For this author, creative endeavors have been sorely tested by motherhood. But also transformed, and in ways she wouldn’t have imagined – couldn’t have, without her life “rewritten” as it has been, by her children. So linger here, to read all things weaverly, writerly and motherly.


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Monday, February 6, 2012

Once-Upon-a-Tale Tuesday: This Too Shall Pass

"This too Shall Pass"

I felt it to my core: We were going to be late for another doctors appointment. Again.

I peeked in on my mother.

"Oh, dear, I can't find anything anymore...." She was moving around her room in circles. Like the frantic minnows Kenny would keep captive in his beach pail.

Your shoe? I looked where I knew Id find it, under her bed.

She sat on her bed, and out of habit with my boys when they were running late for school, I started to put her shoe on myself.

"I can do it, she said, bending down in that way I hated; I was afraid shed pop out the artificial ball in her hip. Don't rush me.  Everything is rush, rush, rush."

The fact is, even with rushing, we're often late. I've traversed this doctor terrain enough times to know that I needed to count into the actual travel time how long it would take her to navigate down the front steps to the car, then to settle into the front seat so that I could shut the door without slamming it on her feet.

This time we were going to the hand doctor, a good forty-minute drive away. My mother was going for cortisone treatments for arthritis in her right hand, and last time we'd arrived five minutes late five short of the ten-minute-maximum-late protocol. I'd had to bang on the beveled glass window only to have a young girl open it to point to the sign announcing: This window is made of glass. Please do not bang on it. We know you are waiting. We will be with you in a moment."

It was painful to just stand there and watch as my mother struggled with her shoe until she got it on. "I'm not rushing you," I lied. "We actually have a good half hour before we should leave," I said cheerfully, anxious to pick up the clutter on her bed, newspapers, to rehang blouses she'd taken out but decided not wear.

She looked at her watch. "The appointment's at one, isn't it? Why do we have to leave so early? It's only ten."

"It's eleven thirty."

"Oh, my watch. It's stopped." She leaned over into the amber light of her bedside lamp. "You're rattling me. Don't rattle me," she said, close to tears. 

It didn't take much for me to reduce her to tears these days. Could be just in the way I loaded her dishwasher, neglecting to separate out the forks from the knives in the utensil compartment. "You make it so much harder to put them all away!" she'd cry.

I went into the kitchen to wash her breakfast dishes, carefully separating out the forks from the knives in the dishwasher, to feed the cats, organize piles of half-opened charitable solicitations she would leave on every available surface of the house. 

My own nerves were already frayed from a bad morning with the boys. They'd been scrimmaging over a tiny Lego treasure chest so that I had to intervene. And in the midst of my intervention, I burned the bacon, so that all the electrically wired fire alarms in the entire house went off. Which bolted Ryan out onto the front lawn screaming "Fire we're on fire!"

"It's just the alarms, Ryan!" Kenny yelled with great satisfaction; he likes to accuse Ryan of being afraid of even a mailbox.

We were late getting to school. Which meant I had to walk them to the front desk for late passes.

Just like doctor office receptionists, the woman at the front desk had a sliding glass window. She barely glanced up from her Late Book. "Reason for lateness?"

We all looked at each other accusingly.

It was Kenny who piped up, always the little tattle tale: "She burned the bacon."

The lady seemed used to poorer excuses, quickly scribbling the burned-bacon one in her book.

She issued each of my boys the dreaded pink late pass which they waved accusingly at me as they moped down the hall toward their classrooms.

I headed to Starbucks. I needed their extra strong coffee to put me in a more joyful mood before the hour drive out to my mother's only to spill the entire contents when I was backing out of the parking space; as I was clearing out the cup holders of older coffee cups, I'd placed it on the dashboard momentarily. In the space of two minutes, I'd actually forgotten it was on the dashboard. My short term memory is that of pebble.

My mother had still not emerged from her bedroom. I looked at my watch (which had the correct time). Panic set in.

I found her sitting on the edge of the bed, transferring all her stuff from one purse to another.

It was one of her "good" purses, handwoven with ceramic beading she had only ever used when dressing up to go out to dinner.

"We're only going to the doctor."

She looked at me. " And where else do I go these days?"

Now she wasn't just transferring things   she was cleaning out her wallet, sifting through her cards.  "What is this AAA card? Do I still belong to that?"

"Mom, can you clean out your wallet another time?"

She looked at her watch again. "It's only eleven thirty."

"It's noon, Mom."

"Noon? How can it be noon?" She put aside her emptied wallet to reset her watch again.

"You may need a new battery."

She laughed. "And a new body."

I wasn't laughing.  "We need to leave in ten minutes."

"Well, I cant be ready in ten minutes. Why didnt you tell me what time it was?

I reminded myself not to clench my teeth as my dentist would have; I only wear a night guard but am beginning to think I need one for waking hours.

Along with all her wallet cards, my mother had spread out her purse clutter across the bed, face powder, old tissues, key chain flash light, crumpled super market receipts. A small note pad decorated with kittens.

"We can't drive forty minutes to miss an appointment by five minutes. I said,  scooping up her purse contents as I would my boys' Legos if left scattered across the living room too long.

I stuffed them into her evening purse. I'd done it. I'd crossed that fine line I can teeter on too precariously, that line between being the daughter she still expects me to be, the one who still needs to be told it's time for a hair cut or a girdle; and that version I'm far more accustomed to, full mothering mode. As I am in most mornings, trying to get my boys out the door for school, even if it means I have to actually put their shoes on myself.

"My cane, my cane...." My mother could hardly keep her voice even.

I found her cane in plain sight, hooked on her chair. "We can go now," I said, directing her toward the door. Just like I'd direct the boys.

"It's just noon," she said, her voice warbling like a wounded bird's.

"Your battery is dead!"

Her cat glared at me (I drew kitty with my new iPad pen):

My mother didn't didn't say anything. I'd rendered my 93-year-old mother speechless, as I directed her arms into her coat. Always directing. I'm a director. A nagging, sometimes biting, director.

Once on the road, usually she would be fiddling with the mirror on the overhead visor, fretting that she'd forgotten her lipstick or a comb. She'd be rooting through her purse forgetting what she was looking for.

On this ride, she was stoic. She sat with her hands folded motionless over her handwoven beaded evening bag.

On the expressway, I drove 80. My neck craned, hands white on the wheel, like some lunatic cab driver with a woman about to give birth in the backseat. But there was only my mother in the front seat though she can be a terrific backseat driver, alerting me to when I'm five miles over the speed limit or tailgating.

I was risking a ticket to go to a hand doctor. What would I tell the cops if they pulled me over? That my mother was in labor.

She didn't backseat drive this time. The faster I drove, the calmer she became. As composed as she used to be  when I had rebellious teenage tantrums and slammed doors.

It was the calm of a very resolute love and understanding.

We got there. I pulled into the handicapped spot.

"So what time is it now?" She asked, having given up on her own watch.

We'd actually gotten there fifteen minutes early.  I felt foolish. And exhausted.

She unfolded her hands from over her purse.I recognized it as a purse I'd always loved. One I remembered from my childhood. One whose beads were made of actual glass, the blue of pool water. But as special as the purse had always been to her, she'd entrusted it to me for playing dress-up. I had modeled it in front of a mirror. Pretending that I was her. 

It was me now who was almost reduced to tears.  I wanted to lay my head on the steering wheel and blubber like a baby.

And she knew it.

"Take a breath," she said.

Last year, when I'd had to rush out there after she'd been admitted to the emergency room after a fall, she had been the one to say she was sorry. Sorry for the inconvenience, for how dependent she had become. I'd told her not to be sorry. And I'd meant it.

Now I was the one who wanted to say I was sorry. But I was too busy feeling young and foolish, embarrassed by my own dramatics as I had been as a teenager. I couldn't say the sorry word.

And I didn't have to. She accepted my apology without my having to offer it.

"You have a lot on you," she said. "Two little boys, a family...." She laughed.  And your decrepit mother.

She took out a lipstick. She folded down the visor mirror. She quickly applied it, but not liking what she saw, snapped back up the visor. This too shall pass.

Those words have always been a solace. As when she'd been diagnosed with breast cancer a good fifteen years earlier, caught early and with no reoccurrence, but when I'd braved my fear of losing her as I brave that fear all the time now I can still feel as afraid as a child waking from a nightmare and calling for my mother. I can still long for her to stroke my forehead, to sooth away my fears as I now do with my own children when they wake from bad dreams of dragons or being chased. When it is only their mother who can assure them that nightmares aren't real.

I  do not believe that my mother any longer feels that all this "too will pass."  But she can still say it. For my sake.


Marie Z. Johansen said...

OMG - I started to grit my teeth and clench my jaw just reading about this day!

You are a strong woman. Hang in and hang on!

Barbra said...

Only one word...maybe two...OY! or Phew!

Raige Creations said...

I have so been there...with kids...and with my mother. So sweet that your mother took it all in stride, and calmed you. We all need to remember 'this too shall pass'.

Anonymous said...

Nothing in the world can replace a mother, huh? And, unfortunately, we all rush, rush, rush and get all worked up when we don't need to. And then end up feeling ridiculous after our adult tantrum.

I'm so sorry about the Starbucks. That is a terrible thing to waste lol! I hope you got another!

Oh, I've got a new business venture - it's a site where you enter writing contests to win cash. With your awesome writing, you'd be sure to win (and I mean that with ALL my heart!! I LOVE your writing!). Check it out sometime!

Spilled Milkshake

Lilu said...

I've only heard those four words a few years into all of this screwed-up mess. But... they do seem comforting. I suppose it's the cultural difference (I'm from Finland) that I hadn't heard it before recently.

But after a while you wonder... Is it a good thing this will pass? What is it that will happen next? Will it be worse?

Nice writing.

PS. I must say though that for some reason your background gave me a terrible headache... No idea why.

Grumpy Grateful Mom said...

I got entranced in your story. I liked how she accepted you apology without having to offer it. You know each other so well. You're an amazing daughter.

And I loved your description of the purse and that it held so much meaning for you.

A pleasure to visit my friend. :)

Finding Charm said...

Loved your story because I relate to it. It's so true about having to figure in the getting them out the door time. Oy Vey! I'm usually exhausted before I even get out the door.

Loretta said...

All I can say is "Wow!". I think I was gritting my teeth together while I was reading.

Julie said...

What a beautiful story about your day. I have been a caretaker and understand. It's tough and we all lose it. You're mother sounds wonderful.


I can certainly relate and I feel my kids will have to deal with the same thing. Sometimes I would say, if I ever act like your grandma, just shoot me. Then one day my daughter said, "You're channeling grandma!" I swear I could hear a "bang!" in there somewhere.

Jester Queen said...

My children are going to be late for their ballet recital because I am not leaving until I catch up to the present day, because I need to be up to date on your Mom, with whom I'm in love in a most sincere way.

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