When was the last time you called one of your parents? Really think for a second. Was it this morning? Last week? Last month? And was it a quick 15-minute check-in or a long, deep conversation?
When I think about some of these questions myself, I realize a lot of the phone calls I have with my mom tend to be shorter and shallower than I'd like — and more infrequent. So in an effort to really catch up and bond on a more emotional level, I set out to call my mom once a day for one straight week with the intention of moving beyond just small talk.
Not entirely knowing what to expect, I decide to jump right in with...
“Are you catching Pokémon over there?” It’s 80 degrees in my apartment, so my “AC” (aka my single portable fan) is on high and blowing directly in my face while I talk to my mom on the phone. To her on the other end, the sound of the oscillations is me catching Pokémon on Pokémon Go. Tbh, I’m offended she thinks I’m ignoring her to...what, pursue a 220 CP Doduo?
She lets me ramble on about a book launch I had attended after work before telling me she’s switching cable providers because her current one is too expensive. As an encyclopedia of TV knowledge, I start listing all the shows I know she watches regularly. “Don’t forget to re-record Dr. Phil when the new cable box arrives! Oh, and Ice Road Truckers...and Forensic Files!” You know, exactly what comes to mind when you think “mom show" — but it feels good to be of service despite our distance, even if it is for something so minor.
Being the kindest and most selfless person I know, she asks about my roommate, Tyler, whose birthday is tomorrow, and then goes down the list, asking about Mark in Minneapolis, Deion in Florida, Amy in Arizona, etc. Like I said: self. less. But I remind myself that this one-week challenge isn’t meant to be me rattling on for a half hour about TV and my friends, so I turn the focus on her: “So, how are you feeling about Grandpa?”
Earlier today, she texted me saying a doctor had found cancer in his lower gum area and we wouldn’t know more until another appointment on Tuesday. “I just worry so much,” she says. “I know there’s a lot more that can be done now than 60 years ago, but it’s still very scary. And Grandma is a wreck.” I suggest she just get some rest for now and try not to worry until she absolutely has to.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” I promise, forgetting for a moment that I’m supposed to call as part of this challenge anyway.
How I feel: ☺️ but also 😕
“I’m a hot mess. Literally.” After our 70-minute call from the day before, we inevitably start talking about the weather. Heat. Humidity. The whole nine yards. I have to sneak the call in between work and my roommate’s birthday party, so although I feel bad, it feels more obligatory than yesterday’s talk.
Finally, we shift the topic away from the difference between Michigan and New York temperatures when she asks, “Have you seen that new horror movie yet? I’ve been waiting for you to give me a review!” You see, like me, she loves watching anything murdery; it’s perhaps our strongest mother-son bond. (We binge-watched all of Making a Murderer on Christmas Day last year, and it was probably my favorite Christmas to date.)
When the conversation moves to her dog, Starly, licking all her blankets and peeing on the carpet, I politely interrupt to say Tyler’s ready to head out now — but what I’m thinking is, I love you dearly, Mom, but it’s time for me to get my drank on.
How I feel: excited to visit home again
“Hot dogs and eggs. That’s all I have in this house.” In an effort to move past surface-level conversations about TV shows and horror movies, I ask about my mom’s job. Not only has she been at the same company for 35 years, but she’s also never missed a day of work in that entire time. If it’s not a planned vacation day, she’s there working her butt off. (Are you beginning to see why she’s the best ever yet?!) But recently, they drastically changed everyone’s pay schedule, a pay schedule my mom has been used to for three decades. It’s completely thrown off her billing cycles and routine, and she tells me she’s been living solely off hot dogs and eggs while she figures out how to readjust. I feel awful for her, but it's comforting to know we both struggle with the usual adult problems.
“Speaking of work,” she says, “Cheryl [her co-worker] told me about this new William Shatner show! I started watching it and OMG you will DIE!” It’s not often my mom is the one using abbrevs or recommending shows to me, so I express as much interest as possible — which leads her to begin describing entire scenes from this show about four old men in “hilarious situations”; her laughter is deafening, and I have to move the phone away from my ear. “I just love that William Shatner,” she says. “If you're ever bored or in need of a good laugh, turn it on.”
Tbh, it sounds like the last thing I’d ever voluntarily watch, but I laugh and tell her OK.
How I feel: like a kindred (broke) spirit 💸
“I’m miserable,” my mom says. “Why?” I ask. “I don’t know. Just...everything. And this d*mn dog let a mosquito in the house. Son of a—” I hear swatting noises, then — just two seconds later, in her best talking-to-a-baby voice — she says, “Say hi to Daniel, Starly!” Silence. Then back to addressing me: “C’mon, keep talking into the phone.”
And just like that, I spend the next five minutes “speaking” to the dog.
After Starly is done “responding,” my mom tells me she’s been compulsively cleaning the house all day but is finally almost done. “I wonder if it’ll stay that way by the time I get home for Christmas,” I joke. She laughs then stops for a second. “I’m still trying not to think about…” She gets choked up thinking about Grandpa, and I do too.
After we get the emotional stuff out of the way, she gives me an update on her new cable sitch. She says she has 19 recorded shows she has to finish in just a couple days before they take away the old box and replace it. “I’m gonna be up until midnight every night just to clear these out!” she says. I recommend that she just skip the Dr. Phils altogether.
When we’re done talking, she says, “Thanks for calling me again, hon. Makes me feel good."
How I feel: good too
“I’ve never seen so many d*mn pillows in my life.” Today feels like one of the more obligatory filler calls. Using common sense, I advise her to get rid of some of her pillows if she thinks she has too many.
If this call already sounds tedious, just wait...
Although she’s not a huge shopper or spender, for some reason my mom is obsessed with QVC (I blame my truly shopping-obsessed aunts). When I'm home and she has it on, she'll say stuff like “Look, look, a new Joy bag!” or “I just love my David mugs, but I don’t have *this* color yet!” So it was only a matter of time before her favorite shopping network popped up in conversation this week.
Apparently one of her QVC enabler co-workers gifted her with a $25 card to spend on overpriced houseware items available in 42 shades of magenta, so I listen as my mom describes ordering a $24.99 doormat that “magically traps dirt from your shoes before you walk into the house.” So...just a doormat? I think. But regardless, I’m happy for her and excited to see her new doormat with a giant J on it when I visit in a few months.
Oh, I forgot to mention? It’s monogrammed.
How I feel: 💤
Welp. On Day 6, I try calling my mom after seeing a movie, but she must already be asleep because she doesn’t answer. BUT still wanting to stay true (ish) to the challenge, I try to keep in contact as much as possible throughout the day via text.
We discuss the newest fast-food fads...and the reemergence of older ones:
And then later in the afternoon, she has to give me updates about Gpa via text. She hates texting important things, but she doesn’t want to wait until later to have to tell me in case I hear from a cousin or other family member first:
It kills me that we can’t immediately talk over the phone about it, but maybe having a day to emotionally decompress separately is good. And despite the circumstances, my mom tries to keep a positive attitude, even though I know she’s probably crying at home.
In the face of something scary, we both try to maintain a sense of regularity in order to make it through.
How I feel: bonded
On the final day, I stop taking notes. I don’t think about the seven-day challenge or worry about jotting down funny quotes from the conversation. Instead, I just listen and reflect.
Today’s call strikes a perfect balance of everything we’ve talked about before; it’s emotional but silly, as much about TV as it is about family and feelings. The majority of it, of course, is spent unpacking my grandpa’s diagnosis. Sure, it’s certainly a somber topic, but it helps strengthen our relationship and allows my mom to talk more about her emotions. It feels good to be open with each other.
We spend the rest of the conversation treading familiar territory: She shows me Starly on FaceTime and makes me speak “dog” to her more, QVC plays in the background on low volume, and we talk about how excited we are for the premiere of one of our favorite horror shows later tonight. But these things that seemed somewhat tedious before feel so welcome now. Even if we don’t talk on the phone every day or every other day after this, I make an indelible mental note always to make time to talk, whether it’s about something silly like having too many pillows or serious like a family member’s health. Just doing it is so important, even when it gets deep or difficult — and if you're hung up on whether or not to answer when you see Mom or Dad pop up on the screen, it’s only regrettable if you don’t have the conversation at all.
The “challenge” as a whole reminded me how thankful I am to have such a loving, supportive, funny (and again: self. less.) mom. I love her for all her talk of home shopping products and her lack of cooking skills, not in spite of those things, and before we’re even done talking, I already honestly can’t wait to catch up again soon.
Later that night, after we hang up, I browse the TV for something light and funny to watch when I remember that ridiculous William Shatner show she recommended. I play the first episode, rolling my eyes before the intro even ends — but damnit, I let myself laugh.
How I feel: ❤️, ☺️, and 🙏
Design by Tyler Naugle