One of the first things I ever wrote was about my mom and the sweaters she knit. In case you don’t know, my mother has always been remarkably talented when it came to needlework, be it sewing, knitting, crocheting or embroidery. In the piece I wrote, I imagined what her thoughts might have been as she created the unique, beautiful children’s sweaters she made and sold. Did she picture shiny, happy faces walking in the sunshine? Were these youngsters everything she had once hoped for her own children to be – well tended, warm and loved?
I don’t really know because I’ve never been able to talk to my mother about things like this…about dreams or wishes. We’ve never had that kind of relationship. There wasn’t room for fanciful conversations in the world of just getting by that we lived in.
When my mother fell and injured herself 18 months ago, I had zero interest in getting involved with the medical situation in which she found herself. There had been far too many emotional injuries and I wanted nothing to do with it.
Fortunately, my brother’s girlfriend stepped in to help. She was formerly a nurse and in her professional capacity she’s dealt with countless similar situations. She knows the medical field, as well as the social work aspect, and worked really hard to place my mother, a woman she really had no connection with, in a suitable setting locally.
During the time my mother has been in the nursing home, following her fall, Covid, and a stroke, I’ve seen her once. That visit did not go particularly well.
Prior to that one visit, the apartment my mother had lived in for a dozen years needed to be emptied. I wasn’t involved. I didn’t want anything, nor did I feel obligated to participate. In recent months, though, I’ve often found myself considering how difficult that process must have been, especially for my mother. I mean, she left home to attend a funeral and then never once went back home. Everything she had in the world now had to fit in a single room in a facility that she more than likely was never going to leave again.
That hit hard, even for me. You see, my mother has always valued things. Things gave her satisfaction. She could arrange them any fashion she liked and they never disappointed her. Accumulating stuff had been her life’s work and now it was almost all gone.
I’m a person who was raised to be in control and witnessing my mother’s complete loss of self determination resonated for me. It was just so damn sad. In the past few months, my oldest son has shared videos of his determined Oma walking in her room without reliance upon her wheelchair. He appealed to me in his quiet way to talk with and visit my mother and I’ve spent hours considering what path I should take moving forward.
When involved people were calling me in an attempt to compel me to participate in my mother’s medical care, I told them quite pointedly that I would do for her what I would do for any other human who might find themselves in a similar situation. I could offer sympathy and perhaps some nominal financial assistance. That was it. There would be no special considerations for her as the woman who brought me into this world. Nope. Not after the way she ultimately abandoned my brother and me.
As far as mothers go, mine kind of sucked. But, she somehow produced two pretty capable and accomplished children, including one who can carry a grudge with as much devotion as the woman who birthed him. Somehow, that ability didn’t get handed down to me. I don’t know, or want to learn, how to do that.
When I think about what I want for my own children, the foundation is always built upon a desire for them to be better and have more* than I did. Shouldn’t I strive to go beyond the place where my own mother got stuck emotionally, physically and financially? What did I have to lose – or even possibly gain?
Last month, my mother called me again. The conversation was awkward for me, despite it being innocuous and casual. I told her I was going to California, but would call her when I returned, which I did. She asked if I would come see her and I agreed to do that, making plans for an evening visit with my son who seemed pleased by my decision.
My mother will be 85 years old in a couple of months and lives in a nursing home. She’s lost almost everything she owned (more than once in her life) probably for the last time. It feels to me that we’ve arrived at a place where I need to be better than my mom. I need to give without considering what I may get. I must demonstrate to my sons that there is no thief of life greater than bitterness and no gift better than peace.
We went together, my son and I, to visit my mother last week. My son knows his way around the facility and moves through it with confidence, helping me with the check in process and required Covid testing for admission. Had I lost him in the hallways, I knew that I should ask for directions to where the “hat woman’s” room was.
For many years, my mother has been knitting hats for newborn babies at various hospitals locally. She’s lost her sewing machine, but retained knitting needles and what is likely more skeins of yarn than she’ll ever knit her way through. She makes these baby beanies in every color of the rainbow and stacks them in tall bags for delivery to the NICU and post-partum wards.
During our visit, she continued knitting. Her hands were always busy when I was a kid and that hasn’t changed. My son pointed out a bag of hats ready to go, along with drawers of yarn. I asked my mom if she had anything in my size. For an instant, her eyes lit up, I think with happiness. She directed my son to the location of two larger-than-baby-sized hats, both in the same shade of peacock blue. I was handed a hat.
I took the elastic from my now long, and much lighter shade of red, hair and tugged the hat on over my head. The hat is a little snug, but I believe it’s eventually going to fit me just fine.
My son thanked me for going with him.
*If you know me, you know this has nothing to do with wealth.