I saw a movie tonight and couldn’t stop thinking about my mom. She keeps coming into my mind, lingering there, making me cry.
When I was growing up my mother was always taller than me by an inch. She was also tougher yet sweeter. She could give me that look from across the room and I would run to her. That look could be that she felt sad for me or for her–it didn’t matter which because I would never fail to run to her. There’s nothing my mom could do to not make me want her. She was my fairy princess when I was small and Shiva the Destroyer when I was a young woman. I feared her, sometimes resented her but never stopped loving her. One time I tried and it made me so sad I sat on her lap crying. I couldn’t explain it to her so she just held me humming a Doris Day song, “..whatever will be will be..”
Moms have a way of making you love them so much you ponder them like a character in a movie or book. You think about how they walk and look. They make you want to be like them or fear it but either way they’re on your mind. I was obsessed with being mom’s height or wearing the same shoe size. I loved her feet in sandals and those mid calf jeans rolled up with a tight belt and a boy shirt. I watched her put on lipstick or perfume and size herself up in the mirror. There’s not a chance she saw what I did. I still doubt she sees herself the way I do. She wears her silver hair straight and cut just below her chin with black glasses. I love her hair. I have always loved it but could never live up to it like her cat eye glasses or the look of her in a flannel shirt mowing the lawn. I’ve never done that, mowed my own lawn. I’ve never stood by a man who didn’t stand by me quite in the same way she did and I didn’t bring up five kids with one bathroom and three bedrooms or get up at five in the morning to get breakfast for everyone. I never was strong like that.
Now mom has dementia and she’s leaving me in memories and inches. She is shorter than me by a full two inches as osteoporosis collapses her spine, she cannot remember mowing the lawn or how to make breakfast. She remembers dad but as if he was a different man. She calls him her “sweet boy.” I wish it was true. I take her story now because it’s better. I let her tell me how good he was to her and I don’t correct her. She says she had a “darn good life overall.” I don’t correct that either, at least not the story of it. I always wanted to correct the reality of it and save her. I used to dream of driving away, just she and I and going somewhere with bright sun and walks on the sand. I used to think I’d take her to California with me and she’d walk around the missions saying, “I can feel the feet of the missionaries who came here before me.” She said that remembering a trip she took to San Juan Capistrano when she walked the red brick tiles of a mission. She was fanciful and child like in the best kind of way.
Mom dreamed out loud, colorfully. When I was young I believed her dreams would come true. She told me one day we would go to Spain and sit in the sun in Madrid drinking espresso and listening to Flamenco music. She said we would dance and laugh and be free watching the beautiful people walk past big dancing fountains. We would visit the home of that “…writer you like so much. He was from there. What’s his name?” “Cervantes mom. He wrote Don Quixote.” “Yes, honey that’s right. We’ll see his place. Maybe they give tours or it’s a hotel or something. Who knows? But we’ll see it.” Her face tilted up and her eyes closed as she dreamed. Mom was happy dreaming. Her hands rough from years of work raising kids, growing and cooking food and doing decades of dishes fluttered as she described the great buildings and their archways. She said she heard the click of our heels on the cobblestone and she could feel the Spanish sun, taste the food and watch the light coming through stained glass in the ancient cathedrals. She didn’t go but she was there.
Years later I went, but not with mom. I drank espresso in the sun, I watched the beautiful people and the fountains. I saw young women with long, dark hair like hers smiling in the cafe’s and I still had a deep wish that one of them was my mom. I listened to music and stood outside Cervantes apartment. There were not tours and it wasn’t a hotel. I squeezed the hand of my friend and felt my mother with me. God, I wish she could have seen it. She was home with my brother and his long suffering wife trying to figure out what day it was and if she was hungry. Mom and I missed the timing on that trip and a dozen others she had hoped for. Every time I pack a suitcase I take her with me. I wondered months earlier to my brother if I could go to Spain with mom but he said, “It’s too late. She gets too anxious and upset. She doesn’t know where she is and she can’t handle it.” She never thought it was too late for anything with her early morning walks and late night coffee, her sense that any minute a miracle could happen. But this miracle didn’t happen. I went without her.
So much of my life is about my mom. I’m either trying to do the things she hoped to do or not do the things she did. I’m trying to drive my own life because she didn’t get to drive hers. But if I’m reacting to my mom, to what she wanted or didn’t have, even to her dementia am I living my life or comparing it to hers? Is this what she would want for me? I don’t know because I can’t ask. It’s too late for that now too.
It’s up to me to decide, just me on my own. I told my daughter once that I don’t know how to be this alone. But I have to figure it out. While I am losing my mom by inches I can’t afford to lose me too. I don’t want my kids to think back on me and have to live a life I didn’t or wish they could have rescued me. I want them to see that resilience is not time sensitive and can continue through out a lifetime. I want them to see my strength. If anything I want them to say of me, “Mom got it on her own terms. She was a mortal pain in the ass and scared us half to death but she lived her life. She really did it.” When I die I don’t want them to carry unfinished pieces of me with them. I want it done once and for all and for them to be free to live their lives without comparing it to mine. It’s been said that all daughters are living up to their moms or living their moms down. I don’t want that for my daughter or grand daughter. I can’t say for sure if they will do it but I hope not. I hope I don’t give them a reason.
I’m also hoping not to leave them in inches but all at once quickly without fanfare. But I’m not likely going to decide how I die anymore than I decided how I was born. I only decide how I live.
In my lifetime I will always want to run to my mom, call her name out when I am afraid and wish like hell she was combing my hair with her hands when I’m sad. I will always wish for more time with her and somehow I will always wish I could have made her life better. I don’t think any of that is going to change. I also don’t think trying to outrun the devil will prevent me from a similar fate to hers but cramming a lot of life in this one small sack of an existence is bound to help. There will be some regrets and if I get dementia it won’t be my fault anymore than it’s hers. We think we can control all of that when we’re young but I’m not sure we really can.
What I know is that the way I love my mom is the way she loved hers. Although I’m losing her a little at a time I don’t regret any part of her as my mom or any part of me either. Maybe the things I do– wishing she could be there count–because I am doing them. Maybe I’m strong too in a whole other way which honors the fact that she brought me to this party and I intend to dance. I think mom would like that and I know I do.
So now my mom is not taller than me but my daughter is just by a hair. She is home with her husband and daughter and a house full of pets and I am thinking about India. I said after my last trip it’ll be years before I go again but I hear it’s not so bad in June. Mom always dreamed of India and so do I.