My mother has Multiple Sclerosis and is now in a nursing home, confined to a wheelchair, and needs help with all of her personal and daily tasks. It's hard for me to see my mother this way. She's 76 but seems 86. I feel that she's only getting small bits of my children's childhood. Still, I want her to know how important she is in how I'm raising my own kids. My mom has always been someone I've turned to for advice, to share about my day, and to hear about how her stoic, confident, and resilient individualism has seen her through the death of her own parents (her mother at age 3 and her father at 17), a divorce from my father, a death of her second husband, and this debilitating disease while remaining positive and enthusiastic for life.
I remember my mom as a vibrant, loving homemaker. She was there making the kitchen the hub of our existence. I remember the black ceramic tea cups that held the vinegar mixture that my brother, sister and I used to dye Easter eggs. They would splash water colored webs on the newspaper covered table. I remember the same table at Christmas when we would bake cookies and the table would be filled with sugar-sparkled newspaper. She was providing these environments and then she was gone, like a ghost. I think now that she was probably off doing laundry or making beds or somehow doing the mom things that needed to be done. She'd check back in and see where we were in our activity, but I don't remember her judging or commenting, although she must have.
|My brother, sister and me--see the black cups?|
|My older brother, me, my younger sister|
She would take meat out of the freezer, leave it sweating on the counter, quiz us on what she might serve for dessert with initials, like "tonight we're having 'CH'" (stood for cream horns, pastry filled with cream.) She looked happy all the time--but I know she wasn't. That was the gift she gave us. She allowed us to be kids by keeping her emotions to herself allowing us the freedom of whatever stresses may have been bothering her. She let our lives evolve while we grew into the people that she was hoping we'd be.
|That swollen eye isn't from my brother--I had a sty--she made me pose anyway|
Sometimes I feel like I fall short in that part about letting my children grow into the people they're going to be. My mother didn't deconstruct every parenting book on the market trying to find a philosophy that would be the panacea for all her fears. She took us to church, sent us to a good school, put us on "restriction, missy" when discipline was needed, and then got out of the way. I wish I could build upon her wisdom as I go through this journey, assured that I'm doing the right thing.
But she's aging rapidly now. This is one of the drawbacks of having children older--everyone in their lives is older. The MS has affected my mom in ways beyond her physical limitations. A recent MRI and CAT scan reveal advancement of the disease. My mom's mind is softening, not nearly as sharp as it used to be. She repeats her small bits of conversation over and over, for she has little stimulating to say because her life is so routine. "Did I tell you that your niece left for London today," she'll say, 3 times in a conversation. It's the biggest news to reach her room in days. I just say, "Yes, you did. Do you think she'll have a good time?" trying not to draw attention to her repetitiveness. I still see that woman with the apron and the jokes in the kitchen, raising a brood of silly squirmers, the woman who still listens intently to my every word and makes me feel loved.
Someday, I'll be like her, and my kids will be like me--only much younger than me. Will they be frustrated with me and ache to have me back the way I was in their childhood? I know that the times I share with them now are their memories in the making. When we go hiking, they're seeing me active, athletic. When I go on every ride at Disneyland (some they won't even go on), I'm to them what my mom was to me. Even when I'm too old to do these things anymore, they'll remember fondly, the way I do when I reminisce with my mom.