All her life, Mom swam and water-skied, biked and hiked, fished, went hunting with a bow and arrow, golfed, bowled, skied downhill, cheered at football games, and loved to win at cards. I tagged along in her wake, reading books and thinking about the meaning of things and trying to write it down. She could ice skate backwards, a talent that still fills me with wonder. She taught synchronous swimming to lots of people, but I never could turn somersaults underwater or point one leg up in the air without sinking. I did science experiments for extra credit and worried about all the Buddhists when they couldn’t get into Heaven. I wondered if I was adopted.
At age 18, I was eager to leave home for the big world. Mom left home then too, but she was 45 and the divorce wasn’t her idea. As I created an adult life, she re-created hers, with a Master’s degree and new career. Where she lived became “home” to me on the holidays that mattered. Our Sunday night phone calls always lifted my spirits. She apologized for ever having voted Republican. When a dream or two of mine went bust, she listened and never said, “I told you so,” not even when I realized I’d married the wrong man. She traveled 1,000 miles to come to the opening night of my first play.
Flash forward a few decades. I came to visit her and stayed to catch my breath. I found interesting work and finished a degree. We each did our own thing and mostly got along. We both got older. She accepted help with the garden, and carrying groceries up the stairs. She liked me to drive her car when we went somewhere together. She gave up her sports, one by one, as the years of wear and tear on her joints took their toll. .
Then one day when we were together, Mom farted. I knew she’d be embarrassed — but she wasn’t.
My world, not hers, changed in that moment. I saw the slippery slope ahead of her, when the demands of her aging body would eclipse politeness and privacy. The future was a foreign country. Who knew what language they’d speak there? How could she navigate getting old all alone? If I didn’t stand by her, who would?
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to learn what caregiving for Mom teaches me every day.
Gratitude, for one.