My mother always says, "Once a mother, always a mother."
Growing up, I never really liked the sound of that. I thought it was sort of Bates Motel. What would I want with a mother breathing down my neck when I was an adult? Telling me what she thought about my hair or my outfit. Giving me unsolicited advice about my relationships or my scruples or my religious orientation or my politics. Staying up until I got home at night and yawning the next day from worry and lack of sleep. It sounded like trouble. Wasn't adulthood all about freedom, after all?
Her own mother used to take me aside and say, at age 90, "I'm worried about your mother. She works too hard." I'd stare at her in total confusion. How was it possible for someone to worry about my mother? She was the one who did the worrying in the family. We were used to it. Having someone trumping her worry felt... awkward. Sort of pornographic or something. I didn't like to think of my mother as naked as that. Vulnerable. Human. I didn't like to think about her as anyone's little girl.
What I didn't realize was that my mother's worry made me feel safe. It gave me the confidence to be thankless for having a doting mother in the first place. It allowed me to be reckless with that relationship. I had a friend whose mother didn't seem to worry too much about her, and I loved the way it looked from the outside. She got to have unchaperoned girl/boy parties. She got a car when she was 16. She got left alone. I wanted to be left alone, not dragged to church and made to be a lay reader. The mothers of lay readers were dorks. I was so not a dork.
"I'm praying for you," I'd hear over and over through the years. Those words stung. They felt condescending. Like I was some fallen angel who needed help with her wings and my mother was some sort of mystical seamstress. I could sew my own wings, thankyouverymuch.
"Call me when you get there," she'd say all through my childhood and into my adulthood. I'd roll my eyes, but still, I'd call. Whether or not I'd admit it, it felt nice to have someone keeping track, especially as my wings expanded more and more and took me farther and farther away. Secretly, I liked knowing there was someone out there paying attention. But there came a time when I stopped calling my mother when I "got there," wherever there was. It seemed juvenile. Co-dependent. Not that much different from when I'd stopped telling her that I'd had a bowel movement. I remember that exact second as I got ready to scream it across the house in my usual fashion. Why did she have to know this piece of information? Gross. I knew my way around prune juice should I need it. That was my business. Just like arriving safely from a trip. She didn't need to know my every "move."
You can see where this is going, can't you. Yep, you guessed it. Now... I'm a mother. And now I'm praying for my children. And now I worry about their regularity and whether they got "there" safely. And now I need a mother worrying about me worrying about my children. Because the truth is, no one cares about you quite like your mother. I've spent the last few years traveling for business and I never know exactly where I am when I wake up. But my mother does. "I've been following you on Facebook," she'll say. "I'm sorry about the pillows at the hotel in Pittsburgh." Which is her way of saying, Could you please send me your itinerary? I worry. But still, until recently, I resisted. I resisted my way all through cancelled airplanes and seven-hour layovers, 10 events in 12 days and 4:00-a.m. wake-up calls and so many strangers and so few hours with my husband and children... until I just wanted to break a little. Come apart and cry and rest my head on an understanding lap. But I'm a grown-up. Grown-ups don't cry because they're tired and miss their pillow. Grown-ups have big, important work to do on airplanes with laptops and Blackberries and printed out Mapquest directions and self-important roller-bags. They don't need their mommies.
"I was on the phone with the airlines all day yesterday tracking your flights. I can't believe they re-routed you to Detroit. Thank God you weren't in the tornadoes. I wish you'd send me your itinerary so I could know your exact flight information."
You hedge. This is not her burden to bear. You are a grown-up, damnit.
"You must be exhausted, darling." And deep, old tears well up. You are exhausted. And you think: are my husband and children tracking my air travel debacles? And you say, "Actually, I'd love to send you my itinerary, Mom. Thanks for keeping track. It means a lot."
You'll admit it here: it feels good knowing that someone is praying for you. It feels good that wherever you are, there is a person paying attention. Braving 800 numbers. Making it their job to know that you "got there safely," even if they stay up late and yawn all the next day. You'll be the same way with your children, even when they're adults and have kids of their own. Because you know now for sure: once a mother, always a mother.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Thank you for caring.
This post also appears on my blog, "These Here Hills."