In Praise of Just Moms or The Swoop Effect

Last week, there was a story out of Prince George's County, Maryland in which a school bus driver saved all of her young charges from their burning bus. Get this: Even though she thought all of the children were accounted for, she bravely went back onto the bus to check every single seat. No child would be left on that bus. Not on her watch.  Then, when interviewed by the press, she said, "I have people calling me a hero, and I say that I'm just a mom." Her name is Renita Smith.

You can see her story here

Just a mom.

How many mothers have uttered the phrase, "I'm just a mom?" If I had a nickel for every time I've said it, I would bet my last one that even Michelle Obama, the self-proclaimed Mom-in-Chief, two time Ivy League grad, career woman, wife, working mom, First Lady, and all around badass has said it at least once in her life. And we all know that she is more than just a mom.

Let me tell you about another woman who I'd bet my last nickel will one day catch herself saying, "I'm just a mom." We were classmates in college and she's a badass, too. She recently explained to us, her friends on social media, why she hadn't updated us on her fitness training. You see, she's one of the most dynamic women I know. She is a media executive living in New York, jets sets all over the country for her work and, as much as I can gather from her posts, also for pleasure. She has a lovely husband and a beautiful new baby, and she runs marathons. Let me repeat: she has a new baby and she runs marathons. Not just marathons, but also triathalons, iron woman competitions, and such.  She keeps us all up to date on her training regimen-- running, biking, swimming-- and had promised to keep us up to date on how she is getting back on track after having the baby. (Which I was especially looking forward to because I work out vicariously through her and I'm starting to get a little soft in the middle.) Anyway, she recently posted an explanation as to why she had not posted any updates (although she had just run a marathon that day.) In short, she said, "I'm tired!"

Well, duh! 

I welcomed her with open arms to #mommymadness.

I got to thinking, though, that in her no doubt excellent physical condition, she is primed for what I call The Swoop Effect. The Swoop for short. 

At some point, every mother is called upon to explain some miraculous feat of strength, foresight, or perseverance and, like the hero bus driving mom, she will say, "I'm just a mom." And we will be moved to shout, "Hallelujah for just moms!"

That, my friends, is what I call The Swoop.

Here's another example: In the spring, both Thirteen and The PhD caught a sick day. They stayed home couch surfing and binge watching Netflix while I went to work. Towards the end of my work day, though, I began to get a series of texts from The PhD. His sister was sick and in pain and he didn't know what to do. He is not prone to drama so, naturally, I was worried. Feel her forehead, I said. Did she feel hot? Kinda. Ask her where it hurts and to rate her pain from one to ten. All over and seven. I said I would be home as soon as possible and started planning the route I'd take to the emergency room.

Swoop! In the door, hand to the forehead, no fever, heating pad and acetaminophen for the aches, chamomile tea with lemon and honey for the sore throat and anxiety, your favorite blanket for comfort. 

"How did you that?!" said The PhD. "How did you know what to do?"

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say he was stunned and amazed.

I just looked at him and smiled, knowingly.  But the truth is, not so long ago, I never would have believed that I would become adept at The Swoop. And, you should know, once you are adept at the mommy Swoop, you can translate those skills into all sorts of situations. 

My sister is five years younger than I, but preceded me into motherhood by about eight years. When I first moved back East, she was already about three years into being a mom, and she and I and her two children shared an apartment. Somewhere along the way, I had to get my wisdom teeth out. 

Swoop! I was tucked into bed, given my meds and left to sleep comfortably.  Swoop! Back in my room, eat this soup, take some more medicine, wash your face. Okay. Swoop! Jen, do you need anything? I'm going to the store. Don't get up. Swoop! More soup, more meds, and a popsicle for a treat. For years in telling this story, I expressed my admiration for my little sister's compassionate nursing; she took such good care of me. Now, I know that it's just what moms do.

Around that same time, my mother drove from Mississippi to North Carolina, swooping in to be there for me during a biopsy. My sister swooped in, again, years later when I was separating from my husband and I needed a moment to myself; she kept Thirteen, who was still in diapers. My stepmother swooped in all the way from New Jersey to make sure the two babies and I were settled here in Los Angeles. I cried when I dropped her off at the airport-- the same way I cried when, after having swooped in for ten days or so to show me the ropes, my mother left me alone with my newborn baby for the first time. My girlfriends swooped in to make sure I could be at my father's bedside to say goodbye. And, along with aunties and cousins, and even colleagues, my friends-- all moms-- have swooped in at various times to help with child care, a hot meal, a couch for an impromptu nap, and even job referrals.

(By the way, dads are capable of something similar-- it's just not The Swoop! And, according to a story my stepmother once told me about a time my dad had to rescue me, instead of popsicles, the dad's version comes with a lot of cursing.)

I don't believe in coincidences. Here is a memory that showed up on my timeline on the same day that Ms. Renita saved her children from that burning bus. I don't remember what prompted me to write it that day a year ago, but here it is:

When women and girls get into the mix as teachers, nurturers, thinkers, leaders and change-makers-- whether at the house, in our communities, or in the larger conversations about culture and politics-- change happens. The change could be quiet, or in your face. Gentle or startling. Just know, sh#*s about to change!


There are moms that swoop in and make sure every child in her class has a snack, or a pencil, or a book of their very own to take home. There are moms that make sure children not their own have warm hats and mittens in the winter, or are never left alone at the bus stop. There are moms that swoop in to build businesses and plant community gardens. Moms who serve in uniform to keep us all that much safer. There are moms that work during the day, put their kids to bed, then study all night. There are moms that run marathons and heal sick children. Moms that create art and music and poetry and prose that enrich our lives. There are moms that lead movements. Moms that lead nations. 

Moms that are simply there to tuck you in at night, under your favorite blanket, after the world has beaten you up a little.

There are moms so adept at the swoop that-- well, go ahead. Call her. She'll make everything alright.

And she'll tell you, "I'm just a mom."