It was late night. That would be eleven o’clock, which was late night for me, since my bedtime had become nine o’clock, instead of the two a.m. that was the norm in my younger, child-rearing years. The telephone rang. Uh oh. Who calls at eleven o’clock, unless someone’s in the hospital, had an accident, or died? My hand groped across the nightstand, trying to approximate in the darkness the location of the telephone. I knocked several items to the floor, before finally locating the handset.
“Hullo?” I’m sure my words were groggy, after all, I’d been asleep for two hours, which meant I was probably already cycling into the deeper levels of REM sleep. But the grogginess and fogginess vanished quickly, as I snapped on the nightlight and glanced at the clock. It was then that the adrenalin kicked in. “Hello? Hello?!” This couldn’t be good.
I heard muffled sobbing at the other end of the line. Curiosity and irritation were quickly threatening to become anxiety, which could easily escalate to full-blown panic.
“Hello? What’s wrong?” I didn’t even know who was calling, yet, but the question seemed appropriate. When someone calls, sobbing, at eleven o’clock at night, “What’s wrong?” is a very appropriate question, even if it turns out to be a wrong number–which I was hoping it was.
“M–m-m-mom?” I am a mother. I recognized the muffled, sobbing sounds in my earpiece as my oldest daughter. More sobbing followed.
“Oh, criminy,” I thought, “what’s happened?”
My daughter had a thirteen-year old daughter and a two-year old son. She, like I had, was raising them as a single parent. I knew what a struggle that was, so I tried to calm myself with the thought that nobody was hurt, hospitalized or dead; that my daughter just needed to talk. I knew from great, excruciating experience that raising children alone wasn’t easy, and that at about the age of eleven, girls morphed from those sweet little bundles of joy who loved you more than anything in the world, to sassy, unpredictable, mouthy, irritating, aggravating creatures that made even the most wonderful parent certain that the hospital had made a mistake and sent home the wrong baby. My daughter had had nearly three years of this, so, in my estimation, was just beginning to have her worn-down, what have I done wrong, moments. And then, there was the little one, working out his terrible-two-ness in every way possibly conceived.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” I asked, trying to sound calm and reassured and in control, which, at the time, I thought a parent should always be. In my mind, and in my mind only, she still thought I had all the answers.
“M-Mom,” her voice was much more in control, now. “Mom, I’m just calling to tell you that I am so sorry.” More sobbing from the other end of the line.
“Sorry for what?” I asked, as I searched my mind for some recent or long-ago wrong she had done that would require an emotional, late-night telephone apology.
“I’m so sorry for what I put you through, when I was a teenager.”
That was it! “Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!” thoughts ran through my head, as relief that nothing was wrong flooded my body. This was it! These were the sweet words I thought I’d never hear. A half-grin threatened to curve one side of my mouth. It wasn’t revenge or pay-back, I tried to convince myself, that was making me feel so, so good. It wasn’t working, and I knew that, when my daughter continued.
“I am so sorry for all the grief and worry I put you through. And I’m so sorry for talking back to you, and for all the stupid things I did. I’m sorry for stealing your cigarettes and climbing up on the roof with Joey to smoke them. Thank you, Mom, for everything you did for me. I didn’t know before.” I could mentally see her glancing toward her two children, who I could hear fighting in the background. My heart softened.
“How could you know? And you weren’t that bad! You were just a kid.”
“Ok, Mom. How come you’re being so nice about this?” She paused. “Oh, I get it. Wipe that grin off your face! Now! And stop laughing–I know you’re laughing!”
“I’m not laughing!” It wasn’t a lie. I was only slightly grinning. A grin of triumph! But not a grin of payback, no, not me.
“This is payback, isn’t it, Mom?!” She was beginning to sound like she regretted calling.
I reeled my glee back in, and pulled all the seriousness I could muster into my voice. “It’s not payback. I love you. And I love you for calling and telling me that. Those are some of the sweetest words you could have said to me.”
The truth is, there might have been an itsy-bitsy grain of payback in there. But, when I reviewed the younger years, I was able, without too much effort, to convince myself that I had earned the payback. Even if it was just itsy-bitsy.
The other truth is, my grandchildren are wonderful, and my daughter is a wonderful mother. I understand it was more about getting so tired you can’t think, getting fatigued because you haven’t slept for eight full hours in years, and about having to make every frickin decision there is to be made, when you’re a single parent. The misbehaving of my grandchildren was the least of it. Because they’re good kids. They’re wonderful kids. But when you’re bone-tired, it’s sometimes hard to remember that, it’s sometimes difficult to be saintly patient.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I know what my daughter meant. And they were some of the sweetest words I could have ever heard!
©Janet Mitchell, December, 2011