Mom’s Return

When I was six, my mother decided to fly back to Germany to visit her family. She hadn’t seen them for many years, and her parents were getting older and weren’t up to journeying to Canada to visit us. I remember when she would take out her address book, sit at the kitchen table, take the phone off the hook, and carefully press a long sequence of numbers to call her mom and dad. “Hallo, Mutti?” she would ask, before breaking into joyous laughter at the sound of her mom’s voice. I would listen, mesmerized, as she rattled off in German, the words tripping and lurching off her tongue (German is not a melodic language). Ever conscious of the cost, after thirty minutes my mother would sign off with an “Auf Wiedersehen” and hang up the phone with a wistful sigh. I know she missed them, and wished they lived closer.

Before her trip, mom took pictures of my sister Emma and me so she could show her parents what we looked like. I vividly remember that day, because I was wearing my favorite red and white striped cotton jumpsuit, and because she had us stand on the large in-ground heat exhaust grate of our dentist’s building. I’m not sure why my mother thought this was a good idea, since the blowing air made our hair stand on end, but my sister and I were both grinning madly, our pearly-white baby teeth on full display.

Mom was gone for two weeks, which might as well have been forever. With my dad being the sole parent, dinners mostly involved canned soup and frozen lasagna. The days passed slowly, with my sister and I getting into increasingly more petty arguments.

“I miss moooooom,” I whined on day seven.

“Me too,” my father replied with a sigh.

My mother called us once, her voice echoing down the line. “I’m calling you from the future,” she said, “it’s already tomorrow here”, and my little mind was blown at my mom’s time-travelling abilities (since I had never heard of international time zones before).

Finally, two weeks were up, and mom was due home! The three of us hustled into our station wagon and made the long drive to the airport. Waiting in the arrivals terminal, we anxiously scanned the crowds, becoming more concerned as time passed. Where was mom? Her flight had landed, but we couldn’t find her. There was a woman who looked vaguely like her, but this woman’s hair was curly, and mom had straight hair. “Dad,” I said, “that woman has the same suitcase as mom.” Dad furrowed his brow, looked closer, and realized that the curly-haired woman was mom! We rushed towards her, bumbling and babbling. She grinned and hugged us tight. We would later learn that her sister had convinced her to get an ill-conceived perm, causing mom to end up with a Shirly Temple-like hairdo.

My mother’s trip all those years ago was the first time I had ever experienced longing – that ache inside when your family is incomplete. We weren’t a family without her, and the joy I felt when I saw her at the airport was pure and heartfelt. What a relief to have her home.

Molly and Andy have entered a delightful stage where they’re super excited when I come home. After one of my sanity-saving trips to the bookstore, I’ll pull the car into the driveway and see their little faces peeking out the window. As I come up the stairs, I’m greeted with a chorus of “Mommy’s hooooome!!” followed by full-throttle body-slam hugs. I don’t know if there’s anything better than feeling Andy’s face buried in my neck, or Molly’s arms around my waist. Do they feel the same way I did when I hugged my mom, all those years ago? Do they miss me the same way I missed her? It’s still strange being on the other side of parenthood, and I wonder if I’ll ever get used to it.

Molly and Andy’s joyous greetings make me feel special, and I hope this phase lasts a long time. In fact, I’m tempted to leave the house more often, just so I can come back home to their exuberant welcomes!