Last weekend’s Mother’s Day festivities highlighted how my relationship with my 93 year-old mother has changed over the spam of our lives; as the years inevitably, irrevocably, altered us both. (Admittedly, the only thing that doesn’t change in that timeframe are Hostess Twinkies.) Whereas once Mom would push me in a stroller, now I’m doing the pushing, her wheelchair, that is, as we cruise the sidewalks of town, flower hunting.
Young moms encountered on these walks always smile. I suggest someday their tykes may push them when they’re old, too. They chuckle, thinking it’s a distant future; not knowing it all goes by faster than a cop car on donut duty.
Mom once seemed so tall to me, too, when I was knee-high to an earthworm. Now she seems in her quaint way, “no bigger than a minute” and seemingly shrinking daily. It’s like a slow motion version of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” only with new wrinkles in the plot.
Reading Mother’s Day cards at the drug store, trying to pick one appropriate for her, really brought home the changes we have seen. The cards all were appreciative of the stereotypical Mom super powers such as kissing boo-boos better and the like. Many cards spoke of the help Moms provide us when we were unable to do things for ourselves.
Indeed, when I was an energetic yard-ape, Mom was ever patient and helpful, doing up zippers and applying shoes to squirmy feet prior to a walk. (It was kind of embarrassing after I became a teenager, mind you.)
Now, however, it is me helping her with her zippers, footwear, etcetera. The orthopedic shoe is definitely on the other foot. Now I must be the patient one. Trying to hurry a nonagenarian is as counter-productive as trying to rush a cranky customs agent. The only thing Mom does faster when she is hurrying is breathing. She huffs and puffs like a wolf bent on destroying the abode of a trio of small pigs for reasons not fully explained. The hyperventilating she does the minute she senses people are waiting for her doesn’t help her speed up the ‘getting ready’ process, but does make her so light headed she has to sit down and rest. Once, when “tornado/seek shelter” warnings were announced, it took so long to prepare her for the flight to our neighbor’s basement, the storm had passed and blue skies prevailed again before we got outside.
“I told you we weren’t in any danger, dear,” she admonished me then. “It’s nice you still come to your old Mum whenever you’re afraid of a storm, though.”
Throughout my life and even now as she’s becoming so challenged, she’s provided life lessons the best way; by example. Ever creative, she never just plunked us down in front of the TV if she had things to do. She enhanced the experience by making us kids a cardboard stove and giving us access to pots, pans and wooden spoons for when cooking shows would air. In our house, TV was often an interactive sport.
Before she lived with us, I’d occasionally complain about various aches and pains from being “old”. Not now. Despite Mom’s amazing age, she rarely complains about creaky joints. They’re too much trouble to enumerate and besides, “it beats not feeling anything”. It’s hard to consider myself old when living with someone almost twice my age.
It’s not just an achy body she cheerily endures, but also sensory and mental processes that are plummeting faster than oil stocks on election night with but one barely working ear. Her eyes are still sharp, though, including those in back of her head all good mothers possess.
What is all at once alarming, astounding and admirable about how little short term memory she has, is how well she covers up this lack which she is cruelly aware of. She cleverly strategizes around her deficits in hearing and comprehension with an endless supply of witticisms and stock phrases that a casual observer would mistake for normal conversation; never guessing Mom often doesn’t get what’s being said.
I worry for her and when it gets the better of me, I hug her tight.
“Don’t worry,” she says cheerfully. “It’s nothing serious. I’m just getting old.”
Yes, she’s getting old but, when she says it, it doesn’t sound like she’s there yet; she’s just on her way. Unlike whatever transpired in the previous few minutes, her indomitable spirit is something she never forgets.