All Deanna wanted to do was surprise her daughter at college. The plan was simple - she was going to show up at her dorm room. But upon her arrival, she realized she had made a huge mistake. Here's her story.
A New Beginning
McKenna Pilling and her parents had just moved from Utah to New York when the high school senior started looking into which colleges she would apply to. That was when one certain school caught the teen's eye.
The college that McKenna had taken an interest in was one that was especially far from home. As the last of four kids to leave the nest, this big shift was difficult for her parents to comprehend. Especially her mom, Deanna, who had a close relationship with her only daughter.
It was a lot of change that McKenna had been going through in a short period of time. Not so long before attending college, the freshman had moved to a whole new city. And now, once again, McKenna needed to pack up her bags to head across the country.
Of course, it was all exciting. But being away from her mother was difficult as they had a special bond with one another. So the two of them decided to come up with a plan that seemingly seemed brilliant. But it would later prove to be more difficult than they realized.
Despite the mother-daughter duo looking quite similar to one another, Mckenna revealed that she was actually adopted. The news first broke during an exclusive interview with Chasing News. Yet, blood-related or not, these two never let that affect their closeness.
Throughout McKenna's first year at school, she made sure to call her mom at the end of each day. After all, she had decided to study occupational therapy at Utah State University. The school was around a 5-hour plane ride from her parent's home, so phone calls were a major way of staying connected.
As McKenna's freshman year in school was coming to an end, she had a million things on her to-do list. From studying for final exams to packing up her dorm room for the summer, the teenager's schedule was packed. But there was one thing that remained on her mind.
McKenna couldn't wait to finish all her tasks so she could fly out to visit her family back in NY. Finally, after completing her exams, she headed to her dorm room to get some sleep. But little did she know that her mom had planned a special surprise right around the corner...
Her Mother's Concern
Based on what her daughter had told her, Deanna knew that Mckenna was a bit stressed out about having to study and pass all of her course exams. Especially while simultaneously cleaning out her dorm room. Deanna felt bad that her daughter had to deal with all of this alone.
She also was upset that after not seeing McKenna for a whole year, she would only have a few days to spend quality time with her. Her daughter had already planned a big summer trip, meaning McKenna would only be back home in New York for a short period of time.
An Exciting Idea
Deanna took all this information into account and came up with a brilliant plan. There was no way she would only have a couple of days to be with McKenna all summer long. So, to get in a few extra days, the committed mother bought a plane ticket to Salt Lake City.
Deanna was filled with excitement: She had finally made it out to the other side of the country to visit her daughter. And the best part of her big idea? McKenna had no clue what surprise awaited her in her dorm room. Deanna made her way into the building. But things took an unexpected turn.
Navigating The Campus
Utah wasn't unfamiliar to Deanna. After all, she had lived there before moving to the concrete jungle. She was already well acquainted with the campus from back when she dropped McKenna off on her first day of college. So she assumed she knew exactly where to go.
Deanna finally found her daughter's building. She rushed inside through the hallway until finally reaching McKenna's door. To her surprise, it was already unlocked. But as she walked in, she noticed no one was inside. Many of the items from the room were already packed up in boxes.
Deanna was beyond thrilled about the whole thing. She had easy access to her daughter's dorm - so instead of wandering around looking for her, all she needed to do was wait for her to come home. It seemed easy enough, but it was too simple for a gal like Deanna.
She was always known as a kooky, fun person by McKenna and all her friends. They even nicknamed her "Mama Pilling." But what she was about to do was the quirkiest thing she had ever done before. Yet, at the time, she had no idea how much her plan was going to shock others.
Where Was She?
Deanna had flown from New York to Salt Lake City, knowing that her daughter had no idea about the whole plan. The eager mother had expected to knock on McKenna's door and see the college student filled with shock from the loving surprise. But where was she?
Deanna had realized that maybe her daughter was still taking her last final, so she just browsed around the dorm, patiently waiting. She understood her big surprise wasn't going to happen. But as time continued to pass, she was getting impatient - and thus she came up with a new plan of action.
A New Plan Emerges
Her new scheme wasn't so complicated. Deanna recalled to TODAY what had gone through her mind at the time: "instead of standing there and waiting, I thought, 'Oh what a comfortable bed. I'll lay on it and wait for her," she said. And that's exactly what the exhilarated mom did.
She didn't think too much about whether it was a good idea or not -she just jumped on. "Every dorm room looked exactly the same. In my mind, I was perfectly confident this was her bed," she revealed. Deanna soon learned just how inaccurate she was...
Ruining The Surprise
Deanna had spent enough time alone, she was about to be ready to let her daughter know that she was in Utah. Either way, McKenna would be thrilled, and at that point, her mom just couldn't wait anymore. So, she ruined her own surprise. While lying on the bed, Deanna snapped a selfie.
She sent it to McKenna, writing under the photo, "Look where I am!" Naturally, Deanna assumed that her daughter would easily know that the answer was her dorm room bed. But her daughter's reply took her by surprise: "Where are you?" McKenna quickly texted back.
An Awkward Mistake
Despite trying to hold out for as long as possible, Deanna finally revealed to McKenna that she had flown into town. She explained how she was waiting for her in the dorms. Or at least where she presumed to be her daughter's quarters. But Deanna's selfie received a response that made her heart stop.
"Where's that??" McKenna answered her mom. "I'm in my dorm." Uh oh... Immediately Deanna wondered whose bed she was in. "Oh my gosh. I'm in the wrong place," she thought. "I was just confused at first, and then I immediately figured out what had happened," McKenna, later on, reflected about the situation.
Connecting The Dots
It didn't take too long for both McKenna and Deanna to realize what had just happened. This whole time, the mother of 4 had assumed she was in the right place, when in fact, she had barged into a stranger's room and plopped onto their dorm bed. What a hilarious mistake!
"Please tell me you're not in someone else's dorm," the concerned daughter quickly texted her mom. McKenna later explained during an interview how worried she was. "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."
Luckily for the mother-daughter duo, the real resident of the random dorm room hadn't shown up the whole time Deanna was chilling on their bed. That would have been incredibly awkward... "I am in the wrong dorm, omg," Deanna messaged her concerned daughter.
Although she had mistaken which room was her child's, Deanna wasn't inaccurate about which building McKenna had lived in all of the freshman year. Now all she needed to do was get out of that room ASAP and head on over to finally surprise her beloved daughter - in the right room.
The college student instantly realized that her mom was resting in a stranger's bed. But where was her mom? Whose room was she in? And how did she end up inside? McKenna had so many questions, but she put them aside for a bit as she raced over to greet her mother.
As they both left their respective locations, the two of them finally reunited in the middle of the building. Of course, emotions were high, they were so excited to be together. And they were both high off the adrenaline from what just happened. "I just could not stop laughing at her," McKenna recalled.
Breaking the News
Many of McKenna's friends knew her mom was a character. So she decided to share the hilarious situation with all of them by posting it online. She knew her pals would find it funny, but she also knew her older brothers would enjoy learning what their mother had just done.
So, on May 6th, 2016, McKenna screen-shotted the messages and uploaded them onto her Twitter account with the caption, "momma pilling at it again." Of course, all her followers found it amusing. But the college student had no idea how just how many people the post would reach.
The Twitter post instantly started trending on the platform. Many users were intrigued by the story and found it to be hilarious. By October 2019, it was retweeted at least 17,500 times, and around 38,600 people had liked it. McKenna had no idea how much traction the story would receive.
And neither did Deanna, who was the main focus of the whole thing. Thousands of people were laughing at her exchange. So much so, that even major news outlets reached out to the family for exclusive interviews. The mother-daughter duo happily accepted the invitations.
The Pillings were grounded people - they were stunned to see how many people were curious to know more about them and their viral exchange. But it never got to their head. The fame they received was so intense, that McKenna's phone was constantly filled with notifications.
McKenna and Deanna were interviewed by Good Morning America, where they appeared through a video call. America couldn't get enough of the "epic text message mix-up." The exchange was seemingly relatable to nearly any parent whose kid was in college or away studying!
Not Her First Mishap
McKenna explained to the interviewers, and the show's audiences, that her mom was "kind of a dorky mom." She said that Deanna was known for always being able to make anyone around her laugh. So she wasn't too surprised when she received that infamous text from her mother.
Deanna stepped in to defend her honor and described herself as being like, "The Absent-Minded Professor." She continued to explain what her personality is like, "I'm a little bit like that, with a big heart. I get myself into weird situations sometimes, unknowingly."
Other Mothers Speak Out
Within their community, Deanna is arguably best known as the goofy one. Her kids are already familiar with what it feels like to be awkwardly embarrassed by their unapologetic mother. Yet, McKenna never expected that something mom did would garner so much traction.
There were many moms who commented on the Twitter post explaining that Deanna shouldn't worry, as they would have also done the same thing. One user wrote, "@kennapilling tell your momma not to feel bad... that would totally be something I would do!"
Their Media Attention
Not only did mothers alike take notice of the viral tweet, but so did many news stations. From NBC's TODAY to The Daily Mail, CBS News, Good Morning America, and more, these two were getting all the attention - especially since mother's day was right around the corner.
The media outlets thought McKenna and Deanna had a perfect story to share for the special day. After appearing on endless shows, Deanna's now-iconic selfie was being spread all over social media. But it also caught the attention of a very special user.
The Truth Comes Out
When Deanna first jumped on the dorm room bed, she thought it was her teenage daughter's. But she later found out that she was wrong - and she was lying down on a stranger's bunk. And while she had hoped that the mysterious student would never find out, it was inevitable once mom's selfie went viral.
The girl whose bed Deanna had accidentally used recognized the bedding from the picture! She reached out to McKenna and her mom, and soon enough, the duo was finally going to get a chance to communicate with the true resident of that freshman dorm while they were on live TV.
Humilated By The Selfie
Before the whole online exchange, Deanna wasn't active on any social media platforms. So she was stunned to learn how viral her daughter's post had gone. Today, she is active on Instagram and Facebook - but back then, she wasn't familiar with how it all worked.
And she was especially unfamiliar with how to properly take a selfie. McKenna revealed that her mother had actually hardly ever snapped a pic of herself before the viral one. Deanna was humiliated that her selfie was viewed by thousands of people. She wished she would have taken a better angle.
"The Brunt of Their Jokes"
In nearly every interview the two were on, Deanna had to clarify that she was embarrassed that the image she took of her face was trending. She explained that her children had also been teasing her about it, "When your kids get older, you're the brunt of their jokes, and it's fine, and it's fun."
The mother of 4 added, "I adore my kids so it's all good." Luckily for Deanna, her daughter is a millennial who was probably a pro when it came to taking the perfect selfie. So when an interviewer from Chasing News went to meet the Pilling family, she asked McKenna how it's done.
Showing How It's Done
McKenna shared with her mom and the women interviewing them how she always gets the perfect shot. Her favorite tip that she always used was incorporating Snapchat filters. The millennial explained to them that one of her go-to's was the dog ear filter.
She even told them that the trick was taking a selfie from a higher angle. McKenna's expertise in photography would be beneficial for the soon-to-be sophomore college because when all the interviewers were finally over, she was headed on a summer trip. Where, of course, she would take many pictures!
Her Next Journey
McKenna and her best friend, Maddy, had planned to take a trip around Romania. Their plan was to go all the way to the city, Las, located near the border of Romania and Moldova. But the adventure wasn't all just for fun - the two girls were there for a reason.
McKenna and Maddy spent their summer volunteering at St. Andrei's, an orphanage for kids. It was a part of the college student's do-gooder work she was going as a Latter-Day Saint. Saying goodbye to her mom once again was difficult. But maybe Deanna had another surprise in store for her daughter?
Her First Mission
While Deanna didn't travel to Romania for a surprise visit, it was in no time at all that McKenna was already making her way back to Utah. With a new school year came new adventures. One new thing McKenna took on was being the coach for a special needs cheerleading squad.
Not long after, in October of 2016, she received a letter that included a special offer. Sister Pilling was asked to be a missionary of the Latter Day Saints. McKenna announced the good news on her social media platforms, explaining that soon she would be headed to Las Vegas, Nevada. Her life was enduring many changes.
As if she wasn't busy enough, the college student had started seeing her boyfriend, Jordan, at around the same time she had started her mission. But the two weren't together when the viral selfie exchange had happened. He was with her through her many other accomplishments.
Two years after McKenna was called up to go to Las Vegas, Jordan decided it was the right time to ask her to be his wife. The two were engaged - and not long after, the college sweethearts officially tied the knot. Of course, Deanna was so excited about this!
After getting married to Jordan on December 28th, 2018, McKenna Pilling officially became McKenna Larsen. These days, her life isn't as public as it was when she was a freshman in college. After finishing the mission in Las Vegas, she went back to campus to complete her studies.
With her husband by her side through it all, she finally graduated school at Utah State University back in 2020, where she received her bachelor's in Speech and Hearing Science. McKenna had a memorable four years at college, mostly thanks to her mom's hilarious dorm room mix-up.
Instead of moving back home, McKenna and Jordan stayed put in Salt Lake City. The happy couple has even bought a house together and is currently expecting their very first child! We wonder how many selfies Deanna will be taking with her granddaughter.
Today, the 24-year old is attending graduate school at the University of Utah. But, she makes sure to go back and visit her family in New York often. Maybe next time, McKenna will be the one to finally surprise her mother… and hopefully do it successfully.