The flight of our eldest three children from the nest left Lily, the baby of our family, holding together the mother lode of mother. She’s was a good kid – quite mature for only almost sixteen. But then she had the luxury of being witness to half a decade of adolescent angst, first loves, soul crushing rejections, minor criminal activity and mood swings in our lively home. As a result, at sixteen she was a fairly responsible girl. Her siblings recognized that, and in their absence they handed her a hefty assignment: take time out from hang’n with your friends, and allow mommy to mommy-you. It might keep a check on her email-stalking. (I hadn’t discovered texting yet.)
Lily would call at the end of a chilly school day and ask me for a lift home. My deal always was that I would help them get to school – I was at home with a car in a household struck with early morning tardiness – but they had to find their way home from classes on their own. When Lily called for a ride I’d perform the obligatory hemming and hawing, especially if she’d caught me half way across the city, and then I’d easily give in. Or after she’d headed downtown with friends to hunt for the newest must-have alternative rock CD, or to peruse the vintage clothing shops, she would phone and ask if I was hungry. Did I want her to grab us a table at that Latin place on Fourth Street we like, or maybe the coffee shop on Thirty-third with the nachos and good lattés, so that she could tell me how her day went?
There was a time back when three or four of them were still living at home, when I would have been too busy racing between after school activities to indulge one of them with a slow meal in a nice setting. I suppose no one was inviting me to do that back then either, though. No one was on Assignment Mom.
I’ve been known to direct the rest of the family to be cautious of how we treat the baby of our clan, “Don’t pamper her. You’re not doing her any favours,” I’d say. But the tables had turned on me. One afternoon Lily overheard me joking with a good friend, none of whose kids had flown the coop yet. “This is what I suspect happened,” I conjured, “when Lily’s siblings made their whirlwind visits home at Thanksgiving, they took their baby sister aside, and to keep the swarms of my emails to the away kids at bay, they’d whispered to her, “Do us a favour, Lily. Indulge Mom once in a while. Let her buy you lunch. Tell her all your troubles. Pamper her. Really, it’s good for her – and us.” In response to my friend’s laughter Lily stuck her head into the kitchen and categorically told me that our mid-week dates were always her idea, and that nobody had to make her hang out with her mom.
And in fact, those dates on Fourth St. or Thirty-third with my dramatic youngest detailing her day, while we sipped virgin Margaritas or steaming lattes, were occasions I wouldn’t have forsaken for all the world. The truth was that Assignment Mom, voluntary or not, worked for both of us.