Throughout my childhood, marriage, four pregnancies and births, my mom held my hand and believed in me. She's been my guiding light, my touchstone, and my source of strength.
But I never saw past her role as my mother until we traveled together to visit a beloved aunt thousands of miles away.
We kissed my four children and husband amid tears and promises, even though we planned to be away for only three days.
She slipped her arm through mine for support, and we climbed the stairs to enter the plane. I turned at the top, waved to my family standing on the tarmac, and we ducked inside.
When the engines roared, we held hands, screwed our eyes shut, and prayed together as we ascended into the sky. Neither of us enjoys flying, and we gratefully stepped off the plane after landing, enjoying the feel of solid ground below us.
At the rental booth, we dropped our bags and waited impatiently to sign out the car.
When we reached the shiny gold compact, I leaned across the windshield and peered inside. No kid's toys in the back seat or boot marks on the leather. I whistled and looked over at Mom, watching me with interest.
She dangled the keys in the air, and asked if I wanted to drive. I stared back, open-mouthed. I never drive anywhere at home.
My mother, always the one in control, happily handed over the keys and let me drive. A world away from my husband and a van filled with four noisy children, I happily snatched the keys and settled into the driver's seat.
I found my bearings quickly while Mom fretted over the map. She turned it right side up, then upside down, and mumbled something disparaging about navigating with a useless map.
I chuckled and continued driving, not concerned about getting lost. As I negotiated traffic, Mom shook her head at my newfound confidence.
Mom and I bunked down in a room with twin beds at my aunt's house. The first night we giggled and chatted as the oil furnace sputtered and roared below us.
When icicles clanged on the awning, we both jumped, then laughed at our silliness.
In the morning, when we woke up talking about all the sounds that had awakened us during the night, I felt like a schoolgirl at camp.
Each time we set out for the car, Mom asked me to drive. I clutched the keys and smiled. She settled into the passenger's seat and tucked the map in her purse.
In a place far away from children and spouses, we relaxed and enjoyed each other without distraction.
We talked about our dreams and hopes as I shuttled us from one relative's house to another. She trusted my sense of direction, and her faith filled me with pride.
Our conversations led us down paths we didn't have time for at home. As I listened to her, I began to see a woman very similar to myself, who fought to balance work, family, and herself, and sometimes came up desperately short.
I had never realized how much she sacrificed to provide stability for her family. I had never understood how my brothers and I hurt her when we selfishly demanded she stay the way we wanted her to be - a mother instead of a woman with feelings.
"I miss your father," she whispered on the last night.
I looked at her - my mother, mentor, and best friend - and saw a woman in love.
We had been away only two days, and yet she missed my dad. I had always viewed my parents' relationship from a child's perspective, and never considered how deep their devotion ran.
When Mom and I pulled into the parking spot at the airport the next morning, we sat quietly in the car. I turned the ignition off and swung the keys in the air.
"Maybe we could forget the flight and drive home," I suggested with a grin.
My mother looked at me and laughed. She reached across the seat, hugged me, and whispered, "I love you."
Our journey had turned into so much more than a visit to relatives or a time away from the kids.
It had become a journey of rediscovery of each other.
During our trip, my mom and I found something we had lost during the busy moments of our life back home - each other.
Julia Rosien lives with her husband and four children in Kitchener, Ontario.
Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting experiences, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor