My youngest (and likely my last) child – currently somewhere in that bizarre phase between just born yesterday and growing up so fast I can’t even deal – still hasn’t mastered all of the complex nuances of the English language.

He’s getting there though, and quickly. After a few ill timed slip-ups by yours truly, he knows every word he shouldn’t and the right context in which to use them. “I didn’t do it!” is a phrase I think he knows not just in English, but in French, Spanish, ASL, and interpretive dance.

There are some outliers, though, and my current favorite is how he thinks “carry me” is actually “care of me.” I find it adorable enough to not want to ever correct it, pretty much ensuring that he will figure it out on his own one afternoon and suddenly say it right (and with a little embarrassment), and my heart will crack open a little bit more.

But for now he stands at my hip, arms extended, and asks: “Will you care of me, Mommy?”

It’s not always – he’s an independent little bugger – but still sometimes, like last night when I came home from work, set my bags down, went upstairs to de-bra, and made it as far as my bed before I collapsed from sheer exhaustion.

Five minutes, I told myself. I can lie here for just five minutes.  

But I could hear him from where I lay, still down at the foot of the stairs, yelling, “Care of me! Who is gonna care of me? I need to be cared of!”

And I was like yes. Preach, little one. 

That’s where I am right now. Three words. Care of me. For God’s sake, someone, care of me. God, Jesus, the universe, my mother in heaven, the nice lady in line at the grocery store today, who reminded me to breathe when the register froze and wouldn’t spit my card back out and I had to get home before the Popsicles melted and my bladder failed and my family starved:

Please care of me.

And my friends, too, and these babies of mine, and my poor neglected husband, and all those people who are not as privileged as I am to even have the luxury of these five minutes of rest on my bed. And anyone else who feels as if their rights are threatened or under siege right now or who generally doesn’t have a space to feel safe in. And people struggling with mental illness or chronic pain or to pay the next bill or to make it through the next day or the next hour: care of them, too, please.

Care of the people who are worried they might actually lose it if one more person tells them how stupid they are for voting the way they did or believing the things they do. Care of the people who are scared to wear their uniforms to work, and care of the people who are scared when they see those uniforms. 

Care of all of us. 

Care of that same lady from the grocery store, a minute later, screaming in the parking lot because someone had parked so close to her car that the bumpers were touching. It looked like a kiss to me; but to her it was a threat.

And that’s okay. We don’t have to see it the same, as long as I took the time to meet her eyes as she raged and smile a little, just enough for her to know that I was there, that I really liked her flowy dress, that if she needed me to, I would care of her, too.

So I forced myself up from my bed, planted my feet firmly on the ground, and went to care of my boy there at the foot of the stairs, arms and face both raised up towards me in a joyful plea.

When I lifted him, he wrapped his arms back around me in return, and I felt some of that fatigue flow down my shoulders and out my body and somehow, even though I was carrying an extra 40 pounds in my arms, I felt lighter.

I think that’s how it works. Sometimes we care, and sometimes we are the cared. And sometimes, if we are really lucky, we are both.