No matter how old children get, the urge to mother them remains.

No matter how old children get, the urge to mother them remains. (iStock)

Five hours into my 13-hour drive home from our annual family vacation, I got the call. “I’m in the ER,” my daughter said in a groggy voice.

“What’s wrong?” I replied urgently, steadying the steering wheel.

It had been an unusual vacation. Normally, my husband and I would reserve the same 1970s rental beach cottage in North Carolina’s Outer Banks for us and our three children, now adults. We had been vacationing there since they were born. As a military family that moved often, the cottage had become like home to us. We also invited my mother each year, and sometimes my best friend and her family. We’d all pack into the little cottage with its ancient wood paneling and uncomfortable This-End-Up furniture, and spend a week or two taking a much-needed break from the grind.

But this summer, my husband was absent, due to recent surgery and scheduled follow-up appointments. And our son, Hayden, a young software engineer, had obligations at work that kept him from making the trip. With the two males in my family unable to come, our vacation turned into a girls’ trip. The group of women included me, my 80-year-old mother, my 25-year-old daughter Anna, my 22-year-old daughter Lilly, my BFF Patrice and her 20-year-old daughter Olivia.

As the ostensible host, I stayed at the cottage for the full occupancy, but the others showed up when their work and travel schedules permitted. We overlapped for a few fun-filled days before they each took off for their respective homes and obligations. Anna flew back to her East Village apartment in New York City three days before I checked out and began my long drive back to Rhode Island.

“I was throwing up all night and my back hurts really bad,” Anna said on the phone. “They said I have a kidney infection.” Immediately, I wanted to crawl into the phone to get to her. The misery in her voice triggered something. For three decades of being a military spouse, I’d been the primary caregiver to our three children due to my husband’s work demands. Even though our kids were mostly on their own, I still felt an urge to mother them.

I wasn’t compelled to lick Anna’s hindquarters or drop chewed worms into her mouth, but my animal instinct told me that I needed to go to her. Tuck her into bed. Take her temperature. Bring her juice. Make her soup. Clean her apartment. Kiss her on the forehead.

Stuck in my packed-to-the-gills car with our 18-month-old puppy, I careened northward on Route 13 through Maryland, prepared to detour to New York City if needed. “Are you sure I shouldn’t come?” I asked, or pleaded, more accurately, as I crossed the George Washington Bridge and saw the Manhattan skyline in the distance.

“No, Mom … I just need sleep,” she instructed after she was discharged with a prescription for antibiotics. I reluctantly continued on, arriving home just before bedtime.

The next day, a hint of need in my daughter’s text was all it took. “Do you need me to come to NYC?” I texted.

“Yeah it might help, but my apartment is really gross, I’m a bit embarrassed,” she replied. Within minutes, I was on the way to my daughter.

For two days, I mothered. I ran errands. I brought toast, fruit and yogurt. I cleaned. I tucked. I gave medications. I did laundry. I made soup. Whether it filled a need in me, in Anna, or in both of us, I wasn’t certain. All I knew is that it felt right.

On the second night, Anna turned the corner, and we decided I could go back home the next morning.

“Thank you so much for everything, Mom. You didn’t have to do all that,” Anna said as I packed my bag to go.

“Honey, believe it or not, it feels good to take care of you. I’m used to doing it, and it justifies my role as your mother,” I heard myself say.

Back on I-95 headed northward again, I realized that motherhood doesn’t end when the nest empties. We will always need our moms, and our moms will always need to mother.

Read more at and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email:

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