It sort of surprised me.

I’m 40, with a job I love, a house, and friends who know me as well as anybody on the planet — often better than I know myself. My life is really, really good.

But I discovered that I’m a single parent of a four year old, who is a delight and also, well, a four year old. Some days she pulls all my T-shirts out of their drawer and tries them on. Some days she wants just one too many screenings of the Donny Osmond version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Some days I look around the house and am horrified by the mess, and trust me, that’s saying a lot — I have an extremely high tolerance for mess. Some days something falls apart at the very last minute, and I have to scramble to keep things together.

I’ve discovered that I want my mom.

I think of one of my best friends who wisely made the decision to move to her hometown after grad school. Now her parents are a daily part of the lives of her kids. It’s not a special treat for her kids to get picked up from school by Grandpop — it’s a regular event. My friend will be making plans for dinner, and she’ll get a call from her mom: “Macie’s going to stay here tonight for dinner. Is that okay? I’ll bring her back by bedtime.” Science fair projects have the educated admiration of the retired physician, who also helps out at Brownies.

I want that kind of family.

Let me stress here that I have friends who are phenomenal — truly better than many people’s legal families. They would do anything for me. Let me give the recent example of waking up in the hospital with a friend at my bedside. And I find that I want these friends and my mom. My friends and their families love Maybelle. But they don’t necessarily see her as the literal center of the universe, as my mom does.

For example, this morning I sent my mom an e-mail featuring a large picture of what might be a cold sore on Maybelle’s mouth. “Well?” I wrote. “What am I supposed to do?” My mom immediately replied with treatment options, including the brand of lysine I should get and where in Charleston I’m most likely to find it. She also questioned whether it was actually a cold sore, asking about how it developed, and whether Maybelle was scratching it. This was a whole page of chatty e-mail, and let me assure you, my mom was fully on board. She cared about Maybelle’s potential cold sore and possible ways to cure it.

And let’s talk about me. At the age of 40, I can still be a child with my mom — in the good ways. I can be needy. I can not only ask her to make dinner, but I can tell her what I’m in the mood for. I can curl up on the couch with her and hear about her stitch-and-bitch group. With just a word I can get her to sing “Up with People” or the entire soundtrack to The Music Man. She’d be up for becoming a member of the House of Cards club my brother and I are forming. She is game for almost anything.

My mom is the outstanding kind of mom who always makes me feel like being with me is a treat. Like buying me groceries is a treat. Like reading anything I write is a treat. So my mom has the truly admirable skill of making the people she loves feel like the center of the universe. It’s not just Maybelle. It’s me, too.

I guess this is unconditional love. I know what it feels like to receive it, and it’s pretty damned good. I hope that I can be this kind of mother to Maybelle, too, and I have the perfect role model: if I just emulate Kelly Piepmeier, then Maybelle will be really, really lucky.

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