“Mommy, you said we could get some lanyard today! I want to go get it!” announced my 7-year-old, standing by my bed.
I lay on top of the comforter, doubled up in pain. It was Friday afternoon and I’d been stricken with inexplicable lower-abdomen cramps. Barely able to move, let alone talk, I was sweating and felt like I might pass out (and I never faint). I’d called my husband and gasped “I’m really sick, I might need an ambulance,” and he was rushing home from the office.
“I’m really not feeling well right now, we’ll talk later,” I told my daughter. Didn’t she care that I was dying? Did the kid have a sociopathic streak?! But I could worry about that later, assuming I survived. I needed her to let me be—and I really, really wanted my mom.
But that wasn’t going to happen. My mom is in her eighties and lives about a forty-minute ride away. Whether I’m hanging out with her or chatting by phone, I try not to burden her with my woes; she has her own to worry about. I’ve largely spared her the challenges we have with my son, Max, who has cerebral palsy. I tend to put on a happy face for her. But when I get sick, or life seems overwhelming, I still really, really want my mom. Yes, I have a loving, caring husband. Yes, I’ve been doing this adult thing for a while now. And no, I don’t think I will ever outgrow wanting my mom.
As my mom has aged, she’s gotten less attentive to me and my sister, not surprisingly. First off, there are her grandkids—three cutie pies she can’t stop raving about. Sometimes, it’s as if I no longer exist, so taken is she with their awesomeness. “You can call me Chopped Liver from now on,” I once told her, referring to that old Jewish, guilt-inducing phrase “What am I, chopped liver?” Contending with health issues consumes a lot of Mom’s time; her days center around doctor appointments, remembering to take her nine meds, grocery shopping (which she insists on doing herself) and naps. Obviously, she has to put herself first—but so loving and devoted a mom has she been, it’s hard to let go.
This is a woman who used to call me at lunchtime to check on whether I was making good choices. “Did you get whole-grain bread?” she’d ask. “Are you eating enough vegetables?” Back then, I did not find this habit very endearing. In my twenties, I worked as an editor for Good Housekeeping magazine; one day, when Mom called and couldn’t get me on the line, she asked my assistant if I was eating well. Utter. Total. Mortification.
But that was Mom, hell bent on making sure I was healthy. When one job I had made me seriously miserable, she’d encourage me to get a new gig—and offered to support me in the interim. When I went through a tough time after my son was born, she was constantly at my house, making me meals and doing laundry and anything else she could to help. She’d regularly haul boxes of tampons to my house that she’d bought on sale, just so I had enough. For years, I had the Leaning Tower of Tampax in my linen closet. I never did run out.
In recent years the tampon delivery stopped, along with the “Are you eating OK?” phone calls. I miss them. There are days when life and all its responsibilities weigh heavily on me, and I long for my mom to mother me. When we talk, she still only wants to hear how my family’s doing, and is hesitant to discuss her problems. She ends each call telling me how much she loves me. But the dynamic has shifted: Now my sister and I are her caregivers. My dad passed away last year and the two of us are the ones who make sure she eats well, sees the right doctors and generally stays in good shape.
Caught up in my desire for my mom to be her old, über-nurturing self are my fears about her decline, along with my conflicted feelings about aging. Mostly, though, I crave that extreme, unconditional caring, the kind only your mom can give.
My stomach cramps were gone by Friday night; I still have no idea what they were. Of course, I didn’t tell my mom, but I did have a little talk with my daughter about the meaning of “empathy.” Life went on, as it does. But this I know for sure: I will never stop wanting my mom.
Read more from Ellen at Love That Max
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