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THESE TUNDRA SWANS have a seemingly peaceful and uncomplicated life, and dont have to worry about their loved ones living far away in outlandish places. Swans dont use the phone, and could never be wracked with the same kind of response that Jane recently had to endure when she saw a billboard instructing motorists to Call Your Mom.

VIOLA - Three times a week, as I drive Highway 14 from Viroqua to Richland Center, I pass a large billboard with three words on it. There’s no advertisement, endorsements, nonprofit, or charity associated with it. Only the words “Call Your Mom.”

Depending on the day, those three simple words can make my shoulders slump forward while my hands clench the wheel or make me sit up straighter and sing out loud to the music playing on the radio. 

When was the last time you called your mom?

Calling your mom or other family members isn’t always easy. Sometimes you have to clear your schedule for 30 minutes to allow time for an uninterrupted conversation. You may need to be prepared to leave a message for the thousandth time, or make the decision to just hang up if no one answers. Or you might have to wait endlessly and inconvenience someone who has to go find your relative and then remind them how to hold the phone and to say hello.

I think of friends whose parents have died, are in hospice, or from whom they are estranged. Calling your mom can be impossible, no matter how badly you’d like to talk to her.

Dane told me recently he’d give anything to be able to call and talk to his mom. Dane’s mom died two years ago. Dane had given up calling her at the nursing home because the phone confused her. Instead, he went to see her every day after work. Luckily, it was only a fifteen-minute drive.

As an adult I learned, even after the most difficult phone calls with my mom, to try to end them with the words “I love you.” Tomorrow may be different; my mom may die or I may get hit by one of those monster trucks while driving down Highway 14.

As I passed the sign this week, I thought of all the different places I’ve had to call my mom in the past few months: first her apartment; then, after her fall, the hospital, followed by a ‘holding place, ’where she had to wait three days before being admitted to a care center to recover; the creepy care center itself; and finally her new assisted-living home. 

My sister, Jill, who has Alzheimer’s, doesn’t have her own phone and I’ve decided I won’t call anymore. The staff at her memory care center has to take the phone to her and guide her through the process. Our conversation is limited by Jill’s inability to recognize my voice on the phone. I’ve decided mailing short notes is a better option, even if someone has to read them to her. Everyone loves getting mail!

As for calling my daughter, who is married, works full-time, and has two children at home, both with chronic illness, I try to be satisfied leaving a message if she doesn’t answer.

For now, I try to drive home to see my family each week I’m able. I’d thought once my mom was settled maybe monthly visits would work, along with weekly phone calls, but talking to her on the phone has become as challenging as talking to my sister. I need to be there in person for both of them. Being able to visit my daughter during those trips is a bonus.

When I talk to my friends about going home on the weekends, they respond by saying I’m a good daughter, mother, or sister. Hearing those words makes me cringe. 

No, I’m not! I caused my mom a lot of stress, when I was a wild child. I’m certainly not in the running for world’s best mom. And my sister and I were never close and are about as different as night and day.

But they are my family, and I try. No matter what, I love them.

Is blood thicker than water? I’m not sure, but I do know that I will protect them, defend them, and care for them as well as I can, and love them as long as we live. 

I’d like to be sitting straighter and singing out loud every time I pass that billboard. But I won’t be, because life isn’t always easy. It’s hard to work to make a living and still have time for the important things, like family. 

Call your mom if you can. Call your sister or your brother. Send a card for Mother’s Day. We may not be the best parent, child, or sibling, but we can try.