I spent the first three decades of my life running away from home. During my teenage years, I bided my time until college. Then in college, I bided my time until adulthood. I managed to come home only for holidays, despite the fact that I went to a university in the city where I grew up. How did I do that? How did I not run into my parents at the park or the grocery store or Parent’s Day, for that matter? Oh right, I told them not to come.
Three weeks after graduation, I found myself living in a tiny studio apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan, far, far away from my Tennessee home. The people were just as nice, but they didn’t rub their niceness all over you. It was personal space in a city crammed for space and it was lovely. I worked hard for almost no pay at a tiny publishing house. I called home on the weekends, closing my eyes and trying to picture the green farmland over the horns and shouts from 86th and Lexington.
Home was a nice idea, but only that, until I had kids. I was 29 years old and 29 weeks pregnant when I had my first child back in Tennessee. I would begin motherhood with a son who would need nurses more than he needed me, a tracheotomy more than he needed me, a feeding tube more than he needed me. It would take 10 weeks to get him home.
When he came home, all I could think was, “I want my mom.” I wanted her more than I’ve ever wanted anyone in my life. So she came. She mothered me while I learned to mother him. She brought me coffee and new onesies that we would promptly take the scissors to, cutting holes in the center for his feeding tube. She filmed his first word, hissed through his speaking valve over the sounds of a Sunday afternoon football game. Whenever she left, it would take me a minute or 30 before I stopped thinking, “Should we be left unsupervised?”
Eventually, my husband and I got the hang of it, the knack for this special needs parenting thing. Eventually our son got his trach and his feeding tube out, and began to eat and breathe and do the baby-thing in a less medical way. As a toddler, he got a wheelchair that took baby-proofing to a whole new level. In all this, my mother was a constant. She was the only trusted babysitter, her with her Chicos outfits and limitless energy that had irritated me as a kid and now mystified me as a mom.
Then I got pregnant with twins. Suddenly our cute bungalow just south of the city with no garage or third bedroom was not enough. Suddenly, the 30 minute drive to my mom’s brick-and-siding home was too much. We sucked it up – moved to the ‘burbs less than a mile from her, and we never looked back.
She is no longer necessary in the way she was necessary when our first son was small and fragile, and every bath or outing felt both dangerous and momentous. She is necessary in a different way. We walk to her house. I sit on her porch swing and we drink cherry limeades while the kids run and roll rampant in her flowers. I make her birthday cakes: lemon with coconut frosting just the way she likes it. She helps me carry my oldest in and out of cars and kisses him just below the ear the way we learned to do in the NICU to get around the wires.
I spent years running away from home, but the ties I didn’t even feel never fell away. When I needed her, my mom pulled me close, me and my husband and our gaggle of children. We are two houses, but we are one home. I’m sure my kids will run away in their own ways to form their circles of independence that I’m not allowed to enter, but when they do, I hope they know I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be there two or 10 years down the line when they come running back.