This Mom’s Surprise Trip To See Her Daughter At College Takes An Unexpected Turn

Published: Nov 08, 2023

McKenna was nearing the end of her freshman year at Utah State University. Her mom, Deanna Pilling, missed her dearly and wanted to give her a surprise visit. So, she packed up a suitcase and flew from New York to Utah.

Once there, she visited McKenna’s dorm room, only to find it empty. To say “hi”, she snapped a selfie while lying in McKenna’s bed. Then, something unexpected happened.

Deanna Pilling’s Surprise

Deanna Pilling’s sole intent was to surprise McKenna at college. Although Deanna had already made plans to meet up with McKenna the next day, she decided to surprise her by arriving a day early instead. 

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Clearly, Deanna missed her daughter McKenna who was all the way across the country for a whole year! Although the sentiment is easy to understand and the action came from the heart, it’s also safe to say that mom was taking a gamble by showing up without her daughter knowing in advance. 

They Were Close

That being said, mom and daughter were very close, and that closeness was something they both treasured. When the topic of college came around, Deanna thought McKenna would stay in New York. She didn’t. Instead, McKenna wanted to go all the way to Utah. 

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Although difficult, Deanna knew it was time for her little bird to leave the nest. That was the only way she would truly grow into her own person. Deanna was sad to see McKenna go but excited for her to start something new.

Doing Something Nice For McKenna

A year was a long time for McKenna to be all the way across the country. Although she was coming home for the summer, Deanna thought it would be fun for her to come to Utah as well. So, she let McKenna know she intended to make a visit.

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Deanna’s simple wish to show up at her daughter’s campus in Utah wasn’t so simple after all. It turns out that turning up at McKenna’s dorm room without a proper invitation was a recipe for disaster.

Deanna’s Last-Minute Flight

Regardless of whether it was necessary to fly to Utah if McKenna was coming to New York in just a few days, Deanna decided it was something she wanted to do. The only bug in the plan was the fact that the last day before summer break is very busy. 

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College kids are busy cleaning up their rooms and hanging out with friends. There’s not a lot of time for family matters, but nevertheless, Deanna was eager to surprise her daughter.

McKenna Doesn’t Answer

Right before getting on the flight, Deanna gave McKenna a call. She wanted to see what McKenna was up to for the night. Mom hoped the answer was “nothing really” because she planned on spending quality time with her.

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Unfortunately, however, McKenna didn’t pick up her phone. Deanna, understandably, was frustrated, but there was nothing she could do – the flight was ready to board. With that uncertainty playing at the back of her mind, Deanna boarded the plane, found her seat, and got herself ready for a long flight. 

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Deanna Touches Down In Utah

It took about five hours to get from New York to the city of Logan, where Utah State is located. Despite the slight concern about not being able to reach her daughter, Deanna was absolutely thrilled to be so close. 

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Deanna smiled to herself as she imagined the look of surprise on McKenna’s face when they would finally get to meet. With that in mind, she hopped in a cab and headed toward the campus. During the ride, her phone began to ring. It was McKenna. 

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Deanna Doesn’t Answer

The ringing took Deanna by surprise. If she picked it up and tried to act cool, she knew her surprise would be foiled because she was never great at lying. In a panicked attempt to keep her daughter out of the loop and in for a surprise, she didn’t answer her phone. 

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Instead, she let it ring. She was now minutes away from the campus now, her heart racing faster. The only trouble with her plan, however, was the fact that she didn’t know exactly where McKenna stayed. 

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Where Was McKenna’s Dorm?

In the fall, Deanna came to the Utah State campus to help her daughter get ready for school. At the time, she was too excited and nervous to pay really close attention to exactly where McKenna’s dorm was. Now, she wishes she had.

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She racked her brain trying to remember the name of McKenna’s dorm. For the life of her, she couldn’t figure it out. So, she walked around aimlessly. Her frustration grew as she tried to decide her next move.

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Deanna Gets Overwhelmed

To say Deanna was mildly frustrated is an understatement – she was properly overwhelmed! The campus was a beehive of activity. Since school was soon to be done for the summer, all the students – and many of the student’s parents – were racing around campus trying to move everything into their cars. 

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Deanna felt lost. The campus didn’t seem that big when she came here in the fall, but now that she didn’t know where to go, it seemed huge. How would she find McKenna?

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Deanna’s Low Profile

Although lost and overwhelmed, Deanna tried to stay calm. She needed to keep a low profile so she could surprise her daughter. That meant asking for directions was too risky – Deanna had no idea who knew her daughter or who might recognize her. 

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So, she kept her head down and continued the search. Unfortunately, that meant that she didn’t make any progress. She remained lost. However, she decided that pacing around campus might help her get her bearings straight, so she tried it.

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McKenna’s Dorm

It turns out that a bit of wandering worked! After pacing around the campus for a while, Deanna saw some familiar landmarks and followed them all the way to McKenna’s dorm room. From seeing McKenna’s social media posts, Deanna recognized that a bunch of the girls outside the dorms were McKenna’s friends. 

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Deanna let out a tremendous sigh of relief. This had to be McKenna’s dorm room, why else would her friends be there? Although it was a harrowing adventure, Deanna was finally where she needed to be.

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Time For An Entrance!

So, with no more time to spare, Deanna walked through the doors, down the hall, and hopped in the elevator to make it to McKenna’s floor. Upon finding her daughter’s door, she took a breath in, let it out, and knocked. 

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Nothing happened. No sound came from the other side of the door and neither did anyone walk up to answer. Deanna tried again – nothing. Now she was in a bit of a bind. Was it better to stand outside and wait or go inside?

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A Bold Move

Deanna decided that she needed to be bold. Standing outside wasn’t going to cut it, so she grabbed the door handle and jiggled it around. When doing that, she instantly realized that the door wasn’t locked. 

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That’s a bit odd, Deanna thought to herself.  Why wouldn’t McKenna lock the door? Wasn’t she concerned about intruders or thieves coming in to rummage through all her stuff? Deanna put these concerns aside and decided to act rather than think. She opened the door. 

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No Answer

Upon entering the dorm, Deanna noticed that there were a few other girls in the nearby rooms packing up their belongings for the summer. It seemed odd to her that they didn’t hear the door. Regardless, Deanna waved hello to them, walked past, and headed toward McKenna’s room. 

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She knocked again, but there was no answer. Perhaps McKenna was listening to music, or maybe she was deliberately ignoring her knocks. Regardless, Deanna grabbed the doorknob, gave it a twist, and opened the door. 

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A Surprising Sight 

Immediately upon opening the door, Deanna saw that no one was there. The room was completely empty minus some school supplies. If all McKenna’s roommates were in their rooms getting everything for summer break, why wasn’t McKenna doing the same?

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It was quite the shock. Deanna began to second-guess her spontaneous plan. Perhaps hopping on a plane from New York to surprise her daughter in a dorm room wasn’t such a great idea. Considering it was the last day before summer, McKenna was probably out hanging with her friends. 

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All Ready Already 

After processing the shock and reflecting a bit, Deanna took a closer look around her daughter’s dorm. She saw boxes tidily filled with school supplies, photos were taken off the wall and placed away, and clothing neatly folded up into suitcases. 

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Of course, McKenna wasn’t here – she had already packed everything! Although she got a touch of pride at raising a daughter to plan ahead so well, she was also a little sad that she was nowhere to be found. She must have been with friends.

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Exhaustion Reigns

After a five-hour flight, a long cab ride, and a heck of a time trying to find her daughter’s dorm, Deanna was exhausted. Not only physically, but also emotionally – all her built-up excitement only led to an empty room. 

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She looked around, a little saddened, and zeroed in on one thing left untouched: McKenna’s bed. The sheets were nicely tucked in and the pillow looked comfy. So, she took off her shoes and laid down for a bit, thinking of what to do.

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No Time To Sleep

Although exhausted, Deanna was in no mood for a nap. Plus, if McKenna came back any time soon, Deanna would feel like a fool if she wasted such a perfect (and meticulously planned) surprise by falling asleep instead. No, she would have to stay awake.

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But she couldn’t just lie there doing nothing. After thinking it over for a moment, she came to her next move: a phone call. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. She would use her phone, but not to make a call. 

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Deanna Took A Selfie

Instead, Deanna would use her phone to take a selfie. The thought of her taking a surprise selfie in her daughter’s bed filled her with good cheer, so she put on a smile, held the camera up, and snapped away. 

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After she settled on the perfect pic, she rummaged through her phone to find McKenna’s contact info. Then, she sent it off her selfie. She knew McKenna would both love it and be surprised at the fact that her mom traveled thousands of miles to see her.

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McKenna’s Unexpected Response

The message went through as Deanna stayed in the room waiting for a reply. The response, however, wasn’t what she expected. Instead of expressing her love and surprise, McKenna expressed confusion in a simple two-word reply: where’s that?

Source: @kennapilling/ Twitter

Did McKenna forget her own room? Deanna waited for clarification, which came moments later when McKenna wrote, “I’m in my dorm.” Whoops! Panic flooded through Deanna’s body as she realized what McKenna soon put into words, “ Please tell me you’re not in someone else’s dorm.”

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Lost Again 

Immediately the comfy bed turned into a pit of vipers as Deanna jumped out of it, shocked by the realization that she wasn’t in her daughter’s room. Instead, she was in some random student’s room. What if that student came back to find a random mom taking selfies on the bed? Awkward. 

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To avoid that awkward possibility becoming a reality, Deanna left the room as quickly as she entered it. Once she made it outside, she texted her daughter to confirm she was in another student’s room.

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Time For A Laugh

Now that Deanna was safely away from a potentially awkward situation – both from the incoming student and from the school staff who would have been suspicious  – she had time to reflect on the incident. She felt sick. 

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She began questioning why she went with gut instinct rather than looking at the name of the building. Then, she began to think about the other students in the dorm: what did they think about her? Rather than embarrassment, however, most of these reflections brought on laughter. 

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McKenna Is Nearby

To cut mom some slack, where she thought McKenna’s room was and where it actually was, wasn’t too far apart. Deanna was in the right dorm building and on the correct floor, she simply got the dorm room number incorrect. 

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Once she made it to McKenna’s room, her daughter was still pleasantly surprised. Plus, it turns out Deanna was in the dorm of one of McKenna’s friends, so it wouldn’t have been that awkward. Alongside surprise, McKenna got a huge laugh, so she decided to post the text on Twitter.

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A Viral Tweet

Shortly after McKenna posted the selfie and story to Twitter, her friends and followers began to comment. One comment, in particular, caught both Deanna and Mckenna’s eyes and made them both laugh. “Is that my pillow?” McKenna’s friend asked. 

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At first, the tweet garnered a few comments like the ones above. Then, all of sudden, it exploded beyond the confines of McKenna’s social network. The tweet went viral. Users simply couldn’t get enough of the funny and endearing mistake that Deanna made.

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Twitter Famous

McKenna always knew her mom was great for surprises. However, the selfie surprise visit is by far the best surprise she’s ever undertaken. The fact that the tweet went viral gave McKenna a pleasant dopamine burst – she loved the attention. 

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Who didn’t love the attention, however, was Deanna. Perhaps it was because she came from a different generation. Deanna expected the tweet to be seen and shared by a few family members and friends, so she wasn’t thrilled when it reached thousands more people.

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Deanna Wanted A Better Selfie

As time went by, however, Deanna’s attitude toward the viral tweet changed. Rather than being overwhelmed by a silly mistake being seen by thousands or millions of people, she focused on the tweet’s ability to make people laugh – which it did in droves.

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That being said, Deanna wishes one thing differently: she wishes she took a better selfie! At the time, of course, she couldn’t have known that her picture would soon go viral. Now that it did, however, she wishes she spent more time getting the perfect shot. There are certainly many heartwarming and hilarious stories about mothers and daughters out there, and here’s another one that went viral.  

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Mom Nicole Walters Didn't Hear Back From Her Eldest Daughter For Days

Nicole Walters, a 32-year-old mother of three daughters and an entrepreneur in Maryland, had her oldest daughter go to a local college. After dropping her daughter off, she didn’t hear from her for several days.

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Walters and her husband went to the college on August 22 because they were supposed to have plans with their freshman daughter. They didn’t get any responses back from her. What had happened to their eldest?

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Walters Made A Visit To The College

Since she hadn’t gotten one word out of her daughter for days, a worried Walters took action. When Walters and her husband stopped by the college one day to hang up what seemed to be a missing person flier, the video that she filmed went viral.

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Filming the aftermath of the visit, Walters posted the video on Facebook where it gained a whopping 3.6 million views. In the footage, Walters says, “She thought she could dip off and go ghost for three days. No, you won’t. What you’re not fittin’ to do, while I pay tuition, is disappear for three days.”

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Worried About Their Daughter's Wellbeing

Naturally, it’s a big deal for both the parent and child to take the next step in their respective journies. College is a wonderful rite of passage, but also a scary thing. A parent like Nicole Walters just wanted the best for her eldest daughter.

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Walters and her husband were very worried about their daughter. They also wanted to ensure that she wasn’t irresponsible, considering her mother was paying for her daughter’s education on her dime.

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Nicole's Mind Was Racing With Bad Thoughts

Their daughter was utterly silent for three days. They hadn’t received any calls or texts from her (nor any responses to their messages) and it was as if their daughter had disappeared entirely.

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A parent’s worst fear is not having any communication with their children. This was especially true for Nicole, whose mind was racing with all the things her daughter could be doing instead of studying.

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Tough Love Was Important

While this mindset and parenting style may appear to be harsh, it was an important aspect of the relationship Nicole had with her oldest daughter. After all, parents aren’t supposed to be their children’s friends.

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Parents are meant to be authority figures. Sometimes, they have to give a little tough love to their kids, while also setting boundaries that are for their good! Disciplining your children means that you love them, too.

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Confronting Their Daughter

The parents wanted to set the record straight and make sure that their daughter was prioritizing her schoolwork. They hoped that she wasn’t in any trouble.

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Nicole and her husband drove to John Hopkins University to confront their daughter (and embarrass her a bit, of course). Nicole created a flyer that she posted on her daughter’s dorm room wall with a photo of her face. The words on the flyer read: “Is my daughter being irresponsible?’

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Nicole Would Go To Extreme Lengths

She shared on social media that the next time her daughter pulled a stunt like this again, the results would be much worse. She would go as far as to print out 500 copies of the poster with her daughter’s face on it and hand them around campus.

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Nicole added her Twitter handle to the flyer. Anybody who had information about what her daughter was doing would get free pizza and a Starbucks gift card for $10. Well, college students couldn’t resist that.

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Making The Viral Video

Nicole decided to make a video that explained everything and posted it online. Nicole is a well-known public persona with a large social media following, so the video went viral extremely quickly.

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Since their eldest went MIA and Nicole detailed her story online, the viral video has garnered over 7 million views, as well as thousands of reactions and comments. Not to mention, the 66 million shares. She made it evident that she’s a parent who is humorous but also has a backbone, and parents her children with tough love.

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It Turned Out That She Was Perfectly Fine!

Luckily, Nicole’s daughter was alright. She had been preoccupied with meeting new people, while also making the most out of her college experience. But, what was she doing for 72 hours exactly? Watching Netflix and hanging out with her friends, of course.

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Their eldest daughter, nicknamed BigTiny, messaged her parents a fairly cryptic response at two in the morning, saying that she was out late. They were not satisfied with her answer and that led to questions that needed to be clarified in person. That’s why they made the trip to the college to find her.

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Nicole Taught Her Daughter A Valuable Lesson

BigTiny learned the hard way, thanks to her mom’s stunt. Her mom even reminded her that she was only a 25-minute drive away — and made it crystal clear about what her daughter was supposed to be doing in college.

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Nicole expressed to her daughter that as long as she was paying for her schooling, then she only expected her to focus on studying and getting good grades. BigTiny was attending university to get a degree, after all. She also needed to understand how distressed her parents were after they didn’t hear from her for days. BigTiny and her parents now FaceTime every week!

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The Video Was Mostly A Joke, According To Nicole

A lot of people who saw the video thought that Nicole had taken measures that were too extreme. She responded by saying that the whole video was mostly just a joke. Of course, she was concerned and worried about her oldest daughter, but she also wanted to share her story with the world through her sense of humor.

Source: Nicole Walters

Yes, there were other ways she could have handled the situation. Nicole decided to take things to another level with her primary intention to be funny. Even though the video and the entire experience taught BigTiny an important lesson, she also became the most popular freshman in her class.

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The Positives Of The Walters' Story

Going back to 2014, Nicole joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program. She was assigned a little sister who turned out to be her amazing eldest, BigTiny. Nicole ended up being introduced to her two younger sisters and took them in, as well.

Source: Nicole Walters

It was meant for Nicole to be the mother of these three girls. After Nicole and her husband had fostered the girls, they took the next step and adopted them. The Walters were a family, finally. The biggest challenge for Nicole was balancing her family and her career, but it worked out in the end.

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The Walters' Are A Happy Family

Despite that Nicole and her husband adopted their three girls, they loved them even more (perhaps a little harder) since they were handpicked to join their lovely family. BigTiny, MidTiny, and Puffin knew how fortunate they were to have such caring and loving adoptive parents.

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But for BigTiny, she would get taught a lesson a bit harder than her sisters. She had to test the boundaries and learn from her mistakes. Regardless, Nicole and her husband were still very proud of her achievements.

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Nicole Shares The Immense Love Of Her Daughters Online

It’s beyond clear that Nicole truly loves her daughters so much by how frequently she posts about them online. From photos of their family holiday celebrations to bragging about BigTiny’s impressive 4.0 GPA, to MidTiny’s homecoming pictures, and Puffin being the most adorable kid, Nicole has a special place in her heart for her daughters.

Source: Nicole Walters

She often shows off how wonderful her beloved Tinies are and how content she is with her life. Her excitement can hardly be contained! Nicole also feels like as soon as they came into her life, their grades improved, too. Not only did they enrich her life, but she also enriched theirs.

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The "Helicopter Parenting" Approach

Nicole and her husband approached parenting the old-school way, which may be a technique that’s criticized by parents today. This approach makes parents seem as if they’re constantly “hovering” over their children like a hawk.

Source: Nicole Walters

Nicole’s method of parenting is more traditional than how it is these days, which isn’t good or bad. It just meant that children were supposed to respect the rules and wishes of their parents. One thing is for sure: BigTiny’s mom taught her a lesson that can’t be taught in any college class.

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