A month ago, I was involved in a collision with an 18-wheeler. As I stood on the side of the road, I dialed my mom. “Make sure you get the insurance info. Make sure you get his name. Take pictures of your car and his. Get the names of all of the witnesses,” she said, firing off one command after the other.
But being my mother’s daughter, I had already done these things and was already mentally preparing a checklist of items to go over with my insurance agency.
“I’ve got to go. I’ve got to go,” I snapped, overwhelmed, and abruptly ended the conversation.
The next morning, my mother called back to check up on me. My body hurt and the realization that my injuries could have been much worse scared me. I kept thinking back to the moment when I was sitting in the middle of the intersection with my steering disabled, frantically calling 911. But, instead of telling my mom that I had spent the evening crying in bed, I cut her off again.
She was silent for about 30 seconds, and I realized she was upset with me after we ended the conversation. Several days later, I texted her:
“Is everything OK?” I asked, even though I knew it wasn’t.
“I’m OK,” she texted back. “I was scared you were hurt, and I’ve been waiting to hear updates from you. But I haven’t heard anything. I’m really hurt.”
I didn’t respond, because I didn’t know what to say and I felt horribly guilty. So, I did what I do best: I got defensive, which always seems to perpetuate things for some reason.
“You go off on tangents sometimes,” I texted back. “I’m just stressed out.” (Immediately after sending the text, I regretted the usage of “tangents.”)
I held my phone in the palm of my hand for several minutes, waiting for a response. But instead… there was silence. Weeks later, the silence continued. It was the longest we had ever gone without talking to each other.
Finally, one evening, I broke down while I was watching Pawn Stars with my roommate. At first, he looked at me in hopeful disbelief, wondering if the show finally struck a chord. But when he saw my expression, he realized something was wrong.
“I can’t explain it,” I said. “You just don’t understand what I’m feeling.” And in all fairness, he didn’t.
Wanting to be alone to gather my thoughts, I walked upstairs, climbed into bed and pulled the covers over my head to think. It wasn’t too long after when my phone vibrated with a text from my mom.
“Sometimes I feel like you text me if you want something or if you have to tell me something,” she wrote. “Sometimes, I just want to talk without being cut off.”
I pulled the covers in even closer. What had happened between us?
Not too long ago, I used to talk to my mom on the phone several times a day. If she didn’t call me, then I inevitably called her to see how her day was or to tell her about my latest happenings. When I was at college, she’d even send me “Thinking of You” cards, and leave newspaper cartoons and ladybug trinkets on my desk for my return. What we had then was special.
But as time went on and I moved out on my own, I began to work longer hours and entered a string of serious relationships. Most days, there was a missed call from my mom. And, most days, I’d either forget to call her back or sent her a quick text, instead:
“Work’s been busy, sorry for not picking up.” Or, “Out with some friends, can I text you back tomorrow?”
Gradually, my mom stopped calling and, gradually, my texts lessened. Now, we text back and forth only a handful of times a week. What’s worse? I probably speak to my mom on the phone at maximum once every three weeks, and — she’s right — only when I need to tell her something urgent or to complain to her about someone.
Several days after my emotional breakdown during Pawn Stars, I drove to my parents’ house. I decided that it was time to speak with my mother face-to-face in an attempt to smooth things over.
“I’m sorry,” I said, when I finally sat down on the couch across from my mom. Already, I could feel my nose start to sting. “What happened? We used to talk every day.”
My mom shrugged, and I caught her looking down to the ground. “Growing up happens,” she said. “I would expect you to form your own life, and I’d be worried if you didn’t. But, I want to be able to talk to you without being cut off. Without feeling like a bother in your busy schedule.”
“I understand,” I said. “I’m really sorry. I guess I just got self-absorbed. I am self-absorbed. I just don’t know what to say… other than I really am sorry.”
“I don’t know what to say, either,” my mom said. “But, we’ve always had a strong relationship. For now, let’s just work on it.”
My mom walked over to the couch to sit next to me. She hugged me, and we talked about my accident and my research in finding an agent for some children’s books I’m working on. I asked her about her latest crafting projects and if she was starting to get excited for her cruise to Alaska. The conversation was natural and easy, but I still held this guilty, self-loathing feeling in the pit of my stomach.
About a half-hour later I stood up, ready to leave. As I was about to pull out of the driveway, I caught my mom standing near the front door, watching me leave. Whenever I or my brothers left the house, she always stood in the doorway to wave as we pulled away… it’s been our thing since forever. This time, when she waved goodbye, she swept a tear off of her cheek.
On my way home, I wondered if I should write about the incident. Was it too personal? I thought about it for a second and decided it was a pretty personal share. Still, I knew I needed to go with it.
To anyone who’s reading this: Ditch texting your mom, because it’s an easy habit to acquire. Instead, call your mom. Once you’re on the phone, don’t whine to your mother about your latest daily drama, and don’t make her your emotional dumping ground. Instead, tell your mom you love her. Tell her you appreciate her. Ask her how she’s doing, and not out of obligation.
To my mom: I know you’re reading this, because there’s not one thing I’ve written that you haven’t read. I’m sorry I got caught up in my own self-centeredness. I want you to know that I took our talk to heart and that you’re never a bother. You know I love you, and what we have is still special. I just have to work on showing it a little more, and a little better.