Sunday, May 14, 2006

Are You Having a Good Mother's Day?

I wake at 3:15 am and can't go back to sleep. I hear my daughter Marie in the kitchen finding something to eat. She had a mini-crisis yesterday, and I'm a little worried about her.
By 4:15 am she's back in bed and I get up. I was planning to get up early anyway to get to my mother's assisted living at 6 am and dress her for church. Just three hours of sleep, oh well.
I bake a birthday cake for Marie, who turns 19 today. I turn the timer off a minute before it will buzz so the noise won't wake anyone, but then I forget the oven for ten more minutes and burn the cake.
At 6:15 I am driving to Ocean View. The first stop light I encounter is not working, as usual. It stays red for me while cycling through green lights for the other directions three times. Finally I run the light, as I have on other days, including once when Mom nearly died of asphyxiation before I got there and cleared her throat. Today, calling the police department to report the light, I am told to call back on Monday. By this time I am pretty upset, maybe because I've had so little sleep.
~ ~ ~
As I arrive in the Reminiscence Neighborhood, April greets me.
"I just peeked in at Evelyn. She's still sleeping."
Good! I could use a few minutes of peace and quiet before dealing with her. I enter Mom's room and look around the corner toward her bed. Her eyes are wide open. She lies there looking toward the window and doesn't see me.
I decide to sit down and take five before announcing that I am here, but she hears me.
"Mother?" she asks.
"Yes," I say wearily. "I'm here."
"Oh good," she says.
I help her out of bed, into the wheelchair, and onto the toilet.
She begins telling me about the time when her brother Elbert was dying and she was in Ridgway and he called her and said, "Can you come to me? I don't want to die alone" and she came; then she's talking about his funeral. I have heard this story many times in the past couple of months, but it's mostly out of her imagination. She spoke to him on the phone before he died in June, 1998, and she drove from Boulder to Mancos, Colorado, for his funeral, but she was not at his death bed. I don't try to correct her.
I dress her in a colorful pink and green calf-length skirt with a muted green pullover sweater. She asks to wear her pink floppy hat and her rabbit-fur trimmed sweater. As I put lipstick and rouge on her, she starts singing gaily: "In her Easter bonnet, with all the flowers on it, she'll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade."
I decide to change the sheets on her bed and put one folded sheet in her lap while I pull a fitted sheet onto the mattress, but the sheet worries her. She starts to unfold it.
"Oh God, I don't think I know how to use this. What is it? Oh, it's just a pillow case. No, a purse." Her attention has been distracted by her purse lying in an open drawer nearby. I take the sheet. As she tries to pull the purse out of the drawer, the things inside slip out. "What is all that? Everything in it, everything's coming out. I have to have a proper one. I think it's the one that's meant for today."
Once the chores are done, I help her to stand at her walker and she walks to the dining room, about one hundred feet. "Don't hold onto me!" she says, proving that she can walk alone.
I leave her there to eat breakfast while I rest in her room and take care of a few things, like a phone call to my daughter in Spain.
~ ~ ~
After breakfast, Mom walks back to her room with my help.
"Good," I say. "You've had your exercise for the day." I try to make sure she does at least this much walking daily to slow down the curling in of her feet. My sister is concerned about this inversion that happens when she just sits in her recliner not walking.
"I'm going to walk into church," Mom announces. "I don't like to be in that chair all the time."
"Okay," I say, taking on the challenge. "We're getting an early start today, so you can walk in with your walker if you want to."
And she actually does it. I park right in front and pull her up to stand at the walker; she walks up the wheelchair ramp past the ushers (who delay us trying to give us each a flower for Mother's Day) and collapses in the nearest pew on the center aisle.
I feel like shouting, "Hallelujah! Look, everyone! The lame are walking today. Evelyn walked in without her wheelchair."
After church a couple of people do notice and congratulate her as she walks back to the car.
At the car a complete stranger asks, "Are you her daughter?" and starts a riff on mother care and her own mother who died a few years ago.
"Would you mind opening the car door?" I ask. Mom is about to collapse again; I am holding her up, and I don't have a free hand to open the door.
"I have to sit! Just let me sit down!" Mom is saying as she pants like someone who has run a mile.
"No, don't sit here-grab onto car door," I say. "Here's the bar you hold onto."
The chatty stranger helps me pull the walker out of the way so I can I can get Mom into the car. I load her walker, her purse, and my bag into the back seat, taking out my cell phone to keep in the front seat with me.
Then I put her seat belt on, laying the cell phone down on the roof of the van for a moment.
~ ~ ~
Why didn't I put it in my pocket?
A few moments later I am driving past the house where Nichole Brown Simpson was murdered, making my usual mental nod to her memory, and I suddenly think about my teenager and her birthday. I should call her. Where's my cell?
Nowhere. With a sinking feeling I remember putting it on the roof of the van.
I drive back to the church, search the street, make inquiries for lost & found, and start retracing my driving path.
Mom is worried: "It's all my fault. You were trying so hard to help me."
"No," I tell her. "It's okay."
Then I find it, smashed into five or six pieces where I made a left turn, already two blocks and one right turn away from where I had parked. Oh well, at least the mystery is solved.
~ ~ ~
We head home to greet the birthday girl and put the sheets in the washing machine, but no one is home, so we're off to Denny's for our big Mother's Day lunch out.
I'm going the extra mile, instead of serving Mom lunch at my house, partly because I will be out of town next weekend and recovering from a surgery the following weekend. This excursion will have to last her for a while.
This is the place to be on Mother's Day! says a sign near the Denny's entrance.
Apparently a lot of people agree; the place is packed with an ethnic mix that matches the state of California--51% Latino, 20% African-American and Asian, 30% Euro-American.
After a short wait we are escorted to a booth and I manage to get Mom into it. She has senior chicken-fried steak with French fries and coleslaw. I pass up the senior menu to have an "ultimate" omelette. We watch the lively scene around us, including many extended families that take up two or three booths.
"I like your shirt," she says. "I want a shirt like that, that says Caring."
I am wearing a black t-shirt that says, "Invest in caring not killing--Annual military spending is 10 times the money needed globally to provide basic food, water, health care and housing." It shows a Muslim mother with a baby on her back.
This is my failed attempt to deflect unwanted Mother's Day sentimentality. So far dozens of people, many of them strangers, have wished me a Happy Mother's Day, and ushers at church have pressed flowers into my hands.
In her right mind, Mom would never have asked to have a shirt like this, but now she understands that it is political and concerned.
"If I get a shirt like that, it'll show that I should have been more caring," she says.
"No, you are caring," I say, but she is now saying something about "when China starts fighting Japan... change the world."
Conversation shifts back to her brother.
"Everybody loved Elbert," she says. "I thought he shouldn't be on a roof, nailing a shingle... his first wife, I loaned her my fur coat... Elbert was a pretty good-looking young bachelor in that low-income town. His second wife was really lovely... I guess I've been spoiled all my life, between working for Daddy and working for Elskamps...."
I nod and murmur yes. Our two hours in Denny's drags on.
"I yearn to do my own cooking sometimes," Mom says. "I dream I'm making macaroni and cheese. I was just ready to take it out of the oven--but nothing."
"You wake up," I say.
Afterward we get in line for the bathroom, but there are only two stalls, one not working, so we drive home.
~ ~ ~
Still no one home. If my cell phone were working, I would know that Marie and her dad have gone to the Angels game in Anaheim. They all know better than to give me gifts today. I've told them how this day was founded by Julia Ward Howe as Mother's Peace Day but has degenerated into commercial fluff to compensate for exploitation of women the rest of the year.
I don't expect Mom to understand this, however. I've bought gifts for her and the two of us sit here alone opening them, as we did two months ago on her birthday.
She likes the bedroom slippers and Estee Lauder powder. The little stained glass church with a light bulb inside delights her.
"It looks like the one in Telluride before it burned down," I tell her.
"Yes," she says. "Everyone thought that Communists had burned it down."
I don't comment, smiling at the ambition of communists who might go all the way to the end of that box canyon to burn down a church.
"It can sit on the doll cabinet next to the dolls," she says. "The dolls are all virgin dolls."
And worthy of going to church, apparently, I think. Oh well.
She is talking about how she would like to move her doll cabinet into our house, right where John's easy chair sits.
"What would he think of that?" she laughs. "Not much, I guess. Mother-in-laws. You should tell him about my idea, for a joke, some time when he's depressed."
I laugh with her, thinking "No way!"
Then she's talking about my grandmother.
"I always feel so bad about my mother. I didn't know she died."
"Yes, she died," I say. I don't tell her again that she herself was the first to arrive at the P.E.O. chapter house when Grandma died in 1974. I don't repeat, "You were the one who called to tell me."
"She was a lovely woman," Mom continues. "She started you out right and everything."
"Yes," I say.
"Daddy said to me, 'Why don't you leave that poor baby alone?' and I told him I had to go be a Navy nurse and I left you with him and Mother to raise. They did a good job, sent you to school and everything."
I don't point out that she was a Navy nurse during World War II, long before she had me and my younger brothers and sister, that she and my father raised all of us kids.
Then her thoughts turn to my oldest daughter.
"Roz wrote me that card that said she'd love me no matter what. Does she know that with old age comes senility?" Mom asks, laughing as she contemplates eventually becoming senile.
"Oh, I'm sure she knows," I say.
Then I add, "It's time to go back to Ocean View. Let's pack up these gifts, and I'll get the laundry out of the dryer."
"You just want to get rid of me," Mom says.
I don't answer because it's true. I've been watching the clock for hours.
Soon she is back in the car, and my neighbor Shari walks over to say hi.
"Are you having a good Mother's Day?" she asks.
I equivocate, unable to say anything with Mom present, but Shari gets the point, telling me that she has to go in and clean up the mess in her kitchen after her young sons have planted seeds in pots as a Mother's Day gift.
~ ~ ~
Back at Ocean View, I greet Racquel, who has just returned from a month in the Philippines.
"I'm so glad you're back and that you came today, instead of going out with your family," I say. "That means I don't have to give my mother a shower tonight."
"Oh, it's my job, Anne," she says with a big smile. "I'm the one."
It's 3:15 pm as I escape from the Reminiscence Neighborhood, dodging Mother's Day greetings like a quarterback running with a football.
Soon I will be back home to frost Marie's cake and maybe even take a nap.


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