My Mama Gives the Best Hugs—I Haven’t Had One of Hers in Two Years

Selfie of Tonja Stidhum and her mother Betty Stidhum in Chicago.
Selfie of Tonja Stidhum and her mother Betty Stidhum in Chicago.
Photo: Tonja Stidhum

I’ll never forget the moment I told my mama I was moving to L.A.

“I’m not happy here, Mama,” I told the woman I affectionately call “Dalai Mama,” as I explained to her that it was time to leave my beloved hometown of Chicago to finally chase my dreams. I felt her bristle with the anxiety of a mother imagining her youngest child moving over 2,000 miles away. The tension, though fleeting, engulfed her Chevrolet Malibu like a thick fog. After she let my words hang in the air for a moment, she finally said with a confidence that allowed me to exhale, “I support you.”

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Since moving to the City of Angels in 2015, I’ve visited Chicago at least once a year—typically for Christmas, my favorite holiday (because, in my family, I get the same amount of food as Thanksgiving...plus gifts!). I’ve even managed to throw in the occasional surprise visit, just to see the look on my mama’s face, which has been epic. In 2019, our family lost my aunt—and in turn, we all lost our holiday spirit. So, I decided not to visit Chicago during the 2019 holidays, instead planning to visit in the summer of 2020. Of course, I had no idea that my postponement would immediately precede an entire recommended travel ban due to a global pandemic.

The last time I stepped foot in Chicago was April 2019, for my aunt’s funeral. That was the last time I hugged my mama.

If I could succinctly describe what it’s like to sink into my mama’s hugs, I’d call it a “love cocoon.” When she wraps her arms around me, squeezing me tightly, I inhale the scent of her—a delightfully warm combination of memories including garlic, wine, elegant perfume, fresh grass and chamomile tea. She typically lets out an exuberant, “Oh boy!” right before she releases me, as I giggle.

While physically apart in different cities, I find solace in our daily corny joke texts (It’s part of the reason why I love Mrs. Tina Knowles Lawson’s Corny Joke Time so much!); the way she calls the handsome men I get to interview “stud muffins”; the recollection of life stories she tells over and over as if they’re new; her unwavering support and encouragement of my career journey...and even the struggles of teaching a technologically-averse parent to use Zoom just because I want to see her face.

Vintage photo of Betty Stidhum and Tonja Stidhum.
Vintage photo of Betty Stidhum and Tonja Stidhum.
Photo: Tonja Stidhum

I miss hearing her patented outgoing message on the answering machine (yes, she still has one!), quoting Psalm 118:24. I miss plopping onto her queen-sized bed to watch marathons of vintage game shows. I miss her hot water bread. I miss her peach cobbler. I miss watching When Harry Met Sally or Something’s Gotta Give with her and throwing out random quotes from each as a comforting inside-joke. I miss sitting down next to her while reminiscing over old family photos, which we refuse to keep in a photo album, instead finding some comfort in our photo shoeboxes.

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I miss squinting and smiling at the freckles on her cheeks. I miss her slow-rumbling laugh. I miss the chime of her majestic grandfather clock, which I can still somehow hear in my head when I visit her house, even though it’s now broken. I miss her poking my ample butt (the thickness of which I get from my paternal grandma, as my mama is quite petite) and murmuring a hilarious sound (“Bomp!”). I miss sitting in the passenger seat of her car, enveloped in her velvet-toned voice singing along to Nancy Wilson, Billie Holiday or Anita Baker. I miss watching her step to an old jam in the kitchen. I even miss the agonizingly hot sun on the back of my neck as I kneel down to pick the weeds in my mother’s garden.

Most of all, I miss her hugs.

I’ve probably indulged in 50-11 hugs from my mama in my lifetime so far, but there are specific hugs that stand out, such as tasting the bittersweetness of my tears as I melted into the nook of her neck when she dropped me off at O’Hare Airport in 2015, with LAX on the horizon.

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Both of us are now fully vaccinated and I have something to look forward to—I’ll be reuniting with her in Chicago in early June (right before she comes back with me to visit LA for the first time). Undoubtedly, hugging her for the first time in two years will transform me into a blob of boo-hoos. I cry sometimes when I think about it, wistfully. I’m crying while writing this.

I’ll never forget the moment I realized I was no longer happy in my hometown...but I’ll always remember how happy it feels to be with my mama...because she’s home.

DISCUSSION

By
ofaycanyouseeme

Miss! Why are you trying to make me cry? I hope you get to hug your mom again very very soon!

I made the move from Chicago to LA in 2007 due to being SUPER unhappy in Chicago. It’s just not for me, and I lived there twice. I’m way happier in LA, and I’m pretty sure it’s were I’m supposed to be. Are you happier here too?