Monday, July 11, 2011
Even though Mother remained busy, Dad decided to slow down at the age of 52. This complicated life for Mother, but she was unbowed. She just had to go more places alone or invite friends to use Dad’s tickets. She could rarely get Dad up and out the door when he did not want to go or participate. He played the frail card.
Occasionally, Dad could be kick-started, however. For example, Mom wanted to continue to travel after Dad retired; she very much wanted to see the San Diego Zoo and Yosemite. Dad snarled that he had no interest in seeing those places. I countered that Mother wanted to see them so he went—albeit reluctantly. He was also furious when Hospice became part of their lives in Dad’s final days. He who had been too sick to travel for decades was now determined to overcome and live on. I reminded him that Mother needed Hospice’s help. The look he gave me was absolutely chilling—as if he had just disowned me entirely as a human being.
Dad believed and said that he knew what my mother’s purpose in this world was: to care for him. He said this as if he had just stumbled across a proof for the Theory of Relativity or found incontrovertible evidence for the existence of God. Mother seemed to feel he had given her a great compliment, but his belief and her acquiescence made it increasingly difficult for her to leave him even for short periods of time such as the birth of our daughter, her proud moments in school, her birthdays, and even her wedding.
Mother tried her best to compensate. When our daughter was born, I was old by usual standards--35, young for a celebrity, but I am no celebrity. Mother and Dad were present for the birth, but left as soon as they had seen our girl. Mother later returned alone to care for me and my newborn, her third grandchild, with all the energy of youth. She bought groceries and prepared light suppers for us all. She helped me launder and fold cloth diapers, more than I imagined one infant could soil in a day. She kept her own counsel, never advising me unless I asked for guidance. She stayed the first week after I came home from the hospital, through Friday, then returned to Dad for the weekend and on the following Monday, drove back to my home to give me one more week of support.
In that second week, while I nursed our daughter and slept as much as possible, Mother crawled on hands and knees, polishing baseboards. She stretched her petite frame, using a long vacuum wand to pull dust from corners that butted against the ceilings and dust bunnies from under beds. She said it could be a very long time before I had the time and energy to clean so thoroughly and deeply again.*
In between all this labor, this gift of self, Mother lay my tiny baby beside me and snapped a picture, new mother and infant, each on her right side, each with hands tucked under her chin in a posture of prayer, each with eyes closed, relaxed and asleep. We seem to be twins born some thirty years apart. This photo is one of my favorites. I enjoy finding it in a scrapbook of our daughter’s first three years, but in truth, I do not need to see it to remember its every detail. I see it now as I write about it.
Recently, after her aged dog endured a final illness and passed, Mom’s home needed deep cleaning, the kind that strangers or hired workers will not do. My husband and I loaded our equipment, filling our van from floor to ceiling with a Bissell steam cleaner, Swiffer mop, Shark steam mop, Swiffer dusters, vinegar, Fantastic, and Clorox.** We stooped, lifted, pushed and pulled for two full days. We were happy to do it, happy to make Mother feel proud of her home.
Often, Mother apologizes for dragging me across the turnpike, a little more than two hours from my home. She worries about my time away from my husband, but I married a man much more generous at heart and much more self-assured than my dad. He cherishes me, loves my mother, and helps me care for her.
Mother also frets that her needs are too much for me. How could such labor be too much? How could the three to six days that I spend in her home each month be too much? How could a half-day telephoning caregivers, housekeepers, physicians, bankers, and repairmen be too much? How could balancing her checkbook and paying her bills be too much?
Mother gave of herself. She gave patience, and she gave the gift of labor. Now it is her time to receive.
*The house was pretty clean before my daughter was born, I hasten to add, in my own defense.
** No, I am not receiving any reward, in-kind or otherwise, from any of these brands.
Next Week: I Ain’t No Saint