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by Elizabeth Spencer

Being the mom of older kids is largely an on-call position.

I never know when I might have to report for work. I’m rarely off-duty, but sometimes, I’m just sitting around the stationhouse, waiting for the siren.

This on-call assignment is a change from the mom shift I worked during new and early motherhood. That was a 24/7 deal. Of course, moms of older kids are moms all day, every day, too. Once a mom, always a mom. It’s just that when my children were small, they pretty much needed me (or were on the verge of needing me) every waking hour and many supposedly sleeping hours.

Now that my littles are big, they still need me and often in heavier, deeper ways. But their needing happens with irregular regularity, in fits and starts. They’re gaining independence, as they should, so they don’t need me as much…until they do. At which point, they often need me a lot.

When my children got to the point of being away from me more than they were with me, I exchanged a baby monitor for a cell phone that is never far out of reach and almost never off.

on call with teens

I am always available for my teens. (Twenty20 Bruce Mars)

Now I watch for text updates about where my kids are and how they’re doing.

Now that my kids are grown, I’m an on-call mom and these are the things I watch for:

  1. I watch the clock.
  2. I watch for headlights turning into our driveway.
  3. I watch for my children to walk through the door.
  4. I go about the rest of my life during this watching, but I’m always on call.
  5. I’m on call for the teary voicemail—”Mom?! Are you there?!”—when my new driver backs into a dark car she doesn’t see on a dark night.
  6. I’m on call sometimes, still, for drop-off and pick-up, when that new driver just needs to be a passenger again.
  7. I’m on call when my children get calls that break their hearts.
  8. I’m on call when they’ve done something they think might break my heart.
  9. I’m on call when my high schooler needs a voice outside her own head telling her, “I’m calling school. You need an emotional health day.”
  10. I’m on call when my children get good news and the first thing they think is, “I can’t wait to tell mom.”
  11. I’m on call when my big kids know they need to say no but need mom to say it first.
  12. I’m on call when they don’t know what they need but they know they need something, and so as much as it’s within my power and in their best interests, I speak (or text) four of the most reassuring words in the mom arsenal: “I’ll be right there.”

This on-call status isn’t the same thing as being on hold. I’m not living my life halfway, waiting for my children’s lives to take priority. I’m doing my jobs, pursuing my passions, enjoying the benefits of this stage of the parenting game—which are many. I’m also not dropping everything to rescue my big kids every time they get themselves into messes they need to get themselves out of on their own.

I will be right here for my kids, whenever they need me.

But I’m here. I’m the exit plan or the escape route or the roadside assistance or the help line or the safety net. I’m not trying to make life artificially easy for my children, but I am trying to be available to make it easier.

I don’t plan to retire from this on-call position anytime soon. My children may, in the course of things, become full-time employees or newlyweds or new parents. But they’ll still always be my children, and I’ll still always be their mom.

I’ll be on standby if they need to vent about a bad boss or want help moving into a new apartment. I’ll be at the ready if my babies have their own babies and need to be mothered while they mother. I’ll be first in line when they have news to share that anyone else would find insignificant but that I will want to know every last detail about.

I’m on-call for my children. I’ll always be on-call for them. I consider it a privilege.

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