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Following the Dot

Of all the inventions in this century, there is one that has single handedly transformed motherhood. No, not the diaper genie or the high chair cover, great as those are. I argue that the greatest invention is a catalyst for maternal sleep around the world: the “Find your Friends” app.

I am not a helicopter mom. I don’t care to know that my driving teen went from Taco Bell to Starbucks (although that raises gastrointestinal questions), or stopped by a friend’s house. I have my own life. But that app becomes golden when it’s late at night and I’m awake, waiting for that blessed sound of her car pulling into the driveway. It’s Coldplay’s Viva la Vida level happiness.

Like children everywhere, my kids don’t understand why their parents worry; until they are parents themselves, they cannot possibly envision the ditch-filled fantasies that occupy our minds when the moon is overhead. It must be a special gene that jumps the abyss when the umbilical cord is cut.

I recall being the mother of toddlers and thinking that mine was an 18-year occupation. I remember naively thinking that once my children were grown, the days of worry would be over. I scoffed at those older mothers who said, “Little people, little worries. Big people, big worries.” How blissfully ignorant I was. I had embarked not only on a lifetime of joy, but one of angst.

But the Find my Friends app has become a trusted friend with which to watch late night TV. I watch patiently as the dot follows the path home. I picture the red lights on my daughter’s journey and am reminded of a time when I was little and my oldest brother Jim babysat me. I wouldn’t go to bed: I was crying and afraid because I wanted my parents home. I recall him standing with me at the window and telling me the story of the streets they were driving on, the houses they were passing, and the stop signs they were observing. His narration of their voyage home continued until I saw their car lights and ran to the door to greet them. (I think he got in trouble because I wasn’t in bed; I didn’t care, however. They were home and safe!)

At one point, with daughters spread around the country, I made it a nightly ritual to check all of their locations on Find my Friends. The spots became so familiar to me: I knew that a bagel place was on the iPhone map near one daughter, a state park near another thousands of miles away. I would close my eyes and picture them each in their respective beds, whisper a prayer of thanks and send them all virtual kisses goodnight.

How much easier my mother’s life would have been had she had that app (and, of course, even cell phones) when I was driving late at night! I felt the same frustration as my own children when Mom would wait up for me, worrying about my safety. The eye rolls of my adolescent self are inherent to youth while mothers are predisposed to worry.

It never goes away. In the last few years of her life, any evening I would leave Mom, her last words would be, “Call me when you get home.” I would turn around and see her waving back and know that she would be waiting. Now I hear those same words coming out of my own mouth and smile in recognition that I am doing as generations before me have. I know that neither age nor wisdom nor even senility will stifle that instinct. What will change is that when my daughters are my age, my request for them to let me know they got home okay will feel like a warm blanket cascading around them. They will smile, as I did to my mom, safe in the knowledge that someone cares… that there is someone who has loved them since before they existed and will continue to do so.

One night, when I was with my mother in the last few months of her life, I had helped her shower and get into bed. There was a sitter, Beverly, there with her then, and Mom’s speech was failing. I kissed her goodbye and could see her struggling to speak. I smiled because I knew what she was trying to say.

“She’s asking me to let her know I got home safely,” I told Beverly who then turned to my mom.

“I’ll have her call my cell phone and then I’ll tell you,” Beverly told Mom who smiled ever so slightly and nodded.

It is hard when there’s no longer that person who wants to know you made it home safely… who’s watching that dot move and then falling asleep with silent prayers of thanks. For some reason in the past two weeks, I have been re-grieving my parents and especially my mom. I’m not sure why—perhaps from all the isolation, maybe because I’ve had more time to think, probably because I long to hear from someone who has gone before me, who has experienced more than her share of national crises. Or maybe I just feel in need of a little mothering. I long for someone to wait up for me, to worry over me, for I’ve learned that we are never too old to mother, or to need just that.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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