The night of Hurricane Sandy, I was (very luckily) safe in my brownstone, eating mochi ice cream—which I had stupidly bought from M2M that night, right before the emergency alert was sent—and bonding with my housemates over a game of poker, as the tree branches outside smashed against the windows. On the other side of the country, however, my mother was glued to the news and to her cellphone. She left me seven voice mails and three text messages that night, which ranged from chiding me for not buying enough bottled water to advising me to stay away from windows to telling me that she loved me.
In college, I developed the horrible habit of not answering my mother’s calls on a regular basis. Because she calls me almost every day, I never expect the call to be of anything urgent. Also, when she asks about my week, I am very reluctant to tell her the details of what I did at 1020 and Le Bain.
I confessed my heartless habit to a friend the other day. She replied, “I don’t even call my mom. I talk to my parents twice a month—when they call me.”
Another friend said, “I Skyped my parents a lot the first month of freshman year. I even cried once because I was so homesick, but once I made more friends, I just didn’t have time to talk to them anymore.”
Columbia students like to think of themselves as independent and self-sufficient—we somehow manage to graduate and learn our Foucault and Said without much academic advising. The city instills us with a fierce sense of personal identity, and, perhaps, personal disillusionment, as we feel like marching, anonymous worker ants—never the queen. When Hurricane Sandy hit last weekend, though, the city’s people came together to help each other. Neighbors spoke to each other for the first time, and uptown friends offered temporary shelter to downtown friends.
“I’ll never make fun of people who live uptown ever again,” a co-worker at my internship joked.
Helping others was on my mind, but calling my worried mother wasn’t. Of course I know how to take care of myself during a hurricane, I stubbornly thought.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t find unconditional love in every corner of my life. My mother is the only person I can call at 3 a.m. when I’m stressed about having two midterms the next day. My mother is the only person who checks up on me constantly when I have the flu and Health Services makes me wait two hours in the waiting room. And increasingly so, as graduation approaches, my mother is the only person in the world who doesn’t seem to love me any less based on my achievements (or lack thereof) or my post-college graduation plans (or lack thereof). She loves me even when I’m too hungover or stressed or absentminded to call her back.
For the lucky ones, who have one—or two—parents who care enough to call us incessantly, we often also take for granted the love that we have. We fret about our romantic relationships (or lack thereof) on campus, but we rarely fret about the people who fret about us back home.
My mother recently sent me a brief email reminding me to wash my hands often to repel sickness. I told her I carry hand sanitizer everywhere I go. Hand sanitizer is not the same thing as soap, she replied. I rolled my eyes. You worry too much, Mom. I’m an adult now.
But then I think about all the times I got sick and couldn’t get out of bed. I think about all the times I couldn’t sleep before an exam I had over- (or under-) prepared for. I think about all the times I almost set off the fire alarm while trying to cook dinner for myself. I am still so, so, so far from being the adult that my mother is.
In her memoir, “Bossypants,” Tina Fey composes a brilliant poem about motherhood:
“And should [my daughter] choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 a.m., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back. ‘My mother did this for me once,’ she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. ‘My mother did this for me.’ And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget.”
I’m about to call my mom right now. We don’t have to delay our gratitude until we have our own children. If you’re lucky (and maybe taking it for granted, like me), there’s someone thinking about you on the other side of the world, country, or city right now: your mom or dad.
Noel Duan is a Columbia College senior majoring in anthropology and concentrating in art history. She is the co-founder of Hoot Magazine. You Write Like a Girl runs alternate Wednesdays.
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