Five grown men — all of us pretty big guys — piled into a tiny hospital room for days. My brothers and I, along with our stepdad, were there to say goodbye to my mother. The docs had already told us it was just a matter of time, and none of us wanted to leave her side.
She drifted in and out of consciousness for a couple of days. We’d talk to her at every opportunity, hoping she understood what we were telling her.
During one of those waking moments, our feisty little mama took in the sight of her guys looking haggard and worried (and probably more than a little stinky). Her next words — some of her very last ones in this life — were, “You boys need to clean up this mess” and “When was the last time you had anything to eat?”
There she was, “Mom-ing” until the very end.
“Mom-ing.” The dictionary will tell us it’s not a real word, but most likely because whoever organized that book was a guy. No man can grasp its meaning nor its depth. If he could, he’d have put that word in there before “aardvark.”
Mom-ing starts from the moment a woman discovers she’s pregnant. Right then, she has to begin considering what she’s putting into her body and whether it’s healthy for some little human she hasn’t even met yet. She’s already doubting herself. “Will I know what they need when they cry?” “How am I going to keep them safe?” “Am I really cut out to be a mom?” A million other things strictly confined to a mother’s worry-generating mechanisms.
Worries about the future don’t wait until the future. My wife gave birth to triplets nearly 28 years ago; she says she still remembers the day she found out she was expecting, and how some of the very first things popping into her head were proms, cars, braces, college, weddings … stuff for which she should have been able to put off for at least the next 15 or 16 years.
Nope. Her Mom-ing gene kicked in immediately. She says she worried about how they would do in school, and whether they would turn into good people. Things for which she couldn’t possibly expect an immediate answer — but couldn’t stop asking anyway.
The biggest thing she learned is a secret she’ll share with any new moms: Mom-ing is a never-ending process of letting go. From the time the little snots escape the womb, to their first time away from home, to the first day of school, to sleepovers with friends, to moving away from home, to finding a life partner with whom to share all the time that used to be Mom’s — moms are, from the beginning, always letting go. Kids spend all their lives trying to pull away from Mom, only to run right back to her every time they need her.
“Nobody told me I’d always be letting go of my own children,” my wife says. “Everything moms feel they were created to be starts slipping away a little at a time, and it keeps going until the kids are grown.”
And then, suddenly, they’re back. Needing help. Advice. Guidance. Encouragement. Clean laundry. A home-cooked meal.
Where do grown kids get all that?
Where else? From Mom, who is still out there just Mom-ing away.
I’m seeing my own daughter battling through her experiences with Mom-ing. I can call her at random times of the day, and she’ll tell me — with kids yelling in the background — “Daddy, I’ll have to call you back.” Basically, when she gets a short break from Mom-ing. Sometimes she can’t call me back for two or three days.
Occasionally, Moms try to take a break. When my daughter and my son-in-law planned a very short getaway — no more than three or four hours — from their newborn boy, they hadn’t gotten an hour from home before they got a phone call. Little dude refused to take a bottle and was on a virtual hunger strike. Since my daughter keeps her boobs with her at all times, she had to turn around and head back home. At least she had a whole hour without Mom-ing.
As a teacher, I see it with my students. Colleges are filled with young parents bent on building a better life for their families. I’ve had students miss classes because their child got sick. Every mom knows if your kid’s sick, you might as well be. You’re either gonna get what they have, or you’re gonna have to take them to a doctor. Some of those students warn me before class starts they may have to take a phone call. They’ll try and concentrate on the lecture, but they may be cramming in some Mom-ing along with their notes.
And from what I can see, Moms need a better retirement plan. Mom-ing never stops. Even now, with all our own kids grown and out of the house, my wife spends hours of her days Mom-ing. Calls for recipes or cooking advice. Calls from my daughter asking the veteran mom how to bring down a fever, or fix some other childhood ailment.
Most of those calls come not because our kids need something, but because sometimes, they just need to talk to Mom. Nothing important. Just chitchat. Planned shopping trips. “How was your day” kind of stuff.
At those times, the only thing they really need is to feel the connection. But every time she answers the phone, my wife is Mom-ing.
We non-moms try to show her the love she deserves. We have “Mother’s Day” every year, which I think is great. But if I were a mom, I’d probably laugh about it as some sort of feeble attempt at a joke. You think all the moms in the world are gonna get that whole day off? Puh-leeze. I guarantee you somewhere, somebody’s wiping snot, changing a diaper and/or cooking a meal even on “her” day.
When do moms get to stop? Apparently, never. Ever. Hearing my own mother on her literal deathbed worrying over her boys showed me that. Thinking of all the times since her passing I’ve looked to the sky and told her I could use a little help right now — and knowing if she can hear it, she’s doing whatever she can — tells me there’s even plenty of Mom-ing going on in the afterlife.
Sorry, Mom. I wish all you mothers had a better retirement plan.
Happy Mother’s Day anyway.
Now, what’s for dinner?