is with a gentle gesture and a simple assurance. I used to even sing a little song, “Mommy comes back. Mommy comes back. Mommy always comes back.”

    Looking forward to your next post! You are such a good writer. I am really enjoying the variety of posts from you, Jaimmie, Mara and Lisa – and other guest bloggers. Thank you! Cynthia

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