Tuesday, October 16, 2012

That Little Old Lady in the Wheelchair Can't Possibly be My Mother

My parents are old.  I always thought that, but it wasn’t always true.  My mother was 23 when she had me… 23!  That is so young! And I was her third child. ( I have a son who is 23, and I can’t possibly imagine him as married with 3 kids.)   When I got to be about 12 or 13 and began thinking about life, the universe and everything, my mother was 35 years old - old being the operative word to my adolescent mind.  I can remember discussing with friends how old we would be in the year 2000.  Our magic number was 44.  Forty Four!  Yikes, but that seemed ancient to us.   I have a 13 year old daughter.  And I’m 56.  Fifty six.  Oh, the picture of me that must be running around in her teenage brain.  I don’t even want to know.

My mother will be 79 next month.  Now she really is old.  It’s not just a distorted teen image.  She’s old.  She’s frail.  She’s been falling.  She can’t remember things.   She needs help in many ordinary aspects of life.  For the last few weeks she’s been in a care center trying to get strong enough to go back home.  I’m not sure she will be able to… at least not in the way she thinks.  She will never be able to live on her own again without someone nearby to help her manage life’s daily tasks.

This is a hard thing to watch.  When I come to visit and see the small, frail lady in the wheelchair, I wonder where my mother went.  This person who can’t seem to hold onto a thought from one minute to the next can’t possibly be the women who raised me.

My mother wasn’t perfect… far from it.   She was troubled.  She had an addictive personality that found comfort in alcohol and prescription drugs.  When I was 10 she had what was politely called back in the late 60’s as a “nervous breakdown.”  She spent that summer in a state hospital.  There was tension in our house and my parents had some all-out screaming fights.  When I was 12 she fell at work and hurt her back, resulting in several surgeries and a downhill slide in her overall health that never seemed to completely resolve.

As a teenager, I resented her for what I thought of as weaknesses.  She could have chosen not to drink, or smoke or take pills or scream at us or my dad till I was sick to my stomach.  I resented having to take care of my mother and run the house for my father and siblings when I wasn’t much past childhood myself.  I resented being shoved into adult cares and concerns far too soon.  There was a lot of anger about my upbringing and most of it was directed at this woman.

It’s a hard thing to realize that your parents are people, with flaws and faults.  As an adult, and a parent myself, I can look back and cut my mom some slack.  Not completely.  There’s still a part of me that mourns for my lost childhood and what I wish could have been.  But I don’t carry all that anger around anymore.  It’s too exhausting.  And it’s a waste.  My mother doesn’t remember.  What would be the point of digging it all up.  And besides, there were good things too.  I know my mother took care of me when I was little.  She cooked and cleaned and tended 5 children without much help from my dad, since in that era manly men didn’t do much around the house.

So my life at home wasn’t perfect.  But that’s in the past.  For now I’m dealing with a little old lady who loves me and can only remember the good things.  And she needs me.  How can I be angry with her?  She’s just a little old lady in a wheelchair.  She can’t possibly be my mother.

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