It was 2 in the morning, and I was on the bathroom floor again, in the agonies of the most violent stomach virus I’ve ever had. As I dragged myself up from the tile and back to bed, I heard tell-tale signs of trouble from my son’s bedroom, followed by a sickly, “Mommy!”

I leaned against the wall, despairing. I could barely move, let alone tend to my ailing toddler. I was still recovering from giving birth to my second son, who was only 4 weeks old at the time. I was away from home, without my husband, having brought the kids to visit my parents at their farmhouse for a few days. I was 30 — an adult by anyone’s standards. Yet in that moment, I felt as helpless and weak as a baby.

Another wave of nausea crashed over me, and I did the only thing I could think of — something I hadn’t done in decades. I staggered down the hall to my parents’ bedroom and said, “Mom? I need your help.”

It’s a code of motherhood that when those words are spoken, most mothers respond. No matter the hour, the circumstance, the exhaustion, inconvenience, or even pain involved — mothers since the beginning of time have been heeding their children’s call. My mom didn’t question. She was out of bed before I could even explain what was wrong.

The rest of the night passed in a horrid blur. At one point, I opened my bleary eyes to find myself on the living room couch, wrapped in blankets. Mom sat on the floor with Colin in the darkness, cradling him in her lap as they watched cartoons between his bouts of sickness. Assured that he was safe and taken care of, I drifted back to sleep.

That moment of renewed need for my mother is one of many I’ve had since I became a mother myself. Decades of my life prior to that had been spent actively denying so much of the wisdom and advice she tried to impart. As a teenager, I wanted to declare my independence, to get out from under her expectations, her advice, her criticism. I wanted her approval and praise, but hated that I wanted it. In college and after, I pulled away, thinking I didn’t need her anymore.

By my mid-20s, though, a subtle shift had begun. I called her more often, talking about dating, love, my first real heartbreak. Then the calls turned toward wedding plans, marriage, her fight with breast cancer, my sorrow over a miscarriage. Each phone call was a small revelation that my mom was more than a mother. She was a woman, full of the wisdom of her own life experiences, a woman I was beginning to admire and respect as a friend, confidante and touchstone.

When I brought my first-born home from the hospital, my mom was by my side for midnight breastfeeding, diaper changes, bouts of colic and illness, and a host of completely unglamorous (and yes, gross) postpartum realities. When my husband left on a business trip and my 6-month-old took sick in the middle of the night, I called her every hour all night long to ask advice on lukewarm baths, reducing fevers and administering Pedialyte with an eye-dropper. When I accidentally trimmed my son’s fingernails and made one of his tiny newborn fingers bleed, I called her in tears. Every day that I felt the terror of the responsibility I had for this brand-new life in my care, Mom was a phone call away, reassuring me.

The Night of the Stomach Flu from Hell remains vivid proof of the unquenchable love my mother has for me. Our relationship, though, is far from perfect. There isn’t another person in the world who can unsteady my convictions or leave me questioning myself more than she can. Yet I call her again and again for advice, to the point where my husband wonders at me, “Why do you do it to yourself? You know you’re going to fight with her.”

What he sees as fighting, though, is a strange dance of honesty and straight talk, denial and acceptance — the sort that’s by turns irritating or uplifting, comforting or painful. Mom and I have hung up on each other more times than I can count. Inevitably, though, our silence lasts only a few minutes before we’re calling each other again with apologies and laughter. We are equally critical of each other, but also equally forgiving.

Diaper changes and breastfeeding are small-time worries, but there have been bigger struggles. The times I’ve reached out to her with deeper concerns, with true heartbreak, terror and desperation, her judgments and criticisms fall away. It’s those times I witness her desire to take the pain from me, her desire to help but not knowing how. More than any advice she’s given me, it’s hearing that in her voice that assures me of her love, that tells me I’m not alone, and that offers me the comfort and courage to keep pushing through.

Some of my friends marvel at my relationship with my mom, saying things like, “I would never tell my mom that,” or, “I wish I could talk to my mom that way.”

I wish I knew the secret to our connection, or that I could manage to share its magic. Not all relationships are like ours. What I see as my good fortune, others might see as a burden. Still, to be able to offer up troubles, doubts, and middle-of-the-night calls to someone wanting to listen … that’s something I wish for my daughter someday.

My independence isn’t compromised by my closeness to my mom. In fact, my renewed need for her may be the greatest lesson and gift she’s given me as a woman, daughter and mother. Despite differences, fights, hang-ups and apologies, when I say, “Mom, I need you,” she comes. For as long as she’s able, she’ll always come.

Suzanne Nelson (www.suzannenelson.com) is the author of Serendipity’s Footsteps, Cake Pop Crush, and many other novels for middle grade and young adult readers. A former editor, Suzanne worked for Scholastic, Penguin Books for Young Readers, and Holiday House, and holds an MA in Antebellum Literature and History from New York University. She tweets@snelsonbooks.

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