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Washington Voices

Front Porch: Mom is Mom for life, so get used to it

Thu., March 1, 2012

You’re never done being a mom. Ever.

I’ve been vaguely aware of this for some time, but now even more so. It’s not like I see my grown sons all the time and can physically fuss over them, express concern when they look tired or have them over for Sunday dinner. The nearest one lives in Seattle, the other in Portugal. Communication, except for the occasional visit, is via phone, email and Skype – which you might think mutes the mother gene or lessens the maternal pull.

Not so. I continue to focus, fret and send food-and-other-necessities packages. I look forward to all conversations, delight in their successes and am saddened when they are sad (provided I can discern their sadness between the lines of what they are saying; they are guys, after all).

And we do communicate with reasonable frequency. Neither of my sons is married (darn – no grandkids!), so maybe that gives me a little greater access than I would if they had spouses. They don’t really need mothering, for the most part, and their father and I don’t need elder monitoring (yet), so we talk about the kinds of things close relatives talk about: not mother-son stuff, necessarily, just stuff. The rest of the time, my husband and I live our lives – fully, thank you very much – here in Spokane.

But then something happens, and I am a Mom again, capital M. I feel like the guardian angel in the “Rose is Rose” comic strip who swells to avenging-angel dimensions when there is a threat to the child. My son Sam, the one in Seattle, has unfortunately inherited from me the tendency toward kidney stones. He had an attack about 10 years ago when he was living in New York. And he’s just had two trips to the ER, followed by a procedure to address the stones stuck in both ureters. The situation is still evolving, and I have to admit, these past few weeks have brought out the uber-mother in me.

The first phone call came from the ER, and I could hear the pain in his voice. I was ready to fly out the door in my bathrobe and drive at 90 mph to Seattle to save my baby. My husband talked me down, suggesting calmly that we might wait to hear what happens in the ER first. Give it a couple of hours. Diagnosis: wait, take pain meds, get on with life and expect natural passage. Whew.

A week later, sudden attack of severe pain on the other side – and men who have had kidney stones will be able to relate to what that feels like – and back to the ER. Since there was the likelihood of immediate surgery, I got another call. I could hardly stand it. Diagnosis: rest, pain management and more waiting.

But that’s not working, so the decision came to intervene. Now I realize this isn’t about me; it’s about Sam. But once my baby was in peril, it was all I could do to focus on anything else. It took all of my willpower, strongly augmented by my husband’s rational intervention, not to rush across the state with steaming pots of chicken soup and personally monitor, direct, supervise and dictate the care Sam should receive.

So I have remained in Spokane, relatively sane. But all the while, in my mind, I am revisiting much of Sam’s childhood: snuggling up and reading the Narnia series at bedtime, watching him portray the hero bee in a preschool play, winning an oratory award, driving him to what seemed like thousands of rehearsals for one play or another and the emergency run to Sacred Heart when a fall from a tree resulted in a broken arm and leg.

I remember taking him and his brother to New York City when he was 8 and how thrilled he was with the city, even as a kid, and taking him to meet some relatives in Florida whose Southern ways were so different from anything he’d experienced in the Northwest. Going parasailing together at Daytona Beach, teaching him to drive a stick shift. His whole life is flashing before me.

In my head and heart, I am holding my boy so close that I just ache. I want to be his grand protector, to personally intervene and force the pain to go away. But that’s not what he needs from me. He’s an independent adult with a good support system in his friends. What he needs from me is to be Mom in Spokane, Mom waiting to be informed of things as they progress.

So that’s who I am being for him. And it’s damn near killing me.

Sometimes it’s really hard to be a mom, especially from the sidelines. Even so, it remains the greatest pleasure of my life, and it’s what I’ll be until I draw my last breath.

Correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at upwindsailor@

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