What's wrong with this picture?
Soon after I sent out a stack of cards announcing my daughter's birth, my mom called me with an announcement of her own: She had been awarded a Fulbright to teach English literature in Morocco. She would be selling her home in northern California and relocating to Morocco's capital city, Rabat.
"Congratulations, Mom!" I said into the phone.
And I meant it. Sort of.
But when I hung up, I thought, How can she do this to me?
Just weeks earlier, as my daughter was being born in a midtown Manhattan hospital, my mother's plane touched down at Kennedy Airport.
She held her granddaughter – her first and only so far – only hours after she was born. My mom then spent all week waiting on me: She was right there with glasses of iced water and plates of cut-up fresh fruit. She held the baby while I showered and calmed me down when little Mae wouldn't nurse.
I was 27 years old – the same age my mother was when she had me.
I was grateful to have her there when I became "Mom" myself. I'd been thinking seriously about moving back to California so I could raise my daughter closer to our extended family. I imagined how my mother would share her dinner recipes with me and how I'd drop my daughter off at her house for sleepovers.
But instead, the summer after I gave birth, my mother was packing her bags and flying across the Atlantic Ocean, where she would put her college French to good use.
Most people don't have a mother who moved to Morocco on a Fulbright, as mine did. But many of us know what it's like when our extended family lives far away. We wish we could call a grandparent on a moment's notice and get some immediate support.
American family life simply isn't what it used to be a few generations ago, when you left home but remained physically close to your family. Most of my friends' families are spread out far and wide. Most of our kids' grandparents live across the country, not around the corner. Every time I turn around, it seems as though modern-day grandmothers – such as my mom – are taking advantage of their empty nests to have adventures for the first time in their lives.
But why was it so hard for me to let her go?
That was an amusing thought. Just a decade ago, wasn't it my mother who was trying to let me – her oldest daughter – go, when I left home for college?
To make matters worse, my mother didn't know how to use e-mail. She claimed she was terrified of it – so after she left the United States, we sent each other short notes by sluggish snail mail. I always included little snapshots of her granddaughter.
One afternoon, when 6-month-old Mae and I weren't feeling well, my mother called. Although the phone line was crackly, just hearing my mom's voice comforted me.
"It's Gi Gi!" I said to Mae. (My mother had quickly dismissed the name "Grandma.") But who was Gi Gi to her? They'd only met once, the week Mae was born, and, of course, she wasn't going to remember that.
"Look," my mom said. "I have only one minute on this phone card, but I just wanted to call and say how much I miss you!."
She told me about her favorite outdoor cafe that faced the ocean, where she sat drinking mint tea. She said that the previous week, while riding in a taxi downtown, she'd spotted the king outside his castle.
I listened, but only halfheartedly. I wanted to tell her that we didn't feel well and that I missed her. I wanted to ask for her chicken soup recipe and have her tell me that being alone with a fussy baby isn't easy but it will pass. But then our time was up, and the line went dead.
After my daughter's first birthday, I was packing boxes to move back to California. When I looked closely at my relationship with my mother, I couldn't help but wonder if we were switching roles.
I was moving back to my hometown, while she was striking out on a thrilling voyage of her own.
As it turns out, my long-distance relationship with my mom was not brief.
Even after her Fulbright ended, my mom called to say she wasn't coming home. On the crackly phone line, she explained: "I've fallen in love Morocco. I have another teaching job here. I miss you!"
Today, I'm on the home front, raising my daughter, while my 59-year-old mother is out buying Moroccan rugs at the market.
But life is moving forward. This year, my daughter turned 6, and my mother learned how to send e-mail. But she can't open attachments yet, so I still send her photos of Mae by regular mail.
When my mother comes to visit us, her arms are full of gifts. She offers me bags of couscous, hand-blown tea glasses, and pottery.
And I know that it must be my turn to let go.