Remember back in the ’80s when you would ride your bike around town and Mom wouldn’t worry? You’d probably raid your family’s junk drawer — stuffed to the gills — to find change for the ice cream truck you could hear a block away, some creepy carnival music booming from it. I loved the ScrewBall. The one with the bubble gum at the bottom. Oh yeah, those were the days.
Then the shit hit the fan in 1989, when I was 11, and Mom’s anxiety changed from overprotective to put-my-child-in-a-bubble worry. I’m from Minnesota, so October 22nd of 1989, when Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped while riding his bike with his brother and friend in a small, rural community, the “safe” world as we knew it was ripped from us. Jacob and I were the same age, both born in 1978. He lived farther north than me, and we had never met, but his family felt more like neighbors than strangers. I watched as my mother cried over the news and prayed for his safe return. We wouldn’t know for nearly 27 years that Jacob was assaulted and slain the night he was taken.
Before we knew it, the ’90s rolled around. The teen years for me — or as my kids like to call it: The Ice Ages. Back in the day, we didn’t have cellphones. No Facebook. No Insta. No Snapchat. No VSCO. No Twitter. We did have — drum roll, please: the PAGER. A little black box with a clip on it that had a registered number people could call to page you to have you call them. No, you couldn’t call them on a pager. That would be a PHONE. You had to hit up the closest pay phone (long story) or find a friend’s house and dial up said number that needed you.
I taught Mom to page me “911” when it was important for me to call home, which meant it was an emergency. One would think that would make a 16-year-old jump to find a phone to check in, but that drive-in movie was WAY too good and that boy was WAY too cute. Needless to say, when I finally rolled in at 3 a.m. and Mom was sitting up waiting, she was PISSED.
So Mom survived my teenage years, bless her heart. And on came my 20s. New boyfriend, new life, new place to live, so much new that Mom had no other choice but to go along for the ride, even though she was still worried sick. I was an adult now; she had less control and had to adjust accordingly. I was only fully able to appreciate her worrisome personality and over-hovering when, at age 26, I became a mother. Before that, she just seemed like a batty, over-protective looney tune.
I remember her saying to me, “Once you become a mother, you’re always a mother.” And you know what? She’s right. The day my son was born, the entire universe changed for me. And then when my daughter was born two years later, the universe changed even more. My heart was so full of protectiveness and love — that I finally — after 28 years on this earth — understood the love my mother had for me.
Now I’m in my 40s and my children are growing too fast and Mom is getting older, but I have to admit, I still check in with her. Because — even though I don’t feel like it most days — I’m someone’s little girl. Her baby. Even in my 40s, Mom still worries about me. Because time has passed and I’ve become my own adult and have my own little people, but Mom is still my mom. She’s still mothering. Once a mother always a mother, she said. So on the days I work late at night and she needs me to call her to make sure I’m safe in my car, I call her. Or if Mom and Dad stop by to help me close up at night and walk me to my car, I treasure it.
Yes, I know that I’m enabling my mother’s anxieties and worst fears, but I’m okay with that. Because she’s been the best mom anyone could ask for. No magical background, no picture-perfect upbringing. Not perfectionism. She just loved me the way I love my own daughter and son, and I know that love — there is nothing more extraordinary.
If you would have told my wild 16-year-old self back in 1995 that one day I would cherish the times I checked in with Mom, I’d have probably rolled my eyes and re-applied my frosty lip gloss. But now, I honestly look forward to those check-ins. Because I know one day I won’t have the opportunity. The phone will be quiet, and my heart will be significantly empty.
So for now — even in my 40s — I’m checking in, Mom. Because once a daughter, always a daughter.
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