Once when I was in Cub Scouts, I went to the garage, found some scrap lumber and made a side-wheel paddle boat to earn a badge or something.

I pulled pieces of heavy, black wood from the stack in the rafters. It took forever to saw the wood and drive nails into it. When I had finished, I had a river boat that looked fine but that sank to the bottom of the wash basin. Imagine my embarrassment. I had built a wooden boat that wouldn't float.

Who could appreciate such a thing? A mother could, of course.

My dad? He loved me a lot, but he took one look at the paddle boat, complimented the design and then began to explain to me what kind of wood I should have used if I'd wanted to build a boat that actually stayed on the surface of the water. He meant well. I knew even then that he was trying to teach me something I could use in the future.

While he was still offering boat-building tips, my mom came into the room and saw the boat. She took it from my hands and turned it from side to side with her flour-streaked fingers. She smiled happily. "How did you know?'' she exclaimed. "This is exactly what I've been looking for to hold open the east door so we can get some breeze through here on warm days. I've wondered and wondered what would be small and heavy and would also look good sitting out where people can see it.''

How about that? I'd created the ideal door stop. My mom didn't care what wood I'd used or how I'd put the boat together. She recognized at a glance that I was disappointed with my work, and she lifted my spirits. I heard her once tell a visitor about the wonderful door stop her middle son had created.

I don't think we used that door stop long. It was clunky and in the way, sitting there on the floor for family and guests to trip over or stub a toe against. But I will never forget her first response. I especially won't forget it on Mother's Day, because that's one of the times that memories of my mom come flooding in most vividly. Fifteen years she's been gone now, but she lives each day in my memories.

My mom was devoted to her family. Mothers tend to be that way. The thing with the boat was a natural mom reaction. My mom saw that I wasn't happy with the way my project turned out, and she responded in a way that boosted my spirits. Mothers nearly always put their children first.

That incident with the sternwheeler came to mind the other day when I happened across this comment. I don't know who said it, but it goes, "When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.''

It's certainly true that a mother is never alone when her children are at home and growing up. I believe it remains true long after the children have left the home and are out in the world. Mothers always, always have many things on their minds. But regardless of whatever else they are thinking about, their children are not forgotten.

From the moment of giving birth-even earlier-a mother shares her life with her child. If she has more than one child, she finds enough life to share with each of her offspring. I think that's what actress Jessica Lange described when she said, "The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness. When you become a mother, you are no longer the center of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children.''

My mom did that. Even today, Nancy does that. Our daughter and our daughter-in-law do it. So it goes, generation after generation. Last weekend we visited with our oldest granddaughter. She has a two-month-old child of her own. The infant is already the center of our granddaughter's universe.

It's such an amazing thing to see.