Deanna Pilling was forced to do one of the hardest things she’d ever done in her life—let her daughter McKenna go. It wasn’t easy, but she knew it was time for her little girl to leave her home in New York City so she could go to college at Utah State University. But then Deanna did something unexpected that rocked both of their worlds.
When McKenna got the text from her mother that she was at her campus, she was shocked because her mom gave her no prior warning that she was visiting. It shocked her even more when the next text she got from her mother was a selfie that simply said, "Look where I am!"
Like Mother, Like Daughter
McKenna Pilling and her mother Deanna were as close as mother and daughter could be before McKenna left to go to college in 2015. This would be her daughter's first time away from home, and away from her parents, in her life and Deanna sometimes worried about whether she'd be able to make this transition work.
She Was a Wild Soul
McKenna was a smart girl with a good head on her shoulders, and above all, she knew what was important to her. Those things included her family, her faith and her drive for being a good person who helps other. Deanna knew this about her daughter, but she wasn't always sure if she was the best role model.
They Had an Unbreakable Bond
McKenna and Deanna had a few things in common including their tenacity and humor, but Deanna knew that there were a few things that she hoped her daughter didn't inherit, including her scatterbrained tendencies and forgetfulness. And when McKenna left for college, Deanna had a few other worries, too.
They Had a Tight-Knit Family
While McKenna grew up, she was very close to both of her parents and she cared a lot for her friends. But most parents fear that their kids may forget their social tendencies and become alienated when they first go to college for the first time, and Deanna and her husband had these worries too.
Her Parents Were So Proud of Her
McKenna's parents weren't too worried about her daughter's safety at the private college that she had been accepted to, but they were worried about her emotional wellbeing. They both knew first hand how difficult and isolating the first year of college could be, and they didn't want their daughter to be homesick for even a second.
She Was Ready to Go
McKenna knew that she was ready to start her adult life on the right foot and she knew that she had found the perfect place to do that: Utah. She was accepted to Utah State University in her senior year of high school, and despite living in New York, she was ready to trek across the country to go to school, but what did her parents think about the move?
Her Dad Voiced His Opinions
McKenna's father was supportive of his daughter, but as a coach who worked at her high school, he knew what a negative effect some young people could be on each other. But as much as he wanted to keep a close eye on his daughter, there were just some things that he couldn't control.
She Finished Her Senior Year
McKenna's senior year finished without a hitch and while some kids scramble down to the wire to figure out what they'll be doing come graduation time, McKenna seemed to have her whole life planned out in front of her. But she soon learned with the help of her mother that not everything in life goes according to plan.
They Celebrated Her Graduation
When McKenna and her family celebrated her graduation, they thought that she was growing up too fast, but McKenna couldn't wait for her summer vacation to end so she could finally start the fast track to the rest of her life. And her family really hoped that she wouldn't try to grow up too fast, because she may spread herself too thin in the process.
She Was Always on The Other Side of the Camera
McKenna's mother noticed one way that she and her daughter were radically different during that summer: McKenna’s mother didn’t always like to take photos of herself because she thought that she sometimes looked goofy while smiling for the camera. But she was always proud to take photos of her daughter, who seemed to shine in the spotlight. So, Deanna often let her daughter be in front of the camera while she took photos.
She Was Packed And Ready to Go
When McKenna was finally ready to leave, she looked back on the biggest moments in her life thus far and realized that she was so excited to reach other milestone moments on her own. But her parents worried most about one aspect of their relationship with their daughter, and that was that they weren't blood relatives.
It Was Time to Leave the Nest
McKenna Pilling knew it was time to leave her proverbial nest in New York City and with that, leave her parents behind. It was a bittersweet moment because she was going to miss them, but she was looking forward to attending Utah State University. Her mom, Deanna, however, wanted to preserve the mother-daughter bond at all cost. Could she do it?
They Weren’t Blood Related
Both mother and daughter laughed alike, they walked alike, at times they even talked alike. But McKenna told Chasing News that Deanna was in fact her adopted mother. And yet, genetics didn’t matter because they were as close as two people could be. Then McKenna left to study occupational therapy at Utah State University. Despite the distance, she made sure to call her mom all the time. And as McKenna’s freshman year was almost over, Deanna decided to do something special to honor this achievement.
Her Mom Was Her Role Model
The mother-daughter duo had been close as can be since McKenna's childhood and the daughter always looked up to her mother as a strong and caring role model. But as McKenna got older, she realized that her mother wasn't perfect, in fact, she was kind of a ditz. And sometimes her absent-mindedness got them both into some tricky situations.
She Excelled In School
When McKenna graduated from high school, she was ecstatic to start her adult life on the right foot. She had already applied to and gotten into the college of her dreams, Utah State University, but she had no idea that while she was there during her first semester she would be hounded with calls from global news organizations with questions about her mother!
Her Family Was Tight-Knit
McKenna's family had always been tight knit, and McKenna herself was an outgoing girl who never felt odd in a crowd, so she wasn't afraid at all to start a new chapter of her life. And it was good that she got so quickly acquainted with her classmates, because she would soon have to fill them in on a few things about her family.
She Really Missed Her Mom
During McKenna's first semester, she didn't see her parents often, which was a real change for her. She was used to seeing them every day, not just a few times a year. And while she kept up with her family via text and FaceTime, she couldn't help but really miss her mom in all of her ditzy glory.
But Her Mother Wasn't Perfect
Even though McKenna's mom wasn't always the brightest bulb in the shed, she was a joyful and caring person who would do anything for her daughter. So, McKenna was almost stunned that her mom didn't pack up her life and move to Utah with her, because that seemed like just the thing that she would do.
Girl Meets World
At the beginning of the semester, McKenna felt like a small fish in a big pond and she wondered how she would make herself known to the campus during the next four years. And soon, an opportunity came up that would make her known by the whole world!
She Was Alone For The First Time In Her Life
As McKenna got acquainted with her new routine, she made new friends, decorated her dorm room and studied harder than she ever had in her life. The change of routine nearly made her a new person, and her parents realized that she was quickly becoming a full fledged adult before their very eyes.
Her Priorities Became Clear
McKenna never lost sight of what was really important to her in life, though. She also realized how important her faith was in her life while she was in college, besides realizing just how much she loved her family, who she desperately wanted to see again in person very soon.
She Was Feeling Seriously Homesick
Nearing the end of her first semester in Utah, McKenna was really starting to feel homesick. She knew that she would be reunited with her family soon enough, but she couldn't help but wish that her mom was with her to help with the stress of finals and packing up her dorm.
FaceTime Was Awkward
McKenna kept in touch with her parents constantly, but being on the other end of the country from her family was still hard. Her parents weren't exactly tech savvy, so it wasn't always easy to talk to them over the phone, but her parents did know one thing that their daughter didn't know...
Her Mom Had a Surprise in Store
What McKenna didn't know was that her mom was planning something special for her daughter without her knowledge. She knew her daughter better than anyone else in the world, so she knew that she would probably be feeling a little lonely during the most stressful part of the academic year.
McKenna Had a Lot to Do
McKenna had a lot on her plate, like taking her final exams and packing up her dorm room. So, after a tough exam, she went back to her room. The thought of visiting her family on the east coast was always on her mind. But she had no idea that her mom was planning a little surprise for her.
She Flew to See Her Daughter
Deanna missed her daughter very much. She also knew how stressed out she was with finals. But McKenna was coming home in a couple of days. Sadly, it was just a short pit stop before going on a trip over the summer. So, Deanna decided to surprise her by flying to Salt Lake City, Utah. Once she was on campus, she spearheaded for the dorm building, not realizing what awaited her.
She Stepped Into the Dorm Without Knocking
Without double checking the name of the building she entered, Deanna walked to her daughter's dorm room. And when she got to McKenna's room, she said hi to a few of the students she passed, many of whom looked at her blankly. Why didn't they know that she was McKenna's mother?
Her Dorm Room Was Boxed Up
Deanna was roaming around the halls looking for her daughter’s dorm room. Along the way she said hi to some of the students before walking into what she assumed was her daughter’s dorm room. She pushed the unlocked door open and noticed that there was nothing but boxes. The decorations on the wall were gone, and McKenna was nowhere in sight.
The Room Was Messier Than Usual
Deanna looked around at the boxes and thought to herself, "My daughter doesn't keep her room this messy at home!" She gasped to herself just thinking about all of the bad habits her daughter might have gotten herself into in the past few months before she took a moment to relax.
She Just Loitered Around the Room
Her daughter had no prior knowledge that she was coming for a visit, so her mother wasn’t sure when she’d be back in her room. To that end, Deanna decided to let her instincts as an interior decorator kick in and inspect the room. But then she got bored and decided to do something interesting in her daughter’s bed.
The Bed Caught Her Eye
Without thinking twice, Deanna succumbed to the tired feeling in her bones that lingered from her long day of traveling and she flopped herself down on McKenna's bed. Surely her daughter wouldn't mind if she spend a moment to herself relaxing while she waited for her to get back from classes. But what happened next left McKenna in "a panic."
She Sent Her Daughter a Dorm Room Selfie
“Instead of standing there and waiting, I thought, ‘Oh what a comfortable bed. I’ll lay on it and wait for her.’ Every dorm room looked exactly the same. In my mind, I was perfectly confident this was her bed,” Deanna explained to the TODAY show. She got into bed and took a selfie before sending it to McKenna with the caption: “Look where I am!” But would her daughter be happy to see her?
She Sent Her a Second Text
Deanna sent a second text to her daughter asking, “Where are you?” And McKenna replied right away, but it certainly wasn’t the response Deanna had been expecting. In fact, her daughter’s response indicated that she was terrified.
Her Daughter Made Her Leap Out of Bed
Deanna was stunned by her daughter’s response. McKenna later shared, “I was just confused at first and then I immediately figured out what had happened.” She immediately texted back to her mom, “Where’s that?? I’m in my dorm.” Shortly after reading her daughter’s text, Deanna jumped out of bed.
Mom Was in the Wrong Bed
McKenna immediately wrote: “Please tell me you’re not in someone else’s dorm.” She later explained in an interviewer that: “I was in a panic of where she was. I was scared of whose room that was. I didn’t want her to embarrass me.” Deanna then texted McKenna back and said: “I am in the wrong dorm omg.” But whose room had she gone into?
McKenna Was in Her Room
McKenna had been in bed in her own dorm room when she got the text, so she immediately knew that her mom had failed big time. But now that the mix up had been cleared up, the women walked out to find each other. McKenna later shared: “I just could not stop laughing at her.” She also took screencaps of the conversation and uploaded it on social media.
Deanna Was “Absent-Minded”
McKenna described her mom as “kind of a dorky mom,” while Deanna compared herself to “The Absent-Minded Professor.” She then clarified, “I’m a little bit like that, with a big heart. I get myself into weird situations sometimes, unknowingly.”
Her Husband Laughed, Too
McKenna and her father knew that Deanna had a silly streak in her and she didn't often think twice before going with her gut instinct. This sometimes got Deanna into awkward situations that her family liked to avoid, but Deanna knew that this was just what made her lovable.
She Was Used to Messing Up
Slip ups like this one where she ends up humiliating her kids were a recurring theme in Deanna’s life. But she never imagined that one of these goof ups would gain so much attention on social media. And then, the story gained even more traction.
Morning Shows Wanted to Interview Them
Several morning shows like “CBS News,” “Good Morning America” and the “TODAY” show contacted McKenna to arrange an interview with her and her mother. And with all the attention the tweet had garnered, it’s no surprise that it eventually caught the attention of someone else who was inadvertently involved.
Other Classmates Became Curious
Not only did social media and morning talk shows become interested by McKenna and Deanna's story, but so did McKenna's fellow classmates at Utah State University. And they all had the same question on their minds, which desperately needed an answer: If Deanna wasn't in McKenna's bed, whose bed was she in?
The Owner of the Bed Became Aware of the Intrusion
Deanna had obviously laid down in the wrong bed, so it was only a matter of time before the owner of that bed eventually recognized that it was her room McKenna’s mom had accidentally stumbled into. Fortunately, it was someone she already knew.
Her Friend Was a Good Sport
The student was named Laura, and she was a friend. McKenna got the opportunity to send her a message while she was on-air on “Good Morning America.” Surprisingly, the young woman was unaware of what happened until the story went viral. Thankfully, Laura found the whole thing funny. But there was one regret Deanna had about the whole situation.
Deanna Didn’t Like Her Selfie
Deanna wasn’t on social media until this whole incident. Now she’s on Facebook and Instagram, but she never really thought much about the way she looked while taking a rare selfie. But since the post went viral, she regretted not taking a better photo.
Mom Was Used to Being the Brunt of Jokes
Deanna was later quoted saying: “When your kids get older, you’re the brunt of their jokes and it’s fine and it’s fun,” adding, “I adore my kids so it’s all good.” Then, Chasing News visited McKenna at her Morningside Heights apartment in uptown Manhattan and asked her what she recommends do to take the perfect selfie.
She Was Proud of Her Daughter's Maturity
Even though her selfie skills weren't on par with her daughter, Deanna was happy that the reason she was getting so much attention was her relationship with her daughter. More than anything, Deanna was so proud of how far her daughter had gotten in life, and McKenna was about to do more things that would make her mother proud.
Their Dad Watched Them in Awe
McKenna and Deanna were the only two who were interviewed on TV, but they had the full support of their extended family, including McKenna's father. He might not have been on television to talk about his wife's funny ways, but he had enough of his own stories to tell his friends back home.
The Viral Moment Changed Their Bond
Deanna and her daughter McKenna were already as close as can be before they went viral on social media, and while some people might feel pressured to change their personalities when they go on TV, this mother-daughter-duo kept it natural for the cameras, showing just how strong their bond is and always has been. So, what did McKenna do after she left college?
McKenna Went to Romania to Do Charity Work
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, McKenna had planned to do some charity work in Romania along with her friend Maddy. They made it to Lasi, which borders Moldova and Romania, to offer their assistant at a children’s orphanage called St. Andrei’s. But would Deanna be tempted to surprise her daughter once again?
She Worked Alongside Her Closest Friends
While in Romania, McKenna worked with some of her closest friends during a summer that she described as "life changing." She spent most of the summer caring for young babies in the orphanage and she recalled that she would miss "their adorable smiles, giggles, and cuddles every morning more than anything. I never thought saying goodbye would be so hard."
Her Mom Stayed Home This Time
And although McKenna's mom didn't do any more spur of the moment trips to surprise her daughter, McKenna always felt the love of her family while she was traveling. And as things were changing quickly in her life, this connection was monumental.
McKenna Had a Lot of New Developments
As much as she missed her daughter, Deanna was happy her daughter was doing something good while in Romania before heading back to Utah State University. But school wasn’t the only good thing to happen to McKenna. Not only was she a coach for a special needs cheerleading squad, but she had a new boyfriend named Jordan.
She Met Someone Special
McKenna and Jordan got together in 2016, and they shared a passion for one thing: traveling. The photos they take together all over the world got a lot of love on McKenna's Instagram page, but did the couple share their faith as well?
She Devoted Herself to Her Faith
McKenna has been open about how involved she is in her church for years, and everyone in her life knows and loves this about her. She's never one to take a shortcut because it would be easier, and she always goes the extra mile for things that she's passionate about. But would this hurt her new relationship?
She Became a Missionary
In October 2016, McKenna received a letter from the Latter Day Saints. She was identified as Sister Pilling and it asked her to become a missionary in Las Vegas, Nevada. Eagerly, McKenna revealed the news on social media. But this wasn’t the only amazing thing to happen to her.
She Had Bigger Goals in Mind
Besides McKenna's devotion to her faith, she also cared deeply about her family and friends. She knew that the bonds that she made in her life were more important than any material objects that she could ever own, so she wanted to make sure her loved ones knew this, too...
She Wanted a Family of Her Own
As McKenna got older, she witnessed some of her friends get married and start having families of their own, and McKenna knew that even though she loved traveling and going on adventures, she wanted those things too. So, her next step in life brought her even closer to accomplishing the things she wanted most...
She Got Married
On December 28, 2018, McKenna ditched her family name Pilling and became Mrs. McKenna Larsen. That’s right! She got engaged to her boyfriend Jordan two years after getting her first mission from the church. The two got married and her mom couldn’t have been happier.
She Went Through Many Milestones
During all of this time, McKenna grew up before her family's eyes! At 22, she was already celebrating her first anniversary with her husband and finishing up her degree at school. But, what does she think the future holds, and is her mom still supportive of her actions?
She’s in the Process of Finishing School
McKenna eventually fulfilled her duties as a missionary in Las Vegas and is in the process of finishing up her education at Utah State University with one slight difference; she's a married woman now. But she still pays regular visits to New York to visit her mom. And someday, she may even surprise her with the news that she’s going to be a grandmother.