To be a mom is to continually manage the fierce mama bear feelings that make us want to sprint to our child’s rescue, kiss away their tears, and band-aid away their pain. How do we know when to act on this instinct? And when to push our internal pause button in order to and give them the space they need to pick themselves up when they fall, and as they get older, to lean on other support systems they’ve developed.
We don’t always know. But our hearts will guide us if we really listen.
Almost two years ago to the day, my daughter, a now senior in college wrote this piece for The Odyssey, Why Your Mom is Your Most Valuable Asset To Surviving College. Since its publication, this heartfelt piece has been shared nearly 30,000 times. And now, more than ever, I understand why.
As I boarded a plane headed for Detroit on Monday morning, I thought about the words she wrote, “As college students, we like to see ourselves as capable, self-sufficient human beings. And for the most part, we are. For those of us who are more stubborn, it can be difficult to admit that, sometimes, we just need our moms to point us in the right direction.”
I sat down in my seat and allowed the tears to flow as the reality of the situation sunk in. “I just want to let you know that I’m okay but…” my husband read a text aloud that our daughter sent us at 11:30 p.m. a few nights prior.
We sat up in bed. Our breathing stopped. “She is alive, she is alive,” we said to ourselves and to each other through our tear-filled eyes as we braced for the words that would follow.
“My friends and I were crossing the street and we were hit by a car.” Panic, fear, dread, and helplessness sent our hearts and minds racing. We could no longer catch our breath. “On my way to the hospital now…”
“Call her,” I shriek, as if he needed to be told, as if his finger hadn't already touched her name on his phone screen to dial her number.
“I am on my way to the hospital, in an ambulance,” her voice shook through the speakerphone. I want to be in that ambulance, to be holding my baby’s hand, running my fingers through her hair the way she likes, saying the things I know she needs to hear to calm down, and trying to pull some of the panic and fear out of her body and mind, and absorb it into mine.
But I am not there. And David is asking questions that she can’t fully answer because she is being evaluated, and she says she thinks she is okay but she is scraped and bruised, and bleeding, and her friend’s head is bleeding, and her other friend's wrist may be broken.
I know she is in shock.
And so are we.
I sink deeper into my seat on the plane and think about the past three days. “Honey, do you want us to come,” we ask her more than a dozen times. “I am fine,” she responds each time with growing annoyance in her voice. I sort through the blur of the weekend, my son’s first homecoming dance, soccer practices and games for my daughter, a pancreatic cancer fundraising bike ride in memory of my deceased father-in-law, and work obligations that I had scheduled.
I am so tired. I am so sad and scared. My stomach hurts. And here comes the guilt. "I should have gone to my daughter right away. I should have jumped on the plane right when we got the call."
But David and I listened to her assurances that she was okay. She, along with her housemates, was released from the hospital the same night. Sophie had scrapes, and bruises covering a good portion of her body; one housemate did have a broken hand, and the other a concussion.
We asked her questions and let her answers carry us through to the next hour or two until we checked on her again. Her boyfriend barely left her side. And her other four housemates, who were not in the accident, attentively cared for the three injured girls. Other friends brought food and well wishes. She had a net underneath her that was holding her up.
“…sometimes, we just need our moms to point us in the right direction.”
“How hard can I squeeze you,” I texted her before I arrived at her house. “You can’t touch my back,” she responded. “Ok, I will figure something out,” I wrote as the Uber car came to a stop.
And there she was. In one piece. My beautiful, first born baby girl in a 22-year-old woman’s body standing in foyer of her rental house waiting for me, her mother, with her housemates seated on the couch nearby.
Our eyes simultaneously welled up with tears as I gently took her into my arms.
“Thank G-d you are okay,” I whispered.
“I’m glad you are here,” she whispered back.
And I remember what she wrote in her post two years ago, “If I could go back to that sticky night last August in the Markley parking lot, I would hug her a little longer, a little tighter, and maybe even shed a few tears to match her sobs. Because even though I didn’t realize it then, nothing - not even soy mochas, office hours, or your very best friend - can get you through the grinds of college as well as your mom can.” (Sophie Burton)