I believe in irrational love. Not the dangerous TV movie type. More the just-over-the-bounds-of-reason type. This belief crystallized for me one summer.
On a muggy August afternoon, returning home after a week away, I dropped my suitcase by the back door and started to collapse into the nearest chair. Instead, old habit forced my tired muscles to move a little further and reach for the phone. I had to let my mother know I had arrived safely, a ritual I had performed thousands of times, in concert with my siblings, in concert with countless other grown children, to reassure overanxious mothers across the generations.
My hand slowly lifted the receiver, then slowly put it back down. Mom would not be on the other end to take that call. We had held her funeral four days earlier. Putting down the phone it hit me: there was no one left on this earth who would worry about me so irrationally, so all-encompassingly. So many times I had thought it silly that a woman in her forties should have to call her mom when she arrived home after a weekend visit. Yet how deeply I missed making that call now.
As the tears formed, my then-fifteen-year-old bounced into the house and gave me a big hug. She gushed that her dad had just taken her out to practice driving again. My stomach tightened as I remembered, oh yes, driving, permit, fifteen, oh God.
I had planned to be a cool, enlightened mom. But according to my daughter I was the driving instructor from hell. I admit my knuckles did turn a ghostly white from clenching the seat, and perhaps my lips were just the slightest blue from lack of oxygen. But nothing had prepared me for the queasy feeling of handing control of this two-ton vehicle over to a mere child whose life was governed largely by hormones.
On one typical outing, we approached a stop sign at a busy intersection at 40 miles per hour. “Slow down,” I whispered. No response. “Slow down,” I suggested a bit more firmly, but still in cool mother mode. Still no response. “STOP!” I insisted. “Well you don’t have to yell!” came the response as she slammed on the brakes. After she complained bitterly to her father, I vowed I would reread the cool mom’s manual.
Then, that same summer, my mother died. And I had come home and reached for the phone. I knew then that the cool mom would have to go. The white knuckles and blue lips were here to stay. If I raised my voice, so be it. Because I want my daughter to know there is someone in the world who worries about her irrationally, who loves her all-encompassingly.
Now that she has her own full and wonderful life, each time she returns home after a weekend visit with her mom, I’ll be waiting by the phone for that call.
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