I've been reading Tracy Kidder's book about Dr. Paul Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains, with great interest. But one passage toward the end of the book really took me by surprise. Farmer, then forty years old and married, was in Paris, spending a couple of days with his wife and daughter. He planned to catch an early-morning flight to Moscow the following day. Rather than set an alarm clock, Farmer called his mother, who was back in the states, and asked her to give him a wake-up call at 7:00 a.m. Never mind the weirdness of this request coming from a married forty-year-old man; it also meant that his mother had to stay up until 1:00 a.m. her time to make the call. Talk about a mother's devotion.
When Kidder later asked Farmer's mother about her reaction to her son's request, she said, "I just think it's so cool that at forty he still does that. I'd miss it if he didn't." Fortunately for Farmer, his wife seemed more amused than annoyed by this particular mother-son interaction. If I were Farmer's mother, though, I might have been a little concerned that he still required such long-distance care-taking. On the other hand, a mother loves to feel needed by her children, so in that regard I can totally identify with her enthusiasm about his habit of requesting wake-up calls.
I'm always inordinately delighted when one of my kids asks my advice or assistance and I'll drop everything to help. Fortunately, their requests are normally reasonable and doable and, so far, none has involved staying awake after my bedtime. It also makes me extremely happy to see my children, now in their twenties, living as independent adults. As an overprotective mother, I found it difficult to let go, but tried very hard to give them the space they needed. Now, I revel in their ability to make decisions on their own and not infrequently I ask their advice, since in many areas they're now more competent than I.
Farmer's quirky connection with his mother surprised me because he hardly seems the type to be tied to his mother's apron strings. Quite the opposite, in fact. Since his teen years, he's lived in Haiti and other third world countries, engaging in challenging work, often at great personal risk. Yet, at the age of forty he apparently still longed to be awoken in the morning by his mother. Or, at the very least, she was the only one he trusted to make sure he got to the airport on time. Peculiar, yes, but also rather sweet.