Training Wheels

We both hate the phone. My mom and I. Always have, even as teenagers, but my phone conversations with her were the longest I’ve ever or will ever have. She listens with 100 percent acceptance, bringing a freedom to ramble without judgement. With no clue she’s doing so, her voice downshifts my racing mind to a calm neutral.

She’s a no-nonsense nurse, and as such, the ultimate purveyor of monosyllable advice. Ideal mom qualities for a hypochondriac, or anyone really. When my mechanically inclined, then first grader pulled the school fire alarm to see how it worked, I called her. She breathed in a serious gust of air, then, without missing a beat, said to bring him to the local firehouse. “He’ll see what happens when someone pulls a fire alarm.” Instantly, I had a plan of action and felt slightly less sucky as a mom.


She suffered a stroke almost a year ago. Her speech was most affected, so our Sunday morning calls are short and frustrating for her. She’s got the same thoughts that want to come out of her brain. The same ones I’m yearning to hear. They just don’t translate through her mouth.

At my parents’ house, mornings are spent swapping sections of the Philadelphia Inquirer. My dad once said if the paper stopped publishing, they may as well put him in the ground. While careful not to disrupt my dad’s piles of read and unread sections, we read the paper, interrupt each other’s reading to comment on what we’re in the middle of, and my dad and son do the jumble together. The morning paper, mom’s banana bread and dad’s fried bologna and eggs are what weekends at their house mean to me now.max and dad 6 19 16 jumble

Someone who would polish off multiple books in a week, my mom now struggles to finish a couple paragraphs from the front page. I try to remember to curb my impulse to interrupt with thoughts on what I’m reading. But, that’s how we connect. She’s one person I can look in the eye and not look away.

She’s still here, and for that I’m eternally grateful. How young people wake up and go on every day after the death of a parent seems a strength that goes far beyond super hero. I can’t imagine the last few decades without my mom to turn to for advice on everything from career, to parenting and now menopause. It’s too bleak to consider.

But, little by little there’s a greater force sliding that landing pad out from under me. I’m a grey-haired, 53-year-old woman riding a bike with loose training wheels. Their screws have come loose, but I cling to them, less ready than ever for them to fall away.

I know I’m not alone in my desire to have my mom by my side for eternity. It just seems such a lonely task flying solo without her. I get that I’ve been blessed to live a lifetime buoyed by support and love. But, the problem with having a mature oak tree to lean on your whole life is that when it’s gone, you’re left naked in the clearing.