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Drivin' and Cryin'

Being a brat to mom, even as an adult

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"Are you fucking serious?!" I screamed into the phone. "I am never, ever coming back here again."

These are things you should never say to your mother. Fortunately, I'm an adult, so she can't punish me by the same means that might have worked a few decades ago, like washing my mouth out with soap or sending me to an extended time-out and "forgetting" about me for most of the afternoon. Nowadays, arguing with my mother warrants a much heavier sentence, and one that's entirely self-inflicted: guilt.

Because only a truly horrible child would feel no guilt after saying such awful words to the one person who is pretty much guaranteed to always forgive you.

In my defense, I was running on fumes. I was going on roughly two hours of sleep, en route to a long overdue visit with my family. I'd been in the car for nearly eight hours on what should have been a six-hour trip, held up by massive storms and an absurd amount of road construction. When the pelting rain finally subsided, an oddly shaped light on my dashboard blinked on. Knowing very little about cars, I assumed this light was, at minimum, a terror-alert indicator telling me that my car was about to explode.

So I did what any tired, cranky, bewildered 36-year-old child would do. I called my mom.

"There's this weird light on my dashboard," I whined. "It looks like the Yellow Submarine, so I don't think it's about oil or the engine. Can you Google it and see what it is?"

After approximately 45 minutes of Google research, my mom determined that my car was not on the verge of spontaneous combustion, and I calmed a little. I asked her to stay on the phone with me for the last leg of the trip, because it was dark, and I was tired. Parents are genetically programmed to protect their children, so of course my mother obliged. As finally I neared the exit to my mom and stepdad's house, I told her I'd see her in a few minutes and hung up the phone.

But the exit was closed. So was every following exit. (I should point out — though it will soon be painfully obvious — that I did not grow up in the city where my mom and stepdad currently live.) My GPS kept rerouting me back to the interstate, though the exits on that side were also closed. For miles, all I could see was dark, empty prairie and signs for towns with names I'd never heard of. I was getting lost.

I called my mom back in a panic.

She explained that the only alternate route she knew of — passing delightful scenery such as the city dump and a cemetery — was not only complicated, but was only accessible via labyrinthine roads cloaked in total darkness. Not safe for her child. She suggested I turn in the parking lot of the nearest landmark — the well-lit Midwestern behemoth known as Farm and Fleet — where John, my stepfather, would meet me so I could follow him back to their house.

"That's ridiculous!" I snapped back. "I'm not going to sit here and wait. I'll figure it out."

I hung up the phone and hit the gas, unwittingly heading in the wrong direction. GPS still tried to route me back to the road I'd already been on. With only a befuddled Siri as my guide, I was definitely lost. I did a U-turn and called my mom back.

"I need you to talk me through this," I wearily pleaded.

"Abby, just pull into the next parking lot and give us the cross streets," she said. "John will meet you wherever you are."

"I'm not waiting in a fucking parking lot!" I yelled back, descending into a toddler-style tantrum. "I'm about to pee my pants, and I'm so tired I can't see. Just pull up a map and talk me through it."

The next 30 minutes were the blind leading the blind: I lost count of how many times I backtracked and turned around, trying my best to follow her instructions.

Somehow, miraculously, after I used every bad word I knew, I was home. I sheepishly pulled into the driveway. My mom and stepdad walked out to help me carry my luggage in. They always help me, no matter what. After a few minutes, somehow, miraculously, everything was back to normal, and the rest of the weekend was without incident.

After our time together, I drove back to Nashville not knowing when I'd get to see my family again. On the way back to Nashville, I stop for coffee in the only convenient Starbucks on the way (it's in the awesomely named metropolis of Effingham, if you're wondering). I'm in line behind a woman my age. She's struggling with her young daughter, who is on the verge of a terror-alert-level meltdown.

My eyes fill with tears as I order my coffee. I miss my mom. I want to go home.

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