Last night I went to see Mom. I don’t usually do the evening visits, but my sister is out of town helping her own daughter cope with a mysterious health issue. So I went. I only had a short time; I was on my way to coach some acting students. I breezed in with the clothes I had washed and ironed, hung them in her closet, and sat down to talk with her. And she said:
“I’m unhappy. You girls don’t have time for me. When I lived back home, you came to see me and spent time with me. Now you just breeze in and breeze out, maybe three times a week. I thought I moved to Atlanta because you wanted me closer to you. I thought this was what you wanted. I assumed I would be more independent, and we would do things together. Instead I just sit in these two rooms. I don’t know what to do. I’m seriously considering moving back home.”
Why does she say these things? They’re not true. Day before yesterday, when I brought her back from church, she sent me home to spend time with my family. She assured me she was fine. “You get so little time with your husband and daughter. Go be with them.” Well, which is it, Mom? Leave you alone, or spend hours with you every single day?
Of course that’s an absurd question. It’s both. She doesn’t know that she moved down here against our will, that we urged her not to leave home when she did. She doesn’t know that we told her many times she was moving to an assisted living facility. She doesn’t even know she’s laying a guilt trip on me. She thinks she’s facing up to a harsh reality: her adult children are simply too busy for her.
Bless her heart. (Grrrr.)
Last night I was able to listen to her and not let her words under my skin. I knew that if I just let her vent and took her fears seriously, she’d get over them. And she did. She said everything she had to say, then put on her shoes for a walk around the back yard. I made a quick phone call to tell my students I’d be fifteen minutes late, and went with her.
We strolled in the heavy July air, taking our sweet time on the winding path. We admired a ripening tomato in the container garden, and talked about . . . I don’t know . . . the grandchildren, or my work. Whatever occurred to me at the time. I find that I can still confide in Mom, once she calms down. She likes to hear about my ups and downs. I told her I had auditioned for another play and had not been cast, and she said encouraging words and told me I was wonderful anyway. She did agree that I’m aging out of some roles. “You’re not an ingenue anymore.”
“I’m not a leading lady either, Mom. I’m getting too old for the leading lady roles, but I’m not old enough to play the crones. It’s an awkward age, fifty-three.”
She stopped in her tracks.
“You’re fifty-three? How can my youngest child be fifty-three?”
Yes, Mom. I’m fifty-three. Not a wise old crone, not a sweet young thing. Not sure who I am these days. I’m struggling to find my place, as an artist and as a daughter. I don’t have the benefit of old age to give me perspective on your dementia, but I’m far too old to be spending all this time trying to please you.
Meanwhile, you are becoming a child again, afraid no-one wants to play with you. I want so deeply to comfort you, to assure you that everything is okay, that you are loved, that you are not forgotten. But there’s only so much I can do.
Who are we now, we two? Mother and daughter? Daughter and mother? Which is which? Who is comforting whom? On our last trip to the thrift store you bought yourself a baby doll.
I’m fifty-three, Mom. How old are you?