Friday, March 16, 2007

Catch up - Part the first

While we were traveling, sick, traveling again and sick again, we found time to celebrate and honor three of our family members for birthdays. It took all I had to do the cake/banner/happy celebration thing, and I had no brains left for writing and reflecting on my favorite people. Now, I have time to catch up.

First in line is my dear mum. On January 15th she celebrated her 80th birthday, and on January 19th we celebrated her fourth anniversary of living up here with us. She and I concur that without the latter, there would be no former. We moved her to be fiscally wise, not knowing that her health was severely compromised. Fortunately, she responds beautifully to proper doses of medication, and she had the courage and fortitude to quit smoking. Well, the fact that I drive her everywhere and would become a crazed maniac if I ever saw cigarettes in her shopping cart might have helped with her early need for courage and fortitude. Now, though, she is a crazed maniac herself and is tempted to shake teenage girls she sees smoking on the street corner.

It was just my mother, my sister and me as I was growing up. My sister was born an old soul; I was a late bloomer. Guess who was the easier child to relate to for a single mom just making it through the day? Yep, it wasn't me. As a result, I never knew my mother very well. We enjoyed each other's company, but I knew very little about her. In 1993 our lives changed forever when my sister was killed in a water skiing accident. Suddenly, it was just me and Mom. No more sister to translate for me, no more buffer between us. It was rough going, for many years. I was busy raising my children, too many children in my mother's view. I was homeschooling, and Mom was convinced that it was wearing me out and for no good reason. Do you share yourself with people who view your life with suspicion or contempt? Nope, me neither.

So, we come to the fall of 2002. I learned through a helpful cousin that Mom really needed to move to a more affordable area. It was up to me to play hard ball, and it was basically miserable. The months before the move were filled with phone conversations where I pushed and she resisted. She seemed incapable of packing, organizing, or even thinking. Finally, on January 19, 2003, we gathered our friends and their children and moved her. My beautiful and intelligent mother sat in a captain's chair in her empty bedroom with a blanket thrown over her head. What in the world? I could understand the resistance, but the lack of thinking? She seemed to be disappearing inside herself. January 19th was a long, rough day as I added worry about my mother's health to the long list of responsibilities pushing down on my shoulders.

Two hospital stays, countless doctors appointments, another move from her apartment to our granny flat, and we began to get into an ebb and flow of living next door to each other. She has her own house and takes care of herself. My job is to drive her anywhere she needs to go. She had to adjust to going less places less often; I had to adjust to the opposite. We have both felt resentful at times, but we have learned that compromise makes for a fine life.

And a funny thing has happened a long the way. My mother enjoys all five of my children. She is one of my greatest homeschooling advocates. She still worries about my ability to hold up under the pressure, but she comes and folds my laundry or visits with the children to help with the demands.

So, when I celebrate having my mother next door and the life we share together, it is because of this less-cheery background story. I am in awe of the fact that I have been given these four years to know Mom better. We have had many an afternoon chat around the table, with and without her grandchildren joining in, sharing funny stories from our shared past or her childhood. Politics, theology, cooking, favorite mystery authors, or the neighborhood disputes have all entered into our visits.

We still have a lot to learn about working together. When she got sick this last time, we should have gotten her to the doctor a lot sooner. A LOT sooner. So, she needs to speak up about how she feels; I need to notice and take action if she is feeling unwell. It's a dance, and we keep stepping on each other's toes; the tricky part is figuring out whose turn it is to lead. I never want to grab the lead from Mom unless it is necessary, but I better learn to make that decision a little faster.

So, happy 80th birthday + two months to my mother. May she have many more years of happy learning and growing and loving in our humble abode in the back yard. Love you, Mum.

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