Memories for Mother’s Day… Dancing With My Cru

FYI…I wrote this back in 2004, while my mother, Cru, was still alive. At the time, I was 44 years old, and figuring out how to be a good mom to three young children. My mom died in 2007, I’m almost 60 now, and my kids are all 20-somethings. But some things never change. I’m still trying to figure out how to be a good mom and still finding ways to talk to my mom every day. Happy Mother’s Day Cru.

This is a photo of my mom and me taken around 1979, when she was about the age I am now.

These are words I never heard my mother say, “Lori, why did you call so late. You woke me up.” My mom had an open door policy, but that paled in comparison to her open phone policy.

I can remember three things about the parental bedroom of my youth: there were my parents’ massive, gold metal headboard with lots of swirls and curly cues, lion head drawer pulls on the mahogany dresser, and a telephone on my mom‘s nightstand situated just inches from her ear when she rested on her pillow.

“I don’t care how late you stay out, just call me,” she would say as I headed out the door during my high school years. She was a bit lenient in the curfew department — maybe she was just worn down some by my three older brothers. But there was no slacking in the requirement for checking in. Not just for me… my brothers were calling in too. Needless to say, there was a lot of middle of the night phone ringing going on in that small ranch house in Detroit back in the 70s. 

But now, some 30 years later, the invitation to call, any hour of the day or night, still stands, and in fact now it goes both ways. I just spoke to my mom, a widow for the past few years. She called from the hospital where she was watching over her dying brother. She sounded exhausted, sad and anxious. 

“Take care mom,” I said as we were about to hang up. Then these words just spilled out of me, “As a wise woman says, the phone is right by my bed. Call if you need me.” 
Was that moment the passing of the baton, the changing of the maternal guard, or a simple role reversal? Maybe a bit of all those things,  but mostly it was just a reflex, an attempt on the part of a grown child to grab for the most comforting words she had inside. The sweet poignancy of being able to give them back to my mom registered on us both.

But before the music starts to swell, and me and my mom head off into her favorite TJ Maxx arm in arm, there’s more to the story of our complex connection and how it is challenged our adult relationship and parenting my own kids. For starters, all that unlimited access to my mother has a downside, and it comes with a price. The price feels like a responsibility to stay in frequent contact with my mom, and the guilt I feel when I don’t.

At times, my mother’s phone line has felt like an umbilical cord, a safety belt and an albatross over the years depending on my situation, and hers. When she answers the phone “Hello Lori” without the luxury of caller ID, or even before I say a word, I feel so many jumbled emotions that I have to catch my breath before I speak. 

How does she know it’s me? How long has she been waiting for me to call? Instead of being comforted by her desire to find me on the other end of the line, or tickled with her uncanny ability to distinguish my ring, sometimes I feel weighed down. It feels like pressure, it feels like obligation. I can hear her need and it tugs me down and back. But here’s the tricky part. When I need her, or when I’m feeling hurt or vulnerable, “Hello Lori” sounds like a haiku of love, and hearing it feels like coming home.

Mother Daughter photo taken around 2004, around the time I wrote this story. That’s me, and Cru, and my daughter Lily.

In the mother and child dance — how to get close, how to stay close, how not to be too close — I’ve been a student of these steps my whole life. And now with all those footprint shadows on the floor of my heart, I’m trying to create a new rhythm for me and my kids. I want them to know I’m here for them of course, but I need to walk away from the unrealistic 24/7 on-call shift my mom is still known for. 

I’m 44 and the mother of three kids, ages eleven, nine and seven. The thing is, after years of middle of the night wake ups with crying babies and pee-soaked toddlers, I’m ready for a good night’s sleep, preferably starting right around the time I put my kids to bed. But one of my sons has a different idea. It’s never been easy for him to fall off to sleep, even as an infant, but he’s got the words to articulate how much he doesn’t like being the last one in the house awake. I get it, he’s scared or maybe bored. But I’m tired! 

Boy do I feel guilty not wanting to stay up the extra hour to give him what he wants. As a mother I’ve always thought my mission was to meet as many of my kid’s needs as possible with as little disappointment on their part as possible. It’s always feels counter-parental to put my needs first. 

Sure, I understand the fault line in this kind of logic. But I’m Cru’s daughter. That’s my mom’s name by the way, Cru, short for Cruciel. An unusual name for an unusual woman with a big heart, big feet, and big shoes for me to fill. When I look back at the footprints of hers that guide me on my motherhood path I see a lot of selflessness. No wonder anything I do for my self feels selfish in comparison. 

So here’s how I’m working out the sleeping thing. I’m tucking my guy into bed, kissing him good night and I’m going to sleep. And each time I do, I feel myself internally stretch, putting into practice the Good Enough mother philosophy and acknowledging that’s all any of us moms can really do. My son is stretching too. He’s learning to tolerate disappointment, to rely on himself to quiet his mind so he can fall to sleep, and to understand that his mother’s love isn’t perfect, yet it’s plenty. 

Now that I’ve got a handle on the bedtime ritual, my firstborn, Abe, is pushing me inward again to rethink my lifelong telephone tango with my mother. He wants a cell phone so he can stay in touch with me, so he can be cool like his friends, so he can keep his fidgety hand busy flipping the thing open and closed. Whatever!  

I told him the whole phone thing is a bit complex for me, and I would have to get back to him at some point. One thing I know for sure, I’m not having him call his Bubbie Cru to see what she has to say about it.

Me and my Abe, recently when he came to Boulder to be with us during the Pandemic. Note the phone in his hand…and just for the record, a phone hasn’t been very far from his reach since he got his first Motorola Flip Phone a short time after I wrote this story.

About Lori Dube

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