Empty-nesting, long-distance mothering is somewhat like ripping my heart out of my chest and expecting it to continue beating. Some things just don’t work as well when they are separated.
I am pondering this as I sit at my new, tiny laptop, which I adore, because it fits in my purse, I can take it anywhere, and it requires absolutely nothing from me emotionally. Plus, it is purple
My phone rings, and I note my oldest child’s number. My mind braces in anticipation of situations that are completely out of my control, and quite possibly my emotional radius. Combine this with menopausally-induced hormonal tantrums that erupt with little warning, and things can get dicey. I flip open the phone cautiously.
“Mom! We made it! We are in Sicily!”
This is great news, and I take a deep breath, which I have been holding in ever since this family of three boarded a transatlantic flight to their new home on a military base in Sicily. An hour later my cell jangles, different child:
“Mom! I’m locked out of my car! I know you told me 155 times to have a duplicate key made, but I didn’t, and, well, what do I do? Oh, and by the way, the motor is running, and my purse is in the car!”
My heart rate does back flips, because as every mother knows, we never distance ourselves from the adrenaline rush that occurs when one of our kids has a problem. But I live 2,000 miles away, and she is an adult, and I am hoping she has a better back-up plan than me.
Same day, different child:
“Mom! Uhh…(these are the worst — when they have trouble spitting it out – not a good sign) I am, umm, thinking of not going to college next semester. Things are going really good at the restaurant and they are promoting me! I think I’ll just work full-time.”
I wince, switching gears from kid-locked-out-of-car-with-engine-running to kid-quitting-college-and-perhaps-earn-minimum-wage-for-life mode. So far, these conversations have been incredibly debilitating. I give myself a pep talk and turn on inspirational music in an effort to improve my inner dialogue, which is starting to annoy me, and says things like this:
“I knew it. I knew it was a m
istake to let that kid move off campus. And locking keys in the car is one thing, but with the MOTOR running? How are these kids going to make it to successful adulthood? Why can’t they seem to make sensible decisions? Everyone else’s kids do. (I know this is a lie, but I am in full self-pity mode, and rational thought is temporarily suspended.) What’s wrong with mine? Must be something wrong with me — yeah, that’s it. I was a lousy mother, a terrible mother. “
By the time my husband gets home, I am stressed and teary-eyed. Fortunately, he is a patient, non-judgmental listener, and my hormonal fit burns itself out quickly due to lack of fuel.
Later that evening, my cell rings again. I sigh and snap it open; noting kid number four’s number on the screen. “What?” By this time, courtesy has flown out the window.
Slight pause. “Mom?”
“Didn’t sound like you. What’s up?”
Innocuous conversation fills a few seconds and my mother antennae start to quiver, because my kids and I don’t do innocuous. Finally he blurts out, “Mom! My friends spent the night in our spare bedroom last night, and one of them had an accident — she’s at the hospital, she is okay — but how do you clean up blood?”
I stare at the phone. My mom-receptors by this time are fried and I cannot, for the life of me, come up with a cognitive response. My husband is staring at me strangely. “What is it?” he
I somehow stumble through clean-up procedures, holding my stomach as I listen to him describe the tragic event, and click the phone shut after our good-byes. My emotional well is stone-dry. My gaze sweeps past my husband’s questioning gaze to the table where my perky, cute, efficient, non-needy, purple computer sits patiently.
Wordlessly, I pad over, pick it up and hug it to my chest. I am unable to explain this to my husband.
But the computer understood.
Article first published in the Capital Journal, “The Lighter Side,” Pierre, SD, January, 2010