As my two sons, now 41 and 43, were growing up, I would often preface a reminder to be careful as they were headed out the door by saying: Hey, I’m a member of the Mothers’ Association and I’ve got to renew my membership so I’m required to tell you: Drive carefully.
At first, as seemingly invulnerable teenagers, they just rolled their eyes. Then they started giving snarky answers, such as: “No, Mom. I’m going to drive recklessly.” Eventually, the mother-sons exchange became a standing joke and they would pre-empt my warning by mocking it. Fortunately, these reminders and rejoinders were always done in a lighthearted spirit. We all knew I was just a worried mom and it was my way of saying “I love you.”
Imagine my shock on March 7, a Saturday morning, when my younger son, who lives seven minutes away by car, called me to FaceTime. Initially, he let his nearly 3-year-old son talk. After a few minutes, he shooed him away. I had never seen his face look so serious. He then announced sternly, “Mom, I’m ordering you not to go to your exercise class” in light of the coronavirus pandemic now rapidly infiltrating Minnesota.
Queries about other activities
Taken aback, I said, “Oh!” Next, he queried me about the status of my other regular activities that take me out into the world. In almost every case, I had already decided to curtail my activities and basically stay home. Clearly, he had heard public health officials note that older people, even those with no underlying medical conditions, were at higher risk of serious consequences if they contracted the virus.
Relieved, he went on to outline a plan that he and my daughter-in-law had developed. Even though both of them started working from home the previous week, he said he would probably keep me away from his three children, ages 8, 5 and nearly 3. That really surprised me. Typically, I pick one or more of them up from day care or school and take them home each weekday. I had been preparing myself mentally to have all three kids at my house if schools closed (which happened March 18).
Taken aback again, I said, “Oh!” His tone was somber. Suddenly, I realized: He’s a full-fledged member of the Sons Association. When I told him that, he agreed and we both laughed.
A turning point
But it occurred to me later that this conversation was indeed a turning point. At 70, I now have my two sons, who will be my “minders,” so to speak. They are going to be watching and evaluating what I do and don’t do. And they will be at the ready to intervene if necessary. I don’t know if I’m heartened or put off by that. I’ll figure that out later.
I do know we have a solid relationship of being able to say anything to each other. We’re not a family that yells at each other. Even though we may have disagreements, we respect each other’s opinions. We usually don’t offer each other advice. We talk and we listen to each other. I take comfort from knowing we have that history and am grateful for it. I know many families don’t have that foundation. For those families, I say now is the time to begin relating to each other with respect, love and humor.
I also know the Grandchildren’s Association has formed. After strapping my 5-year-old granddaughter into her car seat and getting into my seat, she almost always reminds me: “Grammy, seatbelt!” I simply thank her for the reminder. She’ll be a fine member of the Mothers’ Association someday.
Melinda Voss is a retired journalist, public relations professional and author who has a master’s of public health from the University of Minnesota. She co-founded the Association of Health Care Journalists and served as its first executive director. She has three other grandchildren in Des Moines and lives in St. Paul with her dog, Bunny, who, so far, is not telling her what to do except at mealtime.
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