I was recently invited to attend a technical writing conference later this month. After almost 10 years as a remote proposal manager, I’m finally getting the chance to travel for work. While there’s something to be said about calling a team of engineers to check on a project from your pajamas at 9 a.m in the morning, the glamour of working from home has worn off in the past few years, and the challenges are becoming far too evident.
Now, I’m juggling two small children, carpooling back and forth and trying to fix three solid meals a day that aren’t just baby food pouches and hot dogs (some days I meet this goal better than others.) That shuffle makes it hard to catch up on emails or join a conference call on a whim. Yet, I’ve made it work, mainly because I appreciate the schedule and for some reason, creating manuals and templates has kind of become my thing.
So when this opportunity came around, I didn’t hesitate. I booked the hotel within 30 minutes of the announcement and I started looking around for the best flights leaving my local airport.
I took the kids over to see my parents that afternoon and shared my excitement with them. This is the point where I should tell you my parents are freakishly great. They’re incredibly kind, indiscriminately good and inherently positive. None of my high school friends came back to our little, one-stoplight town after college, but I did—and I planted roots only two miles away. Guess what? My grown brother and sister are walking distance away as well. They did more than a few things right.
I was pumped to share my fun news with them, but as soon as I started spilling the details, I saw my mom’s face begin to morph from excitement into sheer terror. A hotel room? Alone? An Uber from the airport? What is an Uber and how does that work exactly? You mean a stranger is driving you? Do you watch CNN?
I found it difficult to muster any more enthusiasm after playing that rousing game of 20 questions so I became the kind of quiet that every daughter knows how to become. I was polite but withdrawn. I carried on a conversation, but I was short.
As we left a little later, I went to hug mama goodbye as usual. She lingered a little longer in our embrace and said, “I’m sorry. It’s just your mama being a mama.” I told her I understood, and as I drove home, I realized just how much I really do. That 3-year-old and 19-month old in the backseat? I’d give my right arm to keep them close to me forever.
I stay up at night playing scenarios in my mind and growing more anxious by the minute over every what-if. What if my daughter stutters like I do or struggles with postpartum hair loss like I did?
What if my accident-prone son takes a major tumble? Right now, his face stays scratched, as do his knees. What if I’m not giving them enough attention, giving them too much attention, or letting them watch too many cartoons?
In the morning, I fuss over them. I spray detangler on her bedhead and I straighten his crooked baby bow-tie. I’m a worrywart just like the woman down the road, and I get it honest.
It took that slightly disappointing afternoon for me to realize that while excessive worrying can compromise our health and cause undue anxiety, a mother’s worry is a little different. It comes from a place of genuine love, mixed with the fear that who we are as a maternal force might not be good enough. It’s a constant reach to do better, protect more fiercely, and get it right the next time around.
I called her up when I got home and thanked her for making a big deal about my trip. It showed she cared. She could have easily brushed it off as some silly Millennial thing but she took the time to listen to every word. She stepped into my world for an instant and she grew concerned at what she was seeing and feeling. That’s totally normal. I know because I’ve been in that space myself.
I’m in it when I send my daughter off into her preschool class, wondering if somebody will play with her on the slides today.
I’m in it when my son finds the fireman’s pole on the playground and dangles one leg out pretending to jump down just to freak me out.
I’m in it when I catch a glimpse of my daughter brushing her hair in her little bathroom mirror, and suddenly I see her 18 and getting ready for prom.
I’m in it when it’s 2 a.m. in the morning and my son cries out with a skyrocketing fever and it feels like a snail could crawl up to our house and diagnose the issue before the nurse triage line picks up.
I’m in it every day, as I shoulder the great responsibility (and incredible privilege) of being the sun, moon and stars for two children who think I can do no wrong, even when I lose my temper at the dinner table or wait until 3 p.m. to put on real clothes.
I’ll always worry about them to some degree, even when they’re out of the house and on their own. I’ll always check in, stand up for them and pray over them. It’s what I was born to do.
It’s just their mama being a mama.