Dear Mom: I Needed You. You Did Not Come.

That was the message, scribbled on a torn, scratch piece of paper. It was a simple, easy-to-miss message, and yet it still echoes in my bones all these years later. I’ve held on to that tiny piece of paper, propped atop a cabinet, so I never forget.

My daughter, now 17, was in elementary school at the time. It was one of those nights when we read some books together at bedtime and rather than snuggling for a bit as she fell asleep, I decided I had more important things to do.

It was likely some work-related emails I needed to answer, or something I wanted to cross off some obscure list, or it could have been a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. No matter, I had promised to do whatever I so “desperately” needed to do and to return soon.

But by the time I returned, she was asleep and there laying on the floor was the note.

“20 minutes passed, you didn’t come. I needed you.”

I remember picking it up, reading it and starting to cry. I had traded a moment in time with my child for something that would never amount to more than a glorified scratch through an item on a to-do list. The moment was gone. I would never get it back. No do-overs.

And sure, there are lots of moments but it’s always when you think it doesn’t matter that it matters most. It’s not so much the big moments as the really teeny tiny ones when they want to whisper their thoughts, share a dream or spill out something they find scarier than any bugaboo under the bed.

The truth is, they are never on our time clock. They share their secrets, musings and thoughts in pockets of time and if we aren’t present or listening, we are the ones who miss out. If we aren’t ready when they are, the moment is usually lost. We finish whatever it is we have to do and when we circle back, they no longer have anything to say. They’ve moved on and so too has our moment.

That’s the thing about parents, maybe more importantly about moms, we’re needed at the most unexpected times. And it’s when we drop everything, or set aside our electronic contraptions, our children understand they are more important than anything else on this planet. Words are just words. What we actually do is everything.

It’s funny. I can only recall one time when my own mom didn’t show up when I needed her which speaks volumes about all the times she did show up.

Distraught the summer my dad died, my mom arrived late for my 16-year-old moment in the sunshine at summer camp. I’ve never forgotten the disappointment I felt when I saw her shuffling across the pebbled rocks, minutes after my big event had come and gone.

While there may have been other times, that’s the moment I recall. For the rest, she always seemed to be there, no matter what. When sick, she was there with cold washrag in hand, sitting beside the toilet bowl as my stomach churned. When I needed someone to hear the ramblings of my heart, she sat silently, usually perched on a hard toilet seat cover as I soaked in the tub, or fixing some midnight snack as I babbled on into the wee hours of the morning.

She even showed up in my early thirties when a marriage disintegrated into something that played out like a poorly produced movie on the Lifetime channel. Packing up whatever we could fit in her red Jeep Cherokee, she drove me and my six-month-old child away from hell to safety.

She never complained. She never said, “I told you so.” She may have asked a few questions but mostly she just listened. And above and beyond everything else, she showed up. I needed her and she came.

People can tell you they love you. They can speak all kinds of wonderful wonderments, promising everything, but if they don’t show up, it’s just hollow words.

Yes, there are times, for whatever reason, we can’t be there. But when we can, we should. May I never forget these nine simple words: “20 minutes passed, you didn’t come. I needed you.”