Cellular Love

Cellular Love

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

Cellular Love

My mother called tonight while I was cooking dinner. Again, for the third time today. I knew it was her because the words “Mom’s cell” lit up my own cell phone like a marquee on Times Square. I lay down my cutting knife and shook the pieces of onion and red pepper from my hands. Mom with a cell phone; boy, have things changed!

There was a time in my life, B.C. (Before Cell phones), when my mother would become anxious, depressed or even mildly hysterical if she couldn’t reach me by phone. No matter that I worked full-time and ran a marathon life shuttling kids, groceries and the dog from one end of town to the other. If she called the house, and I didn’t answer, something had to be wrong.

“Where are you? I’ve tried a hundred times but you don’t answer. Is anybody there?” were the plaintive words I’d find on my answering machine after returning home from a long day at work. If my mother got lucky, she’d reach my daughter and tell her to leave me a message, which I’d usually find about a week later, written in crayon on the back of the phone bill. “Call Gramma. She wants to know if you still live here.”

I move about the kitchen banging pots, the cell phone balanced precariously between my cheek and raised left shoulder. I make a mental note to cancel the chiropractic appointment I made for neck pain and resolve to buy a headset instead.

I toss the salad as my mother shares the events of her day: a doctor’s appointment for my father who can’t see as well as he thinks but she lets him drive anyway, lunch with a friend whose husband has Alzheimer’s disease, and an exercise class for osteoporosis even though she’s sure the teacher has shrunk two inches since she began taking the class. It doesn’t really matter what we talk about. What matters most is the invisible line of connection we create in spite of the time and distance between us.

A friend is dying of cancer, and my mother wants to know if she should visit her or wait to be asked.

“You should go,” I tell her.

What about Eleanor’s husband, the one with Alzheimer’s. Should she invite them to dinner or would it be too hard?

“For whom?” I ask.

At seventy-eight, my mother now lives in a country whose borders are defined by mountains of fear. Its landscape is restricted by age, illness and the loss of much of what and whom she has cherished and known. The roads she traveled on so easily in her youth have become more treacherous as she loses confidence in her ability to navigate through the world we live in today. Yet she faces these obstacles with a will of iron, determined to fill her life with meaning and purpose. At times, this translates into trying to control a part of mine.

“Did you use that Silver Palate spaghetti sauce recipe I sent you? It has all the essential vitamins and lots of black olives, which are good for your system,” she counsels.

“Oh, yeah, it was great!” I fib as I stir a jar of store bought marinara sauce into the pasta. When I was a new wife and mother, this type of domestic micromanaging drove me crazy. Now I’m just grateful that someone is still worried about my vitamin intake and regularity.

“I’m sending you some articles about skin care. I think you should do something about those little brown spots on your face,” she says with the authority of a dermatologist.

I look in the mirror and notice a blotch of spaghetti sauce on my chin.

When I left for college, I didn’t realize that my departure would trigger an emotional spiral downward that took my mother months to overcome. She began marking her life by the events that occurred in mine: the afternoon I graduated from law school, the evening of my wedding, the morning my son was born. She needed so much more assurance once I was gone, and sharing the everyday events in our lives was the salve that soothed her loneliness. If I was preoccupied or too tired to talk, I would simply listen to her stories while I folded clothes or packed school lunches for the kids.

An outsider listening to our conversations might think them trivial, but in reality, they are the bedrock upon which our deeper and more profound understandings occur. I hear in her words the true concern she has about my father’s failing eyesight and her fear that many of her lifelong friends will soon be gone. I know that underlying her recipes and medical advice is the fear that I’m working too hard or not taking care of myself. In discussing the more banal whats, whos and whys of our lives, we open doors to an intimacy we both want from our relationship.

Several years ago, I sent my mother a Mother’s Day card that still hangs on her refrigerator door. On the cover, a woman is applying red lipstick in the rearview mirror of her station wagon while driving the kids to school. The caption reads: “Oh my God, I think I’ve become my mother!” Printed on the inside are the words: “I should only be so lucky.”

I hang up just as my husband walks through the door, cell phone falling from my ear like an oversized clip-on earring. He picks it up off the floor as I acknowledge, “My mother just called.” Whatever the cost, whenever the time, she has my number. It’s called cellular love.

Amy Hirshberg Lederman

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