I was flitting from table to table in the dining room at my mom's assisted living place, inviting residents to admire her handiwork, which they did. Politely. This is just a tiny piece of her work, I gushed. She was never without a project!
I spoke as if the residents weren't facing the same issues of loss and diminishment. As if they all hadn't accomplished wonderful things and didn't have boatloads of great tales to tell and mementos to show and memories to share.
You can see at the bottom where she embroidered her initials and the date. I blathered on. She was YOUNG then. Only 76.
Then I went to work on the staff. After the housekeeping director expressed the proper admiration, she said: You're very proud of your mother, aren't you?
I hooted. I've never thought of myself as being "proud of my mother." But it became clear at that moment, that yes, I am. Proud of my mother. I laughed at myself for boasting about her accomplishments. Why laugh? Because this is what she used to do to me! Except I was painfully aware (as she isn't) and so embarrassed by all those incidents of what I knew to be overblown praise and admiration.
Now I'm getting her back. I guess it's OK that she's not really aware that I'm tearing around the dining room with her counted cross stitch Santa Claus practically grabbing innocent old people by the throat as if to say, Don't dismiss her! She's still in there!
My mom is three weeks from turning 97. She is unable to hear or see much, and her hands long ago lost the dexterity for intricate handwork. She nods off a lot during the day, requires assistance for "tasks of daily living," uses a wheelchair, and recently was identified as someone who needs "plate guards" to keep her food from ending up in her lap.
It is difficult to watch, this mother who grows so old before my eyes and diminishes every day. But I'll tell you what I'm proud of, in addition to needlework she accomplished decades earlier: her continuing spark. She can't see, can't hear, and still she can't stand to miss anything.
The other day, I mentioned to her that bingo was scheduled for that afternoon. But as we both know, bingo (her favorite now that her brain/hands/eyes don't work well enough to play bridge), often doesn't occur because people fail to show up. Here's what she says about that: They complain there's nothing to do, but when there is something, they can't get out of their apartments. That's old people for you!
|A recent photo of mom playing bingo, with the help of her friend.|
Then I took her in to have her maddening ears cleaned. They were clogged with wax, stuffed back in there by those big almost useless hearing aids. In conversation, she'd forgotten something important we'd talked about last week—the death of a relative. When I reminded her she said, Not even all that ear wax can keep things in my head! See how smart she is? How funny?
For about 12 years I wrote a weekly newspaper column, and one piece was devoted to the mother/daughter relationship. I couldn't help but think of it when I figured out the tables have turned. An excerpt from the old column follows.
But first, one more thing. I realize now that her unearned praise made me stronger. I didn't understand until much later that some mothers neglect to pile positive adjectives on their kids, or look at them with such admiration and love that the kid can just about get knocked over. In my teens, this was excruciating. Even into my 40s, as described below, her "pride" in me was embarrassing. But I think now I need to say, thanks mom, for believing I was more than OK .
Grants Pass Daily Courier, Second Thoughts column, early 1980s (excerpt)
Mother/daughter dynamic still sparkles, sparks
My mother and I were browsing in an antique store close to where I live. She'd come from South Dakota for a visit. The proprietress was minding her own business, or trying to, when my mother spoke up."This is your neighbor!" she said, referring to me. "You do know who she is, don't you?"
|My father, Floyd, and mom, LaVone when they were about the age I am now. |
She was still bragging up a storm about her "wonderful daughter." My father died in 2006 at 93.
My mother seemed displeased that the antique store lady didn't know me.
"Well!" she said "This is Mary Korbulic. She writes for the Daily Courier!"
She delivered this information as if I was a Pulitzer Prize winner from the New York Times. She smirked and awaited a response, which she expected to be genuflection or an autograph request.
The woman smiled politely and said, "How nice. I think I have seen your name." She cast me a sympathetic look.
I am a middle-aged woman, but at that moment I squirmed like I did as a child when my mother launched into her bragging-about-nothing routine. When I was a senior in high school, she was still begging me to dance for company. That's right Dance For Company. I finally figured out how to get out of doing the "frug", if you can remember what that is.
When I brought home one A, mostly Bs and one C on my first college report card, she became the town crier. It was unsafe to go with her anywhere as she carried a copy of my grade report in her purse and would whip it out for anyone who made eye contact. She really did this.
"How nice," people would say.
Privately I admonished her, as I had countless times. It is good at any age to have at least one person who thinks everything you do is wonderful and you are the most clever person ever, not to mention the best looking, but could she please stop sharing her opinion?
No, she said. She could not stop. "You might as well get used to it," she said, turning away. She did not stop, and I did not get used to it.
(Being a parent now of two fantastic, brilliant, daring, and gorgeous sons, plus the grandmother of the cutest, smartest, funniest grandson who ever toddled on the earth, I kinda get it now.)