Listening to my child sob hysterically on the other end of the phone, I instantly transformed into Mom, the Helicopter Goddess, my alter ego, the warrior for my children’s happiness. With mighty engines revved, I prepared to swoop in and make everything alright.
Two hours later, I hung up the phone exhausted. I’d successfully completed my super hero duties once again. Then I wondered, “Did my mother do this for me?”
Even through the muddied viewpoint of middle age dementia, the memory of her unconditional love remained clear. The sun rose and set in her children. She had complete faith that we could do or be anyone we wanted. But another vivid recollection haunted me: her lax attitude about our safety.
In 1957, on a cold, dreary day, she threw her terrified five-year-old daughter onto a rusted two-wheeled bike. Running along side, she encouraged me to peddle my chubby legs faster and faster.
“Mommy,” I squealed, fearful of falling. “Don’t let go!”
She whispered in my ear, “You can do this.” She then took her hands away and off I flew, ponytails bouncing wildly in the wind.
Days at the beach were no different. Sitting on her towel, with her latest novel covering her face, she’d periodically peek over the top and casually wave as we dove under the turbulent waves, young bodies bouncing crazily in the foamy mist.
When I took my position by the water’s edge twenty years later, I couldn’t understand how she could have been so cavalier. Each time the salty sea just tickled their young ankles I hyperventilated. And if any wave come in higher than their knees? I’d swoop them up and drag them to safety on higher ground.
As a child, we had four rules: be kind, respectful, honor the family name and be home at 6:00 for dinner. There was no checking in with our whereabouts, just pure, unadulterated freedom.
Years later, when I knew my time with my mom was growing short, I finally had to ask, “Weren’t you ever afraid we’d get hurt?”
Smiling, she pulled me close, just like in days gone by, and said, “I was terrified. What you don’t know is the minute you left the house, I got in the car and followed you wherever you went. And those days on the beach, I never read one word of that book.”
Then, kissing me on the cheek she said, “I knew one day I wouldn’t be here to protect you. You had to learn to fly on your own.”
A week later, she was gone and I was truly on my own.
I look back on those days and think how fortunate I was to have her as a mother. She gave me the tools to stand on my own two feet and to love the life I’ve been given without fear, without hesitation.
Today, at fifty-eight, I still suffer the curse of the damned when it comes to my children’s heartaches. I can’t help it, their pain is my pain. And as the old saying goes, “I’m only as happy as my least happy child.” I now know it was the same for her.
When I get that suffocating feeling that I have to make it all better, I close my eyes, feel her presence, and listen for her words, “You have to let them go. Let them dance on wind like God intended.” The greatest gift a mother can give her child is their freedom. I hope I did the same for my children.