Once a Mother, Always a Mother

Years ago when my firstborn was 14, I wrote an essay for “Ladies’ Home Journal” about my maternal angst when he left for a two-week Outward Bound wilderness adventure. I called the piece “Letting Go.” What I didn’t know then was that mothers never really let go. We are attached for life to our offspring by a phenomenon I have come to think of as the emotional umbilical cord. Unlike the physical cord that is severed after we give birth, the invisible one is never cut. As the years go by, we may feel the tug less often. Yet in times of trouble or uncertainty, the tug is as real and urgent as it ever was.

I felt the tug yesterday. My son — the same fearless adventurer who had rappelled down rock cliffs in Maine during that long ago summer — lives on wooded property in the Pacific Northwest. His house is right in the path of the fierce storm that hit the area. Here in New York City, all the way across the country from him, I panicked. Images of snow-laden Douglas fir branches falling on his roof and pinning him inside flashed into my mind. My heart-thudding fear was exactly as potent as it had been when he was a teenager on the Outward Bound excursion and I conjured up disaster scenarios every time I heard the phone ring. In my essay, I wrote, “Visions of my son flashed in front of me: Christopher, only hours old, still in hospital swaddling clothes . ..Christopher, scrambling up the jungle gym at the park . . .Christopher, wobbling triumphantly on his first two-wheeler.” Those same visions came back with equal clarity this time, plus many other precious moments that have happened since then.

All morning, in between meeting deadlines at work, I dialed his number again and again to no avail. The voice mail didn’t pick up because power was out all over the region. Cell and Internet service were out as well so I couldn’t reach his friends either. After lunch, I went to 411.com to get the number of a business near my son’s house. The kindly owner who answered said he was open because he had his generator running but that the road outside his place had become impassable. He wished he could go check on my son for me but he couldn’t get out even with his four-wheel drive. My eyes welled up and I said good-bye before I started to cry.

Then, seconds later at about 2 p.m. my time, Christopher’s name lit up on my caller ID. I nearly jumped out of my skin.

“Mom,” he said, “I’m OK. The power just came back on. There are branches and trees down everywhere. One almost crushed my car. I was stuck at a friend’s house last night when the snow started. I went into a ditch on the way home this morning but a tow truck got me out. I hope you weren’t worried when I didn’t call. My friend doesn’t have a landline anymore and cells weren’t working. I love you.”

I felt as though he were hugging me from a distance. In that LHJ essay I wrote that when he at last returned home safe, he burst through the door “flinging his lanky arms around me.” On the phone with him decades later, I could literally feel those arms around me again.

My spirits are especially light today. The kitchen sink is stopped up? So what. My son is fine! It’s time to get ready to pay this month’s bills? No problem. My son is not in danger! I have a mountain of work to do for my side business? Hey, I’ll plow through it. All that matters is that my son didn’t get hurt — or worse — when Mother Nature let loose her wrath.

The tug has eased up and I’m back to normal now. But I know without a doubt that the tug will happen again for the rest of my life whenever anything threatens the well-being of my son or his sister.

Once a mother, always a mother. The nest of the heart never empties.

 

Sondra Forsyth is a Senior Editor at ThirdAge.com.

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