Me and my mom, October 2013
I was in a group one time when we were all invited to share why we were grateful for our mothers. I could hardly believe how unabashedly sentimental folks got. Why, the things they said about their moms were worthy of a Hallmark Mother’s Day card.
My favorite was the guy who told us about getting “butterfly kisses” when he was little. He described his mom lifting him onto her lap, putting her face very close to his, then blinking so their eyelashes would touch. This from a grown man who had built his own house with his bare hands. Butterfly kisses.
There really is something about moms and how we feel about them. As the most primal relationship we will ever have in life, she is quite literally our life line in the beginning. But then as we leave infancy, we start teasing out our own identities, celebrating our separateness, and triumphing in our new ideas and opinions. But she’s still our life line. No amount of two-year-old swagger can negate this fundamental reality.
I got a little too big for my britches once when I was about three. I kept ignoring my mom’s instructions to stay with her while shopping in a department store, being more interested in playing underneath the dress racks. But my mom got weary of chasing me down and decided to help me learn an important lesson. She “hid” until I noticed she was gone. When I finally realized she hadn’t come looking for me in a while and looked up to spot her, I got a little panicky. (She was watching the whole time, so I was never in danger.) It worked. I determined never to let her get out of my sight again.
Because mom is critical to a child’s well being.
This truth became even more evident one day when I was in about second grade. I came bursting through the front door and made my usual beeline for the kitchen.
“Hi, Mom! I’m home!”
Something about the way she answered led me to suspect something was amiss. When I walked through the kitchen door, I saw she had her lower leg wrapped in an elastic bandage and propped up on a kitchen chair.
“I was sitting here at the table writing letters and my leg fell asleep. When I stood up and started to walk on it, I twisted my ankle.”
“But it’s going to be okay, right?”
“Well, it hurts a lot right now. I can’t walk on it at all.”
A torrent of questions flooded my mind: If Mom is unable to get around, who is going to take care of us? Who will fix us dinner? And where in the world is DAD?!! Having no context for a badly sprained ankle and how this thing might go, I was plunged into a sea of insecurity and worry. I slowly walked out of the room, feeling disoriented, I wondered what it all meant.
It wasn’t long before she needed to go to the bathroom, which meant a trip upstairs. She had already figured out she could get around by rolling on a task chair she used for sewing. But when she got to the staircase, she had to turn around and go up one stair at a time on her bottom. That was it. My world was officially unraveling. It was clear to see that my mother was functionally disabled and that life as I’d known it was now over.
Fortunately, my high anxiety didn’t last all that long because Dad eventually got home and took the helm. The details of what happened from this point elude me, but apparently we did eat a meal, did some homework, got our baths, and went to bed – all without incident. And apparently the injured ankle healed in the normal time frame. However, I never forgot how devastated I felt as my imagination ran amuck. The thought of her being taken out of commission and not being able to care for us had absolutely rocked my world.
Eventually, I got a little older and began to believe I didn’t need her so much. After all, I was getting to be pretty mature, you know. I mean, not too much longer and I’d be learning to drive. The high water mark of this wave of denial came about the time I packed a steamer trunk and a couple of suitcases and got on a plane to go to college in California.
Curiously, from that very moment on, I’ve been returning to – albeit, at a glacial rate – a level of knowing how truly vital my connectedness to my mom is that rivals my early childhood. Obviously, I no longer depend on her for the practical support I was so concerned about when she got injured. Nowadays it’s just emotional support I yearn for. How aware I’ve become of this phenomenon in the past several years surprises me.
I was with Mom just last weekend. We’d been out and about all afternoon, then returned to her house for a snack before I headed home. As we were in the middle of a good conversation, I noticed this impulse I kept having to tell her stuff, hoping and waiting for her affirming comments. It was sort of like a verbal variation of handing her my pictures to put up on the fridge.
For cryin’ out loud, Linda, grow up. You don’t have to be the center of attention here. Why don’t you just try listening to her stuff and celebrating it. Like an adult.
But as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t stop the impulse.
Because no matter how old we get, we still love butterfly kisses from our moms.