Sunday, August 24, 2014

Happy 84th, Ma!

Thursday I took my mother out to celebrate her eighty-fourth birthday. This is the part where you say, "Eighty-four? I hope I live to be eighty-four!" or "Eighty-four? God bless her." But eighty-four is the new sixty-four, right? She should still be playing golf or running half-marathons at eighty-four. She's not. In fact, it's been much harder than I thought, watching my mother age.

Before I left work that morning, I joked with co-workers that I would knock on her door and say, "Good morning, Mom! Wanna go to breakfast; it's your birthday!" And she would say, "It is?! Oh, ok." She'd grab her keys, and off we'd go. I said I could do the same thing the next morning, and it would garner the same response. I was making a joke from something I really don't find funny. I've tried to take this in stride, and sometimes I do, but this is my mom. Beside silly, insignificant things like names and dates, my mom forgets years of her life, and sometimes lives in one other than the one the rest of us are living in.

Sometimes I take Mom to the store just to look around; an effort to stimulate a dimming mind, I guess. We look at sheets and towels, dishes and picture frames. We spend more than an hour just looking at stuff I'd normally race by in my haste to pick up what I need and hit the registers. But the thing she's really interested in, the thing that hangs her up in every store? The stuffed animals. "Oh, I love him!" she cries. And on to the next one. "Oh, I love him!" I have watched my grown mother coo and fawn over every stuffed animal in store after store, while I nervously glance around to see who is watching me. If I catch someone witnessing the display, I blush -- I know I do; I can feel it -- and I gently try to lead my mother on to something else. And I feel ashamed for doing it -- I really do! Why should I care what people think about my mom? What is wrong with someone whose inhibitions, whose sense of social norms has been robbed from them by age, but is still as innocent and childlike as my mother? But I guess that's the child in me.

We reach that age where we'd pass out if our mothers asked for a kiss in public, or did that whole spit on her finger thing to wipe the forgotten piece of Pop-Tart from our chin; but within the four walls of the place she has built, called "Home," she is our biggest fan, our deepest love, our truest friend. We enter adulthood assured we do not need Mom to do anything for us anymore; we can do that because, in most cases, she is there. We become spouses and parents ourselves, and Mom becomes a source of counsel and comfort that few others are -- a dear, dear librarian friend, a wealth of information exclusive to us because she, literally, knows us like a book. Before you know it, your mother, who has been your rock, your strength and support needs you. The tables have been cruelly turned, in some Old Age Freaky Friday, and it is you who now wipes her chin and tells her she needs to go with you to get a haircut. And that's not easy. How does the child become the mother when the mother has become the child? When you become a mother to your own child, it is your choosing. You plan, you anticipate. When you become a mother to your mother, you've not been given a choice. It is thrust upon you, and your options for dealing with it are few.

I had chosen to become bitter. I snapped at her sometimes when I shouldn't have. She was my mother; I wanted her to act like it. I corrected her sometimes when I should have just let it ride. Why does she insist on calling Tinkerbell "he?" I was short with her when I knew it was the confusion in her brain. How many times have I told her the lawn guy and I settle up once a month? Was it too much to ask that she not make loud inappropriate remarks about skin color, hair color, tattoos, piercings, shoes, children, teeth, limps, weight, or any of a myriad of things when we go out together?

Then the day came. I was sitting in the examination room of my doctor's office. I could hear voices in the hall. It was obviously the elderly woman and her companion who had shared the waiting room with me minutes before.

"I have a cat," the woman proudly announced to the nurse.

"Oh, you do? What color is your cat?"

"He is my cat. He sits on my bed."

"Oh, he sits on your bed, huh?"

"He's a stuffed cat."

My stomach lurched. This woman had such a deep connection to her cat -- her stuffed cat. She knew full well it was stuffed. She had no illusions about Mr. Whiskers scratching her or using the litter box, but he was no less the object of her sincerest affection. Unconditional love.

Only a moment later, in the hall outside my door again:

"Hello, Mr. __. My name is Jasmine."

The tremor and gravel of an obviously aging voice responded, "You can call me Lou. Can I call you Jaz?"

This young nurse, had clearly never been called "Jaz" in her life, but the elderly gentleman she was assisting thought it vitally important they forge a less professional relationship which, for him, began with nicknames. As socially unacceptable as some might find this sort of familiarity, he was free, and in a safe place; he could find no reason to be on guard among those he considered to be his friends. Innocence.

As I considered the admonition delivered right to my door, I vowed not to take myself or the situation too seriously. I'm having her over this week for a "matinee" -- Wallace & Gromit, completely "inappropriate" for an adult. I'm planning a trip to Toys 'R Us in the near future, and I'm buying her the first stuffed animal she falls in love with. She's eighty-four; she's not going to be around forever and though it may be my responsibility to make sure she's safe, and sometimes I feel like her mother, I need to be her friend as well.

Strangely enough, when I picked her up for breakfast the other morning, I asked, "Do you know what day this is?"

"I think I do," she replied.

"OK, what day do you think it is?"

"I think it's my birthday! I'm eighty today."

"That's right, Mom. It's your birthday."
Post a Comment