Happy Birthday, Mom…

As I was writing this, my mother lay on the couch beside me.  We are both suckers for holiday movies.  You know, the ones where wishes come true or long lost lovers arrive home just in time the holiday feast and all is forgiven or something equally clichéd.  I was in tears by the end, while Mom did her “Bah Humbug” imitation, though she wouldn’t let me change the channel.

Earlier, we made sauce and meat-a-balls (her favorite recipe).  We both love making the house smell like home.  She enjoys cooking and this recipe comes from her own mother.  Mom is unable to stand for long, so I pulled a chair up to the stove and she supervised, telling me (of course) I do not use enough salt.

Throughout this day I’ve considered how much she and I have in common.  And I’m not just talking about ‘the look’.  Can’t count how many times I’ve been told, “When you make that face, you look just like your mother.”  And I’m guessing here, but I don’t think this is said as a compliment.

The other night we had a party for her 84th birthday.  Pizza, cake and tree decorating back at my brother’s house.  Around 9pm, I put on my coat to leave.  Mom was adamant I should not drive home alone in the dark.  I am 53 years old and yet, she worries about me driving at night (and I hadn’t even had a glass of wine).

I laughed it off and left, but thought – only recently have I stopped calling my own children (all 30-somethings) to remind them to drive carefully on Halloween or the first day of school or to call about impending storms and suggest they give themselves a bit more travel time in the morning.  And let’s face it…not calling does not mean I don’t still worry.

Mom and I both love Autumn and it isn’t only because of the changing leaves.  It has more to do with the way the air smells, with baggy pajamas and hot chocolate, baking pie or Toll House cookies.  Making the house smell delicious and waiting for someone to come home and notice.

Earlier today, driving out to my house we were both shivering in the car.  Another thing we have in common is our ‘barely butts’ and a low tolerance for the cold.  The seats felt like we were sitting on blocks of ice.  I told her “Next time I’ll buy a car with heated seats.”

She turned and gave me ‘the look’.  “Goodie, goodie for you and your next car!  Right now, my ass is frozen.”


About hereisakiss

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7 Responses to Happy Birthday, Mom…

  1. I love, love, LOVE the last line of this: “Goodie, goodie for you and your next car! Right now, my ass is frozen.” What a beautifully imperfect, perfect moment.

  2. threehappydesigners says:

    I really enjoyed reading this! Made me miss you both and think of home! xoxo Rebekah

  3. Susan says:

    Haha- love this! I too will have heated seats in my next car. Way too early for it to be this darn cold!

  4. Judy Weinstein says:

    Elizabeth – I finally got around to the stuff that feeds my soul and your blog is the best for that. I howled; I think our mothers were sisters in another life…

  5. reggiemarra says:

    Thanks for this site, Elizabeth. I think you know I took care of my mom from July 1996 through December 15, 1999, when she passed away at the age of 83. It remains one of the more interesting learning experiences of my life.

    During the summer of 1998, on the day she returns home with a freshly inserted shunt in her left arm, preparation for impending dialysis, we’re sitting at the kitchen table for dinner and she mentions that my sister, who lives some 45 minutes away, isn’t comfortable helping her bathe, and she wouldn’t want to make me uncomfortable by asking me, so she’ll wait for the visiting nurse, hire someone, or settle for a sponge bath. She points out that it’s been almost five weeks since she’s had a real shower or bath—the sponge baths in the hospital just don’t cut it.

    The shunt insertion for dialysis was difficult—though she’s happy to be home, share a meal and some conversation where she feels comfortable—her left arm throbs. She’s been through a lot: femoral artery bypass, quadruple heart bypass, a house record 19 trips to the hospital with congestive heart failure in one summer, and now the one kidney that works is on its way out.

    I respond to her thinly veiled attempt to raise some Italian-Catholic guilt, and suggest she’s the one who seems uncomfortable with my bathing her; she looks up, asks, “Really? You would do that?” I say, “yeah, really, when do you want to get clean?” She laughs, asks if I’m busy after dinner.

    She spends ten minutes setting up the bathroom, then calls me in and walks me through the clean white washcloth, shampoo, soap, towel for her feet, towel for her hair, multi-purpose towel for body parts yet to earn unique-towel status, and the gray cloth for cleaning the tub when we’re done.

    Still in her white terry-cloth robe, she says she’ll start with her private parts, which she refers to in Italian dialect as her “coomisigyam” (phonetic spelling), loosely translated into New York English as “whatchamacallit,” then call me back in. I bow, walk out, wait in the hall.

    When she calls, I return and she’s sitting on the plastic chair in the tub, profile to me, turned slightly toward the window in modesty. She suggests I do her hair last so she won’t get a chill, sitting there with a wet head. I point out that it’s 85 degrees and 95% humidity in the bathroom, and we laugh, but I defer to her wishes, lather up the cloth with soap and scrub her back, under her arms, her entire right arm and hand, then down both legs to her feet.

    She tells me to rub hard because “it feels good like a massage,” so I do, terrified all the while of adding a bruise to her potato-skin-and-plum-colored-from-too-many-IV’s skin. She tells me to dig in with my nails as I wash her hair—thin and vibrant white against her delicate scalp. Again, I’m afraid to rub too hard, but I increase the pressure and she cheers me on—”ahh, that feels sooooo good.”

    I rinse her off with the shower massage, step out so she can rinse her “coomisigyam,” then come back, drape her with the all-purpose towel, help her lift one leg at a time over the tub side, step carefully onto to the foot towel, and begin to dry her hair—another massage—with the hair towel. She sits on the toilet seat cover, glowing in warmth, moisture, and cleanliness, which as I recall from my youth, “is next to Godliness.”

    It’s then that I notice the clean, white wash cloth atop the toilet tank, right where it was when we began. Another glance finds the gray tub-scrubbing cloth hanging over the soap rack, where I placed it after using it to give her her first bath in five weeks. Oops. I feel a guilty smile emerge, realize that this information might traumatize her beyond the immediate benefits of hygiene. What if I move her next to Godliness with a bath, and then give her a heart attack by telling her I bathed her with the tub-scrubbing cloth?

    Before I say a word, her eyes fill up, she says she “feels like a million bucks,” and thanks me “from the bottom of [her] heart”—so I ask her if she really feels clean. She says beyond clean—as good as she’s felt in weeks, so I nod toward the white wash cloth on the toilet tank, ask her if that’s the one she wanted me to use, and she says yeah, not yet registering that it’s still clean and dry, which I point out to her. She follows an eternal moment of silence with, “so what did you use?”

    I point to the tub scrubber, she asks if I’m serious, I say yes, and observe that she’s still alive, which is a good thing. She begins to laugh. “I guess I’m learning,” she says—”there was a time when this would’ve been a big problem.” “I know,” I say, “and I hear that Comet really does a good job sanitizing your pores.”

    We powder and deodorize. After I scrub the tub (of imaginary grime) she insists on putting everything away because I’ve done enough.

    Ten minutes later she’s in the living room, reading The Dhammapada in the recliner, glowing with peace of mind and cleanliness. I walk in, she says she doesn’t know many sons who would do that for their mothers; I say I don’t know many mothers who are falling apart the way she is. She laughs. “I’m serious,” she says—”I’ll never be able to thank you for all you do. I feel so lucky. Who lives better than I do?”

    • hereisakiss says:

      Reggie…Thanks so much for sending this. Your mom was lucky to have you, as you probably feel lucky she was your mom. There are so many things we all believe we will never have to consider…and then, we do.

      At 84, my mother has only recently allowed me (and my sister-in-laws) in the bathroom with her. As a kid, I remember she’d change clothes in the closet if I was in the room with her. She’s always been incredibly modest and still is, though with her various ailments it has become difficult to maintain. It is as hard (if not more) for her as it is for us.

      I love the Italian-Catholic guilt thing too. My family tends to revel in it!

      Oh, and my mother calls her private parts her ‘down there’. Gotta love it!

  6. Deborah says:

    My mother is also all about guilt and sarcastic comments too. A group of my friends call it the ethnic mother complex because we all had a smilar experience; the only variable was the ethnicity: Italian vs. Jewish vs Chinese with first generation chooseyourethnicity-Americans being particularly adept at this.

    A (male) friend of mine posted the following which is a nice reminder that, as exasperating as our moms can be at times, they’re not going to be here forever:
    “Mom called. I wasn’t doing nothing, but I was huffy, I knew she was gonna talk forever! But sitting there on the edge of my bed I happened to look up at the pic of my Dad on the dresser. Man, what I wouldn’t give… Mom was talking, and I let her talk, I talked back, we had a good time. Now everytime she calls we talk until she gets tired. One day her pic will be on my dresser, but not yet, not yet.”

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