Essaying the Situation
Saturday, January 15, 2000
Meet Mom & Me
Mom & Me Logo    Three years before I began journaling about Mom & me, my intention was to write and publish online a series of essays about my mother's and my adventure living together as a result of her request of me, in 1993, to be her companion for the rest of her life. I had no intention of advertising and had no idea how I would get the word out that this material was online, but the urge to write about us was undeniable, so, I began. This is the first of those essays. It was written sometime early in 2000 (a date which has been corrected from the original publication; after reading it I realized, from some of the landmarks mentioned, it couldn't have been written earlier).
    As I copied it into this format (the date today being 9/12/08), I almost didn't reread it; I was afraid I'd wince, as I remember it being unusually upbeat, which is often an attitude that is completely out of character for me. I did reread it, though, and I have to say, I didn't wince once. I even approve of the last sentence, which I have, in the past, recalled with chagrin.
    This essay is absolutely representative of my feelings, at the time, about being my mother's companion and caregiver. Oddly, as her life appears to be coming to a close eight years later, I'm discovering that I haven't left that "uncharacteristic" optimism behind. There isn't a word I'd change in this essay. I wouldn't even change the logo I created for "the series", even though it doesn't look like us, much, anymore, although it did at the time I wrote this essay and which I append here, or the original background on which the essay was published, also appended here, which, I later wrote, seemed too "yellow" for me.
    So, folks. This is where it, my writing about our adventure, that is, started. Good start, I think. I wonder how it will end. Looks as though Mom and I will be finding this out...sooner, rather than...
    "Don't ever get old, Gail."
    "I intend to live to be 120, Jack."
    Meet my mom. If you had made her acquaintance on the day of the first utterance you would have sworn, as did a friend of mine, that she is "ancient". On the day of the latter statement you would have pegged her as elderly-something-going-on-16.
    The truth? She was born in 1917 and is inordinately proud that she is a Leo since she identifies with the cat family, especially their napping habits. She has four daughters, three sons-in-law and seven grandchildren, on the low average for her generation. Very little else about her is average. She graduated from college with a degree in education. After a few years of teaching eight grades in a one room school in Iowa she opted for adventure and enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a gunnery instructor during WW II. My father was one of her students. When they married, both 30 years of age, she left the military but continued her career in education. She primarly taught elementary and special education but operated for some years as principal of a kindergarten. After hours she supervised an eclectic household of a husband, children and a variety of pets including dogs, cats, chickens, mynah birds, mice, turtles, fish and the occasional abandoned nestling we nursed back to freedom. Her interest in Girl Scouting was intense. She became not only a leader's trainer but a trainer's trainer and was awarded for her scouting work in the late 1950's. Most of this was done on Guam, well away from the world into which she was born. She was, however, so well respected on this cultural hodge-podge of an island that she was voted Teacher of the Year.
    She has survived her older brother, younger sister and her husband, all of whom died of alcohol related disorders; her parents, who lived into their nineties; and many of her cousins (but not the oldest of them). She is not addled, although her relationship with her memory is contentious and creative. She is sedentary, though on any given day she is apt to move sofas and entertainment centers to "change the scenery". Her doctor, during her once-a-year-if-that check-ups, wags his finger at her about her weight, her smoking and her sweet tooth. Last year he put her on Glucophage and counseled her on her diet as a precautionary measure. She argues with the pills and me every time she decides to take one on her schedule, not her doctor's. She announces that his diagnosis of incipient diabetes is suspect while she impulse-shops at the bakery. "Don't worry," she says, "I'm not." She is a vitamin addict but eschews vegetables. She has all her teeth, makes a point of getting flu shots every year and neither of us can remember the last time she was sick. Her hearing is not reliable but she's not interested in hearing aids. "I hear what's important," she says. I believe her.
    Two of my three sisters live out of state. Their concern about her is so palpable I wince from the dog-whistle pressure of their expectancy that any day I'll be calling to inform them of her stroke, her heart attack or her death. When I initially moved in with her, at her request, in December, 1993, that's what I thought, too. I still monitor her breathing when she sleeps and wrestle with her over her routines but I no longer fear that she is going to kick the bucket tomorrow or suddenly become incapacitated. I'm not sure whether it's genes, mental attitude or a miracle, but the woman keeps chugging slowly and surely from one birthday to the next, occasionally pausing to climb onto the dining table to change a light bulb when I'm not around to stop her. When she reads obituaries for anyone under ninety her reaction is, "What a shame! They were so young!"
    She would never be solicited to model for the cover of Modern Maturity: She doesn't wear designer clothes, play tennis or ply a twilight career and AARP would consider her habit of several bags of Hershey's Almond Kisses per month and her life-long tendency toward social isolation scandalous. Living with her, though, has taught me more about the randomness of rules and the mysterious diversity of life than any advice column or geriatric study. It's shown me that aging is a process on which each of us has an individual take and none of us has a monopoly on the "right" way to do it.
    Meet my mom. And me. Follow our story. It might make you feel good about your own.
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