Yesterday, I had a late lunch at Harry's, a St. Augustine restaurant with a lovely courtyard. My standard poodle and I were seated next to the brick wall at my request to keep him sheltered from shuffling feet and other dogs that might arouse his puppyish exuberance. In an afternoon free of care beneath the filtered light (of orchid trees, I'm told), I glanced from time to time at the middle-aged blonde in a business-like pageboy haircut and a smocked-top sleeveless sundress. The combination, plus the way she lingered over the last of her meal, suggested a professional taking the afternoon off from a business trip. St. Augustine is a great reward. I had enjoyed about half a cold beer and was just savoring the first spoonful of red beans and smoked sausage when her cell phone buzzed.
Most of my neighbor's conversation went unobserved until I distinctly heard her say (twice), "Just turn the toilet off." It soon became clear she was talking to her son. No wedding ring. Manner matter of fact. And I thought...
About all the moms who don't have a substitute, who take the call wherever they are and interrupt whatever pretense of respite might have been snatched from the twenty-four hour, seven days a week, three hundred sixty-five days a year being "on," "open for business," for being "Mom" on the phone, on vacation, for diapers, overflowing toilets, floods and any other disaster or just the small voice "Mom?" and a confession (big or small)," I screwed up," like we moms would know what to do about it. Sometimes, we wonder. Sometimes, for a moment, we pause, speechless, to think how to act -- out of love. A word of encouragement, a short, clear instruction ("turn the toilet off, back away from the cliff.....)" is sometimes all it takes.
Once or twice or more, we didn't have the right stuff. We struck out on our advice. Our children are sometimes on their own at too early an age. Aren't we glad they survived when we were the only mother they had? I remember an argument with my youngest who hurt my feelings as he does from time to time (being himself, living his own life of which I'm very proud.) "I'm sorry you don't like it, but I'm the only mother you got!" This is the child who called when he was quite young when I had just quit smoking and was at the grocery store for the umpteenth time but this time seriously thinking about running away from all the things that weighed me down. The cell phone broke that reverie. "Where are you?" my son asked. "I'm coming home," I told him as matter-of-factly as if any other answer were unthinkable.
I imagine the woman at Harry's ended her call promising to come home, if necessary, to stem the flood. My children are grown. It's good to know I answered their calls and still do, but it's nice to reach the age of the uninterrupted lunch, and I'm glad I didn't choose a life where no one called me home.
Lillian B. Kennedy