When I'm sick I want my mom

I’ve been taking a new medication that makes me sick to my stomach. The other day at a lunch to honor a student, I had to push past the person next to me and get to the bathroom. I almost didn’t make it before being “sick.”

This is the British word for vomiting, tossing your cookies, worshipping the porcelain god, throwing up, or whatever you say. It sounds more dignified to my ear than these do.

As I was being sick, tears streamed down my face. I’ll be the first to cop to being a cryer, but I was not sad at this moment. Embarrassed, yes, but not upset. I believe tear ducts must be in some way connected to the gag reflex, because I always cry when I vomit.

I believe in the mind/body connection. Stress can trigger a headache, for instance, but it works the other way around too. Spontaneous, sick-triggered tears can make you sad. As I knelt on the tile floor, I wanted my mom in the worst way.

My mind wandered, as it does when you’re on your knees in a public bathroom heaving. I’ve never understood why I want my mom when I’m sick, though I almost always do. Whenever I felt bad, she always said, “It’s just gas.” She did not pamper and soothe. My dad did that.

When I had the mumps at age 14, he made me a banana milk shake every afternoon for two weeks. I’ll always associate banana milk shakes with nurturing.

It used to drive me absolutely nuts that she was so dismissive. Instead of just turning to my dad for comfort I kept coming back to her, expecting her to be someone she would never be. I felt that she had failed me as a mother.

Being a mother carries with it so much cultural freight. The minute you’re pregnant, the world drapes a heavy mantle on your shoulders, expectations of being the perfect mother. I used to call  “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” the most popular pregnancy manual of my era, “What Would Jesus Do.” It set an impossible standard. I fantasized about burning it.

As an aside, there was a woman at our birthing class who took cigarette breaks, and I’d imagine her lighting up when I had to look up something in the WWJD. But, I digress…

If we accept this mantle the world drapes on motherhood, we’re going to fail. My mom did, and I have. It turns out that even if we want to fill the roles the world burdens us with, we’ll never be able to do it. People don’t work that way.

Sometimes when I miss my mom (she died in 1992), I realize that I’m really “missing” the person she never was. I want the ideal, the MOM that the WWJD and the USA promised me.

And then, my knees started hurting from kneeling on the filthy floor of a public restroom. I got up, washed my face, rinsed my mouth, and tried to look normal. 

As I headed back to my table, I flagged down the waitress for some saltines.

A colleague said, “Hey, are you ok?” And I said, “yes,” because I was.

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Filed under: Grief, Uncategorized

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