When my kids were little I sometimes heard their “Mom” requests in my sleep.
“Mom, Adam stole my GI Joe guy!” “Mom, where’s my pink sweatshirt?” “Mom, tell Lauren I want to watch Ninja Turtles, not The Little Mermaid!” “Mom, can you make cupcakes for the Valentine’s Day party at school tomorrow?” “Mom, where are my baseball cleats?”
Needed, I was definitely needed—sometimes the sound of “Mom” made me feel like a combination Little League referee/personal shopper/party planner/detective. Little did I realize that years later, as my kids entered their 20’s, I would still be needed.
True stories . . .
Shortly after my oldest son graduated from college, he called to ask me how to make pasta. Not homemade pasta that needed flour, water, and rolling out, but the kind in the box. You know, the kind you put in a pot of boiling water. Then he asked me what to do with after it was in the water.
I laughed, thinking he wasn’t serious. But he was.
As I answered him, I finally understood the numerous take-out charges on his debit card, including steak dinners from an upscale steak house and numerous ten-dollar protein smoothies.
My youngest son has had a lot of questions since he left the security of college dorms and a meal plan for life in an apartment with his own kitchen. “I left chicken in the refrigerator for a week. How do I know if it’s ok to eat?” “What can I put the coffee grounds in?” “When is a cantaloupe good to eat?”
And then there are the other miscellaneous questions that come up frequently. “How do I bleach my sweater?“ “Does Jetblue charge for suitcases?” “Who do I go see for the scar on my chin? A dermatologist?” “What’s your Amazon password?” “Is a pharmacy open 24 hours?” (He lives in California; I live in Buffalo!) “Should I spend $200 a month to join a health club?”
My daughter has had different questions that often wake me up in the middle of the night. Last year, as I was waiting at the airport to catch my flight to San Francisco, where I was going to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my kids, my daughter called in a panic. “The pumpkin bread didn’t fully bake. Why isn’t my oven working right? What should I do?” “And, oh, by the way, how many dresses should I take to my month-long trip to Italy?” “9×5 is a small bedroom, right?” “Should I just ignore the rash that won’t go away because the co-pay is too expensive to see a doctor?”
They may be in their 20’s living on their own, but sometimes it feels like Mom is the new Google.
I have to admit that although it’s nice to still be needed, the fact that they continue to ask me questions, which I am sure they often know the answers to, is my fault. I admit it. For much of their childhood, I was a stay-at-home single mom. I became a teacher when my youngest son was in fourth grade, but until then my job was defined by the tasks that made up a typical day. I didn’t ask them to cook meals, do laundry, or clean the bathroom. I enjoyed being needed—I was always the one to find the missing homework, bake 60 cupcakes for school bake sales, or iron dress shirts on game days. I didn’t question my role—I relished it.
I never imagined they might not be fully prepared for adult life. Or maybe they just like to make me feel like I matter, even from 3000 miles away.
We are baby-boomers, the parents of millennials—those 20-somethings who have been criticized for being spoiled, for being addicted to social media, for changing jobs simply because they are not happy. But we are also the parents who have seen our children struggle to make sense of a world that does not make sense—random shootings at schools, terrorist attacks at concerts and other venues. We worry about our adult children and we continue to answer their questions, even if they can figure out the answers themselves.
And yes, maybe we were guilty of babying them and indulging them, but it was all in the name of love. We tried to be tough, but we needed guidance. We read Ferber’s guide for infants who wouldn’t sleep; we read “What to Expect from the Toddler Years” as if it were a bible; we spared the rod and never thought we were spoiling the child.
Maybe some of us married when we were young, in our early 20’s. Maybe we had a husband who was there to help us figure out how long chicken could stay in the refrigerator or how to fix an oven. Maybe we were never truly independent because we had each other. Then we had our own children, and we had to grow up and figure life out without the help of Google.
Instead of calling our parents for answers, our generation muddled through. Our lives, our divorces, our addictions, our failures—each became a reminder of how much we felt responsible for our children’s lives, for their happiness. We knew this was illogical, and yet their worry became our worry.
We wonder now when growing up—really growing up—became so difficult. We remember broken bones and broken hearts. We remember first cars and first proms as we fell asleep on the couch waiting for the door to open. We remember their disappointments—being cut from varsity baseball, losing a school election, having a fight with a best friend.
We worried then, and we worry now, especially if they are far away.
With distance, my worries have grown. I try not to bother them with too many texts or phone calls, but it is difficult. I wonder what their days are like, what they are thinking about, but I have learned to be satisfied with the questions they still like to ask.
From those questions, I learn that my daughter is contemplating a trip to Thailand. My son is trying to find a balance between the demands of work and life. My daughter is thinking about moving to a new apartment. My oldest son is thinking about getting engaged. My daughter has a lousy health care plan.
I may not be there to find a pink sweatshirt or settle a disagreement, but I am still their mom. And I will always answer their questions, especially when Google doesn’t have the answers.
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Amy Rumizen is a freelance writer and teacher with three adult children (23, 27, 31). I have written for the “Women’s Voices” column in The Buffalo News, Buffalo Magazine, and Motherwell.com. Amy was also the Dance Critic for The Buffalo News. She is currently writing a series of essays about mothers and daughters.