Friday, July 31, 2020
Today I am grateful for a conversation with my mom. At 93, she can be a bit, um, well, cantankerous. I’m used to it. I expect it. I know you’re thinking that at 93 she’s earned the right, which is true. But she’s also been practicing for a lot of years. Sometimes that crankiness is exhausting. For me, not her. She never tires of it.
I hold my breath whenever I call my mom because I never know what new issue will be pissing her off and I’ll have to steer her towards talking about her cat. That always works. With so much in the world irritating me, I think sometimes she does the same with me, asking how the great grand kids are when I’m off on a tangent. Ha-ha. Apparently, the twig-tree theory applies here.
The other day my sister called and asked if I had called mom. I hadn’t and we were in the car. My sister said mom called her and needed my phone number. My mom has my phone number. My number is programed into her phone. She is getting forgetful and doesn’t remember that. She also has macular degeneration and can’t see to dial and couldn’t read the number if it was written down. . .even if she could find it. So, while Himself was running into Walgreens, I called her. This is how it went. Imagine her panicky voice.
Me: Hey Mommie Dearest, (I always call her this so she knows it’s me) it’s
Mary. I understand you were going to call me.
Mom: Hello, Sweetheart! I’m glad you called. Now listen, I know you’re going to think your mother has gone round the bend but just let me throw something out there because I’m doing it whether you think it’s a good idea or not.
Oh boy. Swell. I was intrigued. And terrified. And curious as hell. I said nothing.
Mom: Did I lose you again. (I often wonder if I should sometimes answer “yes” to this, just to mess with her, but I don’t. See what a good daughter I am.) Is there something wrong with this damned phone again? I hate this phone.
Me: I’m here. I’m intrigued. What now? Are you going to start making pies to sell? Did someone hook up your stove? Are you writing a column again that you need my help with? Getting a boyfriend?
Mom: Shut up, Mary! (I hear this a lot) Now just listen to me because I don’t want you telling me it can’t happen and I’m getting on a plane and coming out to visit you and I’m staying with you and I don’t want to hear one word about it. I want to see my Great Grand Children!!!! And I miss my grandsons!!! And I’m coming and that’s all there is to it and you can’t stop me!!!!
While she was shouting at me, insisting her plan was solid, my brain was frying. At her Assisted Living Community, in Wisconsin, they are still not allowed to have outside visitors in the building, not to mention their apartments/rooms. All visits have to be on the patio or porch. My sister hasn’t been to mom’s room since early February. Now she wants to fly to Pennsylvania.
How could she pack all by herself? Survive the car ride to the airport? Endure the check-in procedure? Tolerate the uncomfortable conditions on all planes? Wear the required masks? I’m picturing an international incident if anyone forces her to do anything. What my mom lacks physically she has made up for with her words. And they are not always thought through before she rants.
I’ve talked to mom after she’s had visits with my niece or sister and she is absolutely exhausted, “done in”, even if she uses the walker or someone takes her down in a wheelchair. It wears her out. I know, it’s to be expected.
And she can’t see. There is a very specific distance where she can see someone. If you’re too close or too far away, forget it. Her bad vision also means that she cannot Zoom, SKYP or Facetime with anyone, which saves me some days, so she hasn’t “seen” anyone. That sucks. And she cannot even tell who people are in printed pictures anymore. It’s sad. Very sad.
Noise bothers her, though I don’t know why because she’s pretty deaf, yet refuses to wear those, “damned hearing aids.” But she gets tired around a lot of commotion and probably more so now that we are all so separated and not used to it. I’m kind of that way myself these days, so I get it. How quickly we become used to a different way when forced to.
I let her ramble for a while because she was so adamant, but my heart was breaking because I knew how impossible her idea was on so very many levels. And she sounded so defeated and lonely. I could feel through the cyber connection how desperately she wants to meet her youngest great grandchild; how much she wants to see what great young people the others are becoming. I get it. She’s lonely. And that’s a disease unto itself. All of the phone calls in the world don’t make up for face-to-face visits, even if the people your visiting annoy you after twenty minutes.
But when we last visited it took forever to get her in a car. That’s even worse now. Then if we did manage a lunch or a Dollar Store visit, she could barely get back in the car and then barely get to her room. Any short trip “did her in” for days. How on earth could she fly in a plane all the way here and survive? Wearing a mask. In the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Enough time had passed. Her rant was wearing down so I took my opportunity.
Me: Mom, I’m so sorry, but I have to interrupt you because what you are thinking of doing is impossible.
Mom: Shut up, Mary. (see) Why? I want to see my great grandkids!!! Don’t you tell me NO! I’m going to stay with you. (She was almost crying and I was, but I’m the weeper in the family, not her.)
Me: Mom, you know you are always welcome here.
As I said it, I was running through the fact that she’d have to stay in our room and the bed is too high so I’m not sure she could get in it. But she could never manage the steps to the guest room. And I have two steps to get in the house and a lot more space to maneuver. And could we manage with just the walker or need the wheelchair? Would I have to move furniture for either?
Mom: Well I better be! Cuz I’m coming!
Me: I wish you were mom, but no. That’s impossible.
Mom: Why? Why not! Tell me why! (Now she’s pissed! I recognize her more clearly as my mother.)
Me: We are in a pandemic, mom. (I paused to let that sink in and could hear the air drain out of her in a mom-type huff.) It’s just not safe for you to travel, for anyone to travel actually. But for you it’s unsafe to even got to the store at this point. Not to mention coming all the way here to Pennsylvania.
Mom: What? What are you saying? (Selective hearing happens with moms as well as husbands.)
Me: You DO know about the pandemic, right?
Mom: Of course, I do, I’m not an idiot! But what does that have to do with my great-grand- children?
Me: Mom, you would have to stay in my house for two whole weeks before any of them could see you because we’d have to be sure you didn’t have the coronovirus from the trip. And with the distancing issues I’m afraid you wouldn’t be able to get close enough to see them anyway, even after two weeks.
Mom: Well I’m coming. (By now, I’m a mess. I don’t want to hurt her but I have no choice.)
Me: But, mom, isn’t that going to tire you out too much? Won’t it be very hard on you? Don’t you wear out fast? (This is what it must have been like when she was trying to reason with me when I was a kid.)
Mom: I do, but then I sleep.
Me: No one is going to wake you at the airport while your catching a nap in the middle of the concourse. I can hear the loud speaker now, “Passengers of flight 302. Your flight has been delayed because one of our elderly passengers is taking a nap. When she awakens, we will proceed as previously scheduled. But late. Very late. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.” Mom, they are not going to pour you onto a plane sound asleep, or hold the plane so you can finish your nap.
Mom: They won’t? (By now she knows I’m messing with her. Another huff.) So, I can’t come?
Me: No, it’s not safe. I’m so sorry, mom. No, you can’t come. It’s just not possible right now.
Mom: But I want to see my grandchildren and great grandchildren. (She sounds so small and sad.)
I’m choking on my own tears and can barely respond to her. Do I know that feeling of missing your kids or grandkids? You bet. Do I want my hugs out there, sweeping people into what I call a Mary Hug? Yes, I do. Do I hate being hidden behind a mask, where no one can see how many times I’m smiling at strangers? Yes, I hate it. You bet. Just because I’m not perpetually bitching about it, does that mean I’m okay with all of this? Nope. Not even a little. But I can’t tell that to my mom, because all she knows is that she misses her grandkids and great grandkids.
Me: I know you do, mom. This is all really hard on everyone, but especially you because you are so isolated now. Maybe we’ll be able to come out next Spring. (We were supposed to be there now, but all plans got squelched.)
Mom: You think so? I hope so. (Then she laughs.) Do you think I’ll still be here? Maybe I’ll croak.
She loves this joke. I don’t find it funny. Okay, well sort of funny, but not really. Who knows at this point? And before you say it, because I know you’re thinking it, yes, I know that I might not ever see my mom again. I realize that every time I talk to her. And if I forget, she reminds me. We both take a breath. Then. . .
Me: So how is Louise? (The cat)
Mom: Oh, her majesty is all racked out on my lap.
Me: She’s doing what a cat is supposed to do.
Mom: I have to go. My voice is wearing out and I have a furry belly to scratch.
I’ve had way worse conversations with my mom, but none that pulled my heartstrings like this one did. Next time I hope she’s at least a little cantankerous because I’m way more comfortable with that mom.