I Call My Mom Twice a Week. Voluntarily.
Taking time out of my adult life to chat with my mother has helped me to slow down — and to appreciate the woman who raised me.
Welcome to Ritual, Be Well Philly’s new column of personal essays about the low-tech, purposefully inefficient things we do that pleasurably slow us down. From taking the long way home to hand-washing dishes, these simple habits allow us to be more present — even if only for a few minutes.
My mother likes to talk. This is a universally acknowledged truth among my five-person family unit — as well as among my aunts, and uncles, and cousins, and hell, even my second cousins — many of whom could go head-to-head with her for the prize of most verbose.
It was once a source of annoyance. My sisters and I would exchange tactics for extricating ourselves from particularly prolonged phone calls. Now, as I find myself in the early stages of the inevitable transition we call “becoming our parents,” I realize I don’t mind her chattiness. I even enjoy it.
Throughout my childhood and college years, I always found myself picking up the phone when I had something to say: From questions about expiration date best practices and navigating health care to discussions on navigating relationships, how to ask for a raise, or her most recent book club read. After I graduated and moved hundreds of miles from home, I began the unprecedented habit of dialing even when there was not a whole lot to say.
After I graduated and moved hundreds of miles from home, I began the unprecedented habit of dialing even when there was not a whole lot to say.
City living can be hectic and lonely all at once. It feels dirty and crowded but also clinical and impersonal. I’ve been doing it for a year and a half, the exact amount of time I have also lived far from home. I get back to my apartment at the end of the day smelling like smog, rain and a little bit like garbage, thinking about my bills and the work responsibilities I still have to tackle. There are often dishes in the sink and clothes in the hamper. There are a lot of tasks I could do, and a lot of Netflix shows I could watch to avoid doing them. But instead, without fail, at least twice a week, I call Mom.
There is a sort of comfort gained from hearing, in your mother’s voice, news about relics of your past, shared life. What gross behavior has my family’s pup picked up now? What weird thing did the neighbors do last week? What TV shows are you watching? How is Dad doing? Over time these became deeper. What dreams did you have last week? What do you think they mean? Are you managing your anxiety? And — in coded language but there nonetheless — do you miss me?
I’ve reached that milestone when, in trying to report updates to far-away friends, I realize life has actually become a bit boring. I’ve solved, or more or less learned how to deal with, the problems that years ago drove me to pick up the phone. I don’t have much news to share with my mother, but I still keep up the ritual phone conversations. In the absence of prescribed topics, I’ve learned so much more about her. Throughout my childhood, she was always just Mom. The one who kept the house together, the one who called us out for our teenage attitudes. The one who, to me and my sisters, seemed to exist solely to help us become smart, kind and well-adjusted women. Her personhood was an afterthought.
The woman who raised me is in sharper focus now. I know about her childhood and its challenges, about how it felt to silently battle an anxiety disorder while raising three young children. I know she’s struggled against a patriarchy stronger and meaner than the one I face today. I know her dreams are as weird and goofy and inexplicable as mine. I know about her miscarriages, her insecurities and her fears for my youngest sister. I know a little more about me, too.
I know she’s struggled against a patriarchy stronger and meaner than the one I face today. I know her dreams are as weird and goofy and inexplicable as mine. I know about her miscarriages, her insecurities and her fears for my youngest sister. I know a little more about me, too.
When I need an escape from the solo existence I have here in Philly, I call my family. Remembering that my roots haven’t changed, that my parents are still living the life I left in that sleepy Chicago suburb, brings me back to earth. I get some perspective: My parents will still love me even if, for example, my credit score takes a hit this month. (However, I might still get a lecture, because they are parents after all.) I am reminded that, despite all the perceived mountains in front of me, I’m lucky. I have a home to call my own. The little problems and dilemmas we talk about are, blessedly, mundane and quotidian.
There’s something more to it, too. When I call my mom or text the family group chat at odd moments, those little connections reflect a greater truth: There is nothing quite like the joy of growing up and choosing your family. Even when there’s not a whole lot to say.